Abruzzo: Spectacular Sulmona, Part 1

Abruzzo’s spectacular Sulmona seizes and captivates your heart – you won’t ever want to leave! A few days is not enough to explore the must-sees of this fabulous underrated city.

Where is Sulmona?

Sulmona map, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe

Have you heard of Italy’s Sulmona?

With an invitation to spend a few days over Easter in Sulmona with friends, I’m not crazy enough to pass up this opportunity.


Sulmona

The chilly April air and soaring snow-capped Apennine Mountains nearby haunt and tease your journey until finally, the bus arrives in Sulmona.

Window vies on bus from Naples to Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Looking through the glass

A comfortable base from which to explore the superb province of L’Aquila – most mountainous of the Abruzzo region – Sulmona sits in the Valle Peligna’s plateau whilst edging the ridge of the Apennine Mountains. These majestic rugged mountains run almost the entire length of Italy.

Mountain vista, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Winter’s wrath

At an elevation of 405 metres, it seems as though the bus descends into Sulmona after a steady short climb, but think this is just an illusion.


A little history

Predating ancient Rome and the birthplace of celebrated Roman poet Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso) – exiled during the reign of Emperor Augustus for unknown reasons – Sulmona’s history is tumultuous. And, included succumbing to Hannibal’s devastation of the territory in 211 BC.

Established since the 3rd-century and long ago as an important migration and trade route, Sulmona also enjoyed prominence during the Middle Ages. Fast forward to the 19th century, the city established itself as a major stop-off on the train from Rome to Pescara on the Adriatic Coast.


What to see

When in Sulmona, you’re forced to wander along Corso Ovidio. Sulmona’s principal street is lined with engaging shops, busy cafés, enticing restaurants, and medieval history while connecting main piazzas with the cathedral.

Sulmona’s Ancient Gates – an integral part of the Medieval walled system – provides a great 60 to 90-minute circular walking tour. If you desire a little exercise after indulging in some sumptuous local cuisine, then take a walk.

The tour takes in 10 gates (doors) or the existing sites built over various centuries, as not all of the gates are still standing.

Port Napoli

The grand Porta Napoli is typically the main entrance to the city and the first gate that you come across if your bussing it to Sulmona.

Amble through this stone gate and be thrown back in time to a medieval piece of history and Sulmona’s remarkable historic centre.

Porta Napoli, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Porta Napoli

Dating back to the 13th century, two districts formed at the south of the city. During the 14th century, the wall was expanded to include the two new areas. The original wall included several more unused gates, although sadly, these were destroyed with the expansion of the new wall or during earthquakes.

Close up of Porta Napoli, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Up close and personal

Although not quite as impressive as the Porta Napoli, you also explore the Porta Romana, Porta di Santa Maria della Tomba, and the other 5 gates on this meander.

Porta Romana

First mentioned in the 1376 city’s land registry, Porta Romana’s actual structure dates back to 1429 as inscribed in Roman numerals at the arch’s left.

Porta Romana, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Porta Romana

Crossing Porta Napoli spills you onto cobble-stoned Corso Ovidio for the next part of your Sulmona explorative walk. Veering right although still on Corso Ovidio, Fontana del Vecchio (Fountain of the Old Man) announces the Medieval Aqueduct.

Fontana del Vecchio

Built during 1474 and standing at the start of the Aqueduct, the noble fountain still provides fresh free drinking water. Remember to fill your water bottle with refreshingly cold mountain water.

Fontana del Vecchio, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Fontana del Vecchio

One of the ‘most important examples of the Renaissance period art in Sulmona’, the fountain is also a stop-off point for many locals.

Medieval Aqueduct

Continue your stroll past the Fontana Del Vecchio to Sulmona’s commanding 12th-century Gothic aqueduct, which confronts you with its sheer 105-plus-metre length still meticulously preserved.

Aqueduct, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Gorgeous aqueduct

Dating back to 1256, the ashlar stone aqueduct carried water from the Gizio River to the Vella River. Centuries later, the aqueduct doesn’t fail to impress and is an integral meeting point for Sulmona’s locals and tourists.

From this point, venture onto Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi for a delicious espresso and pastry stop.

Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi

Surrounded by cafes, shops, and bars, the piazza provides a haven to relax and absorb Sulmona’s locals and scenery.

Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi

If you’re lucky enough to be in Sulmona on a Wednesday or Saturday morning, then check out the extensive market in the square for fresh flowers, fruit and veg, and fish.

Should you visit at the end of July, then you’re treated to the Giostra Cavalleresca – historical Renaissance re-enactment of a knight jousting tournament and a medieval festival, taking place every year.

The Big Fountain (Fontanone)

While still wandering in Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, take note of the piazza’s recent addition in 1823 – the Baroque fountain, which carries a quite unusual legacy…

Fontanone, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
The Big Fountain (Fontanone)

…as noted by the historian Guido Piccirilli with regards to the unfinished fountain.

“The pitch that finds itself beyond the three arches of the aqueduct bore the name of the fish square. Next to it there was a large slab of stone called the staffo. Those who would not or could not pay the debts, in order to be discharged by the Magistrate, had to hit that slab three times with a certain naked part of their body in broad daylight. The story is told by our old and deserves to be believed, because the stone of staffo is not only mentioned in a document of the 16th century, but it has left a specific saying in popular culture: “A certain person not to pay his debts beat his … on the staffo stone”. Now this plate was the one that served as the great basin of our fountain.
According to the drawing that no longer exists in the Town Hall’s archives, four dolphins should have leaned against four streams of water, with their heads on the rocks and kinked tails supporting the monolith’s basin. The work, therefore, was not brought to completion.”  (Di Tommaso, Mattiocco, Pelino 1970, p. 27)

Head back onto Corso Ovidio until you stumble on Piazza XX Settembre on your left and stop at Ovidio’s statue.

Statua di Ovidio

Relatively recent in Sulmona terms and inaugurated in 1925, the statue of Sulmona’s beloved poet Ovidio takes centre stage in stylish Piazza XX Settembre.

Statua di Ovidio in Piazza XX Settembre, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Piazza XX Settembre

Born in 43 B.C., this is not the only Ovidio statue. An identical statue graces the Ovidiu Square in Sulmona’s Twin Town Constanța, Romania.

Ovidio statue, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Ovidio

Head back onto Corso Ovidia and continue your exploratory ramble until you pass Piazza Carlo Tresca to find a rest spot in the enchanting gardens – Villa Comunale.

Villa Comunale

A peaceful spot away from the maddening Easter crowds, Villa Comunale offers two wide ponds with fountains made from volcanic tuff. Another two drinking fountains are available in the gardens for drinking water.

Villa Comunale, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Volcanic Tuff Pond

Take a passeggiata along the Villa’s tree-lined pretty boulevard and be seen with the locals content to pass the day away chatting.

Villa Comunale boulevard, Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, Europe
Tree-lined Boulevard

The rectangular 800-metre-long garden follows a geometric layout and a pleasure to explore.

Along your walk, many Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance churches adorn the city’s alleyways and thoroughfares. I show you several of these in Part 2 of Sulmona’s posts, which also takes you across the Ponte Capograssi (bridge) to Sulmona’s eastern side. A different and contemporary taste of this diverse city. And of course, my post introduces you to Sulmona’s world-famous Confetti – sugar-coated almonds.


More Sulmona Chapters

Spending a few days in this marvellous and memorable city is just not enough and must return someday.

Check out more of my Abruzzo posts for great free travel tips and fabulous photos!

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Italy.

52 thoughts on “Abruzzo: Spectacular Sulmona, Part 1

Add yours

    1. Thank you for the great feedback Emmeline and happy that I’ve triggered your wanderlust!
      Hope you get to Italy one day as there’s so many diverse experiences in this wonderful country.

      Like

  1. Such history & beauty, Nilla! Always amazes me how ancient water works like the aqueducts still bring cool mountain water down to the village, it’d be like drinking in history itself; and love the BW of the shaded garden! Can see why it’d be hard to leave such a place! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Felipe, thank you for the lovely feedback and happy you enjoyed this post.
      Aqueducts around the world have a special magic about them, almost an aura. It’s easy to visualise knights on horseback and long flowing medieval dresses around aqueducts… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Yes! So much history in their very existence! When I was a child I distinctly remember seeing, or recognizing the raised arched pathway of an aqueduct in a movie & kept asking my parents, “What is that!” I couldn’t figure out what the thing was for, but remember how eye catching and elegant it was 😊

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Absolutely Felipe! Coming from a young (colonial) country as Australia, we don’t have much history, however, our indigenous peoples have a plethora of history. We don’t have any aqueducts… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Maybe time to build a working-symbolic one, part art and part functional! Probably wouldn’t happen, but be fun for some small town to do sometime, create an environmentally friendly eye catching draw 😊

      Like

  2. Dear Nilla, as always you bring such beautiful posts on my WP reader.
    Thank you for taking me to Italy. Sulmona has been on my list since 2017.
    I hope I can visit all these places and blog like you did. Easter is supposed to be so special there!!

    Stay safe.x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Ishita!
      Thank you for your lovely feedback and happy that you enjoyed this post. Hope you visit Sulmona in the near future – such a beautiful city.
      Stay tuned for Part 2 on Sulmona at the end of this week. 😉
      Hope you and your family are well and safe in these bizarre times. x
      Cheers,
      Nilla

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Karen! Sulmona is such a picturesque city that may is forgotten on the milk-run – maybe a good thing? 😉
      This was Easter 2019 as of course, you know we can’t travel anywhere these days…
      Many thanks for your feedback and hope you’re staying safe.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Poorwa,
      Thank you fo
      r your kind feedback and hope that you enjoy Part 2 as much as Part 1. I’m publishing another day trip to a small village that travellers can take from Sulmona so that post will follow Part 2. 😉
      Appreciate your comment!

      Cheers,
      Nilla

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carol, I think you could spend a month in Sulmona as it’s a great base to explore the rest of Abruzzo and not as touristy. I thought for Easter, it would be more busy. This was Easter 2019 I visited. Totally different April this year!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an amazing destination and once there, so easy to get around the city on foot and independently…no need for a tour. Although, tours/guides can give you a richer explanation of the history and nuances of a place.

      Like

  3. I must say I am hearing about Sulmona for the first time.. And thanks to you, I believe there will be many such firsts.. 😊😊
    Thank you Nilla for your wonderful description of Sulmona.. Loved it.. ❤
    This reminded me of Torino, which is close to the Italian Alps.
    Sulmona seems to be a very simple, quaint and peaceful place without too much crowds. I think it probably served as a Summer Resort town. The roads and alleys aren't littered with Renaissance or baroque buildings in large numbers, which is a bit strange, yet impressive. Quite a significant part of the city seems modern and yet the city doesn't sport an overtly technological / futuristic facade, which is good again. Every element seems to be just in right proportions over there in Sulmona.
    Thank you so much Nilla once again for sharing.. 😊😊
    (btw, do read my new post containing a hint of "volcanism")

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Many thanks for your fantastic feedback Abir!
      I hope that you do get to visit Sulmona one day as it’s such a relaxed and beautiful city that offers so much to a visitor.
      I’ve only passed through Torino in a bus later in the evening en-route to Calabria, so haven’t visited but able to see some beautiful architecture. I have cousins there so need to make the effort to visit.
      I’m happy that you enjoyed this post and check back for part 2 next week. 😉
      I’ll pop over to your blog today.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My Goodness..!! Torino to Calabria on a bus will be a long and possibly painful journey. I don’t travel by bus if it’s more than 300 km.
      Salute to your immense patience and stamina..!! 😊😊
      Thanks a lot Nilla.. 😊🤗
      I sincerely hope to visit Sulmona and base it for my vacation in that particular area of Italy.. ❤ 🇮🇹
      Will await your feedback on my post as well as your next article in this series.. 🙂
      And yes, do visit Torino as well.. 😉 ❤ 🇮🇹

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Ha, ha, the whole trip actually started in central France as our car broke down and had to be towed to the wreckers!

      Check out the post that explains what happened: Drive on the Wild Side: Cherbourg (France) to Cosenza (Italy) Not sure if I mentioned a 52-hour, 3-bus trip from Buenos Aries to Ushuaia? This is the first part of the bus trip: Bus Virgin – Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, Argentina
      Always travel experiences and stories to share…
      Thanks for the heads up on Torino! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Wow..!! Road trips by car is amazing, but I am still not up for a lengthy bus trip.. 😛
      Need to learn that from you.. 😉
      Great to know that Nilla.. 🙂 Happy Travelling.. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Yes, absolutely love road trips and only do the lengthy bus trips only if it’s necessary. 😉
      Well, I’m grounded right now and not travelling anywhere, like the rest of the world!
      Staying positive so all cool…

      Liked by 1 person

    6. I am a more of a train person. I like Rail Travel. But you won’t believe, the 6 hour journey from Paris to Torino gave me nerves. Have little tolerance level for long journeys.. Gosh..!! And the train was TGV – really, really fast one. Still.. 😛
      That’s why bus is still a no-go for me.. 😛
      We will travel soon, Nilla.. Hand on, everything is opening up..!!

      Liked by 1 person

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