Italy and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.
I lied in a way. I told you that I was going to show you the beauty of Ohio today, but then I thought that I should continue showing you Italy and why I fell in love with it so easily.
Today, let me introduce you to Pettorano sul Gizio, the town where my grandparents grew up. Located in the L’Aquila province of Abruzzo, Pettorano is a small hill town about 90 kilometers east of Rome. Once home to 6000 people, today’s residents number about 1200.
Someone I know once asked me why I wanted to bother going to Italy in general and Pettorano in particular. “It’s all so old and dirty,” she exclaimed. I have to admit being insulted. I had not found Pettorano at the time, but I felt it pulling me.
I don’t want to go through what it took to find Pettorano here, but I will tell you that nothing prepared me for the scene that came into focus as we approached the town for the first time. Rectangular buildings. Creamy beige. Brown. Adobe red. Butter yellow. Cascading from the precipice of a rocky hill, the village fanned out at the hill’s bottom and gave way to verdant pastures bordered by the Gizio River on one side and the highway on the other.
In the nine years since I first stepped foot in town, I’ve wandered through town a lot. These are some views.
Built in the 11th century, the Castello Cantelmo stands guard over Pettorano from the highest point on the hill. It was part of a series of castles built by the Cantelmo family for security. Their other castles are in Popoli, Pacentro, Raiano, Vittorito, Prezza, and Anversa. They communicated with each other using flags.
The town’s streets are quite narrow, as you can see from the photos above. We’ve driven up to the main piazza in town and have had to hold the side mirrors in so they don’t scrape the buildings. If someone is going down and another driving up, one of the drivers gets to back up until he/she finds a place or street to pull off.
I mentioned the other day that seeing the hydrangeas in the gardens of the Cinque Terre reminded me of my grandmother. The geraniums in Pettorano were another reminder that my grandmother brought part of her town with her in her heart.
Throughout the town are spring-fed fountains through which the icy water of the Gizio flow. We actually know people in Sulmona (the large town about 10 kilometers away) who pipe the water to their homes. Obviously, the water is safe to drink, and Mike insists that the town could make a fortune if they bottled it.
Piazza Zannelli is the “center” of town. The former ducal palace (above center once housed the town’s school. Today it is home to city offices. Note the ancient sun dial on the building; most of the old towns have one.
Pettorano sits in the middle of the Riserva Naturale Regionale Monte Genzana e Alto Gizio, a natural park that follows the River Gizio and through the hills. The men of the town used to go into the hills to make charcoal, and there is a little church dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Santa Margherita, there. In November 1943 (World War II), the Nazis threw the residents out of the town, causing them to flee into the mountains. For more than six cold winter weeks, the Pettoranese survived in caves or tiny sheds that they built.
Before the Nazis evacuated the town, food was hard to obtain. Friends tell me that the children of the village used to go down to the road (You can barely see it about one-third of the way up in the photo on the left) to grab food the fell from German supply trucks as they rumbled by.
Speaking of the Nazis…. When they occupied the village, they tried to bring an armored tank into the town through the porta above. It got stuck, and they could not move it forward or backward, so after the war, the residents had to deal with removing it. As a side note, my grandfather’s home is to the right of where that little yellow car sits up the street. (I apologize that the photo is a bit fuzzy. I have no idea why.)
The home where my grandfather lived is still in the Berarducci family. Before my late cousin’s wife passed, I was lucky to visit her several times in the home.
It has been such a great honor for me to stand where my grandparents were born, in the house where my grandfather drew his first breath. I am grateful to have connected with cousins and to have made so many friends in this lovely town.
I hope you have found the town as beautiful as I.