Trabocchi—The Abruzzese Fishing Machines

Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.
~ Ted Hughes

A few years ago, my good friend Novelia asked me if I had ever visited a trabocco.

“A what?” I asked her, and she pulled out her cell phone and showed me a photo similar to the one at the top of this post. “What *is* that? It looks like a wooden insect,” I continued. I think Novelia probably rolled her eyes, but I later read that the Abruzzese poet Gabriele D’Annunzio labeled them “colossal spiders.”

Trabocco Punta Isolata
This is the same trabocco as in the photo above; I took this one in January & the other in May.

The weird wooden structures—trabocchi—have dotted the coast of Abruzzo for more than 500 years. The first mention states that Pietro da Morrone (aka Pope Celestine V) hiked the hills of the area often (between 1240-43) to meditate over the sea “dotted with trabocchi.”  Today, the Costa dei Trabocchi, which stretches about 70 kilometers along the southern coast of Abruzzo in the Chieti province, is home to fewer than 25 trabocchi.

Trabocco antennae
The antennae of a trabocco

The trabocchi are fishing huts made almost entirely of wood—wooden huts sit on wooden platforms supported by wooden stilts connected to the shore by a wooden walkway. The wooden antennae support the fishing nets. The fishermen use a series of pulleys and ropes to lower and raise the nets to haul in the day’s catch. Most of the trabocco extend about 50 feet into the ocean allowing the fishermen to fish farther from shore and to lower nets into the “lanes” fish follow as they head south.

The trabocco’s fishing nets and lines

Many of the trabocchi that still exist have been in families for years. The Italian government does not allow the construction of new trabocchi, and current owners may only restore and repair the remaining ones.  Many are now restaurants that serve the catch of the day (summers only).  Have you ever heard of the “fritto misto?”

Fritto Misto
Mixed Fish

When I was with my last group in Abruzzo in May, we had the opportunity to eat a freshly caught fish lunch in San Vito Chietino. The meal started with “pesche misto (above),” a variety of fresh fish including shrimp, squid, and other things I didn’t know.

Peas, squid, and something

Following the appetizer, they brought peas and more mixed fish (above). Except for the squid and peas, I have no idea what was in that dish.


The cozze—mussels—were the only seafood I ate.  Cooked in a delicate sauce that enhanced their flavor, the cozze were delicious. Once all the cozze were gone, we had to soak up the sauce with fresh bread, of course.

Gnocchi with asparagus, shrimp, and langostinos

The pasta course included gnocchi with asparagus, langostinos, and shrimp. I’d like to point out that the gnocchi you see in the photo above are the typical Abruzzese gnocchi—small. When my grandmother made them, she made the even smaller than what you see.

Grilled Fish
Mixed grilled fish

The final dish was the pesche misto grigliato (mixed grilled fish). Again, other than the langostino (right) and barramundi (second from right), I have no idea what kind of fish was on that plate….nor did I eat any of it. (I have a rule about eating anything that stares at me…I don’t.) Note that the fish to the left of the lemon resembles the fish that was screaming at me in the market in Barcelona (Story here).

Trabocco 5
Peppe and some poor fish’s bones

Some of the group had never boned a fish(yours truly included), so dear Peppe did the honors.

I be honest admit that I did not really have the same lunch as everyone else. I am not wild about fish and don’t eat much of it. I suppose one of the reasons is because I choked on a bone once when I was a child. My father used to go fishing every week, and he apparently didn’t clean the fish as well as Peppe did. It has scarred me for life.


I am grateful that the restaurant owner was very kind and understood, and she made our meals without the seafood. She even ran to the town store to buy a steak so she could grill it for one of the other gals and me. The owner was so very concerned when we didn’t finish as she thought she hadn’t cooked it well, but it was fantastic but too large.  We assured her that we had had too much other food but that the steak was great.

Besides, it wasn’t staring at me from the plate.




  1. Joy Bellis

    I loved your story of a fabulous sea food meal…that you couldn’t eat. My own rule is that if I haven’t been introduced to the item by name and occupation (or residence) I can’t eat it either. It would have taken a lot more courage to go out on that traboccho, if there was a restaurant there, to eat than it would have taken to eat the fish.


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