The fortified market town of Capestrano set in the Gran Sasso & Monti della Laga National Park is probably every Italian model town maker’s dream, with a baroque piazza, lofty towered castle, and narrow winding alleyways that rock you back to where you begin. It’s steep in places but hey that is why they built a castle here; at 505 masl Capestrano has a great vantage point down the beautiful Tirino Valley and was one of the key positions used by marauding forces in the final sacking of Rome.
It makes a great stop off on the way to the Cantina at Santa Stefano in the evening to eat a locally sourced grazing platter with a difference (it includes delicious local lentil soup, not just a plate of cold cuts here!). The road from here up via the back of Roca Calascio and down into the Campo Imperatore is wonderful with every rolling hairpin bend beckoning for another picture stop.
The best time to visit in Capestrano the Spring & Summer is after 4 when the sun begins to soften and the shadows lengthen and a walk around its cobbled medieval streets pulls you back to its glorious past of the Feudal Marquis of Capestrano.
It was in the Middle Ages that Capestrano was a town noted for its exclusivity – you got in through being important, a solider or if a peasant only delivering your tithe.
Intriguingly it’s one Central Italian town that overspills with a history of how the Italian nobility ‘got around’; it seems that the nobility of long ago weren’t so picky as Italians today and as long as you could bring favour and influence it didn’t matter if you were Abruzzi, Central or Southern. King Charles III of Sicily gave the castle to the local Marquis whose family names had lengthened in importance by the C15th to Marquis Antonio I Todeschini Piccolomini d’Aragona, and who was the nephew of Pope Pius II. By 1579 the castle was now known by its official title today the ‘Piccolomini Castle’ and had been sold onto the Medicis (hence its secondary nickname of the Medici Castle). They then passed it on to Bourbon King of Naples & the 2 Sicilies in the C18th and in 1860 was passed to the Savoys… yep a slut of a castle!
This C12th castle these days is home to the local Commune so it’s quite well scrubbed up as Abruzzo castles go and really worthy walking around and savouring its history and it’s free!
Don’t come here expecting to find the famous Capestrano Warrior “Guerriero di Capestrano” that today is kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Chieti. For those who haven’t heard of this before, it is a C4th BC limestone funeral passage statue that is almost 3 metres high and was discovered locally by in the 1920s by a man working on his vines. This sandled & armoured figure is remarkably well-preserved, arms folded across the chest, he wears a short apron and carries a short sword, knife, and axe. A wide belt encircles his classical nipped-in waist; on his head in a separate piece the figure wears a wide-brimmed helmet. You will see him featured a lot in your travels in Abruzzo, unsurprisingly he has become a bit of a local icon over the last 100 years.
Strange but true – this dinky-toy like town is twined with Budapest! We can only think it is due the notoriety of the famous Franciscan Monk from here, St John of Capestrano, who died fighting the Turks in Central Europe. Not sure why else a capital city would choose a small Abruzzo town…
The Unpredictable Monster – this is a piece written after the earthquake by Capestrano resident, Fabrizio Scalabrino about the impact of the terremoto on the town – thankfully small. What is incredibly refreshing about this article is it talks about the ‘Non-Italians’ that were tragically killed by the earthquake who had been working for Fabrizio. His article indirectly helps to reinforce the notion that like all industrialised nations Italians rely on immigrants to do their petty manual tasks, that these immigrant workers live on peanuts in often sub-standard housing. It portrays the Italian reality rather than the racist bouncing ball bomb of Berlusconi who seems to think his rotten portrayal of immigrants is where all Italy is at.