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A Concise History of the Italian Region of Abruzzo

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Abruzzo is a little-known Italian region that sits in the central-eastern portion of the Italian peninsula and borders the Adriatic sea. Although geographically central, it is often associated closely with the Southern identity of the country.

The region of Abruzzo is famed for its wide open countryside, craggy mountains, high plains and medieval towns and castles. But of course, there is more to this part of Italy, so this article delves a little into the history that has shaped modern Abruzzo.

Corfinium Archaeological Park (Corfinio, Abruzzo)

Corfinium Archaeological Park (Corfinio, Abruzzo)

Early Evidence of Human Settlements in Abruzzo

Evidence of human habitation in Abruzzo dates back to the Neolithic era, with the earliest artifacts found dating back to around 6,500 BC. In fact, many of the modern towns in Abruzzo originated from ancient civilisations including Chieti which is widely believed to be one of the oldest cities in Italy—and even the unassuming town of Corfinio (historically known as Corfinium) in the Valle Peligna was the principle town of Paeligni tribe which inhabited the area many centuries ago.

Abruzzo hasn’t always been so named. It has been known by many names throughout history, including: Picenum, Sabina et Samnium, Flaminia et Picenum, and also Campania et Samnium. It is thought that the modern region’s name derives from the Latin word ‘Aprutium’, which is widely believed to have originated from one of the Italic tribes, the Praetutii, that were widely spread throughout the area.

Alba Fucens amphitheatre and Monte Velino

Alba Fucens amphitheatre and Monte Velino

Abruzzo in the Time of the Romans

As with the rest of Italy, Abruzzo’s historical story emerges more clearly from the mists of time with the advent of the Roman civilisations which ruled the area between the late BC and early AD periods.

Between 295 and 290 BC, Roman military forces conquered the city of Teramo (a key settlement in the region), renaming it Ineramnia Praetuttorium (which roughly translates as: the city of the Praetutii between two rivers). Throughout Roman times, the city of Teramo would thrive due to its associations with Rome, which endowed the city with many of the typical examples of Roman civilisation such as spas, temples and amphitheatres, some remains of which can still be seen today in Teramo and also in Abruzzo as a whole. One such site are the ruins of Alba Fucens, an ancient town at the foot of the Monte Velino, a few kilometres north of the town of Avezzano.

Lombards, Byzantines and the Magyars

Like many other regions of Italy, the landscape now known as Abruzzo has been ruled throughout its history by many civilisations subsequent to the fall of the Roman empire, including the Lombards—a Germanic people who held sway over most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774—and also the Byzantines and the Magyars (from modern-day Hungary). All these different races have obviously had strong influence over local dialects, cuisine and customs in the area.

The Kingdom of Naples with administrative divisions as they were in 1454

The Kingdom of Naples with administrative divisions as they were in 1454

The Kingdom of Naples

In more recent history, Abruzzo (at this time known as Abruzzi) became part of a strong political entity initiated by the Normans (around 1282) known as the Kingdom of Naples (which was also known as the Kingdom of Sicily or the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as it developed, changed boundaries and merged with other regions), which held sway over many of the regions of Southern Italy including the island of Sicily.

The Kingdom of Naples formally ceased to exist in 1860, paving the way for the Italian unification. The Kingdom of Naples’ cultural influences, however, still run through the veins of many of the Southern Italian regions, including those of Abruzzo. In fact, many locals still feel a closer cultural bond to their own region or even their own town than they do about Italy as a nation.

Italian defence lines including the Gustav Line 1943/4

Italian defence lines including the Gustav Line 1943/4

The 20th Century

The two major world conflicts of the twentieth century also left their mark on the region with Abruzzo forming part of the Gustav Line which stretched from west coast to east across the Italian peninsula and was one of the main defensive lines designed to impede the way to Rome for the Allied armies (predominantly UK and US) in Italy during World War II.

One of the most ferocious battles was also fought at the town Ortona (20–28 December 1943), and was the culmination of the fighting on the Adriatic front in Italy during what became known as 'Bloody December'.

Many reminders of World War II still can be found in Abruzzo today, along with many memorials. You can find Campo 78, a former prisoner of war camp located just outside of Sulmona, at Fonte d’Amore. The camp was used during both World Wars, and during World War II it held up to 3,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen.

Following the Armistice of 1943, hundreds of Allied prisoners made their escape from Campo 78—many helped and hidden by local Italians at great personal risk—until they could reach safety. A fair portion of Campo 78 remains intact to this day, as can be seen in the somewhat eerie video (below) and can be visited by prior arrangement.

The region we now know as Abruzzo, came into being in 1963, before that is was commonly known as ‘Abruzzi’, as mentioned earlier (and which is still used to this day), and was connected with the bordering region of Molise.

A Natural History

The forces of nature, too, have shaped the history of Abruzzo. The African and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in central Italy in the Apennine Mountains. This means that like many other regions of Italy, Abruzzo regularly encounters seismic activity and sometimes strong and devastating earthquakes.

One such earthquake happened in January 1915, when the town of Avezzano was almost completely destroyed, and 30,000 people lost their lives, many dying in the bitter winter of that year. More recently, the 6.2-magnitude earthquake in Aquila (April 2009) has sadly tested the fortitude of the Abruzzen people.

The aftermath of the 1915 Avezzano earthquake

The aftermath of the 1915 Avezzano earthquake

Abruzzo’s history, like that of anywhere in the world, continues to be written. But like its people, the rugged landscape of Abruzzo will continue to adapt and thrive as it meets the coming decades.

Sources

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jerry Cornelius

Comments

Jerry Cornelius (author) on January 13, 2021:

Hi Kevin, yes just a weird coincidence that I published this on the same day, it's a strange world we live in. Thanks for pointing it out.

Kevin Humphries- U.K. on January 13, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this- is it coincidence that the 1915 earthquake occurred on the 13th January?

Jerry Cornelius (author) on January 13, 2021:

Thanks for your comment Bill, we spend a lot of time there (when we are freely allowed to travel), it's a beautiful part of Italy.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on January 12, 2021:

Nice look at one of the regions of Italy that we have not been to yet. Looks fascinating and of course the history is just amazing. Hope to get an opportunity to visit in the near future. Thanks for sharing.

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