Set in a secluded part of the Apennines, the Monti della Laga make up a chain of rugged, remote and unique mountains. Somewhat inaccessible and far-flung, they are, in fact, part of a renowned area, the Gran Sasso.
Together, they form the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Europe. Bordering on three regions (Abruzzo, Marche and Lazio) this range spans a length of about 24 kilometres.
Despite this area’s extension, you will not encounter densely populated villages: the few existing ones are isolated and secluded. Amatrice is not far away, though and the 2016 earthquake has not drawn attention away from the natural beauty of this region.
An astonishing variety of landscapes and rock formations, spanning from the harsh, steep slopes of Marche, to the tranquil meadows and pastures of Abruzzo and fearfully deep gorges in the Lazio region, characterize this harsh yet incredibly peaceful area.
Wrongly neglected by most visitors, this is a realm of fascinating wildlife, flora and fauna. The climate plays a substantial part in defining its traits, featuring both Mediterranean and European facets. In the area, you’ll thus find Europe’s most southerly glacier, the Calderone, more than two thousand plant species, some typical to this area, such as the Abruzzo Edelweiss, and the largest plateau of the Apennines, Campo Imperatore, known as Italy’s Little Tibet.
The Monti della Laga are separated from the Gran Sasso chain by the small Vomano valley.
This area's landscape is completely different from the rest of the region. Its highly permeable soil - which gave rise to the name of the mountains, stemming from their geological origins – means the area is rich in streams and rivers, and especially spectacular waterfalls. Unlike limestone, the sandstone you’ll find here typically does not allow water to filter through the soil and thus remains on the surface.
The highest mountain in the range, Monte Gorzano, reaches 2453 m. Many trails surround the area, being characterised by several suspension bridges. Dense woods and lush forest are also present, mainly made up by beech, white pine, chestnut, maple, ash and holly trees.
An astounding treasure-trove, the Monti della Laga are yours to discover.Any suggestions?
Though historical records suggest that Amatrice’s Basilica of San Francesco has existed at least since the 13th century, the structure as it currently stands dates to the late 14th century and presents architectural features typical of the era, including a stunning marble portal in the gothic style with terracotta adornments.
The church’s interior is decorated with frescoes from varying periods, including a 15th century work depicting the Tree of Jesse on the apse and a 14th century depiction of the Last Judgment above the altar.
The building also holds a massive 17th century wood altar with impressive gold and blue decorations, constructed by local artist Giovan Battista Gigli and originally built to hold the Madonna di Filetta reliquary carved by goldsmith Pietro Vannini in 1472.
The Madonna di Filetta, Amatrice’s patron saint, is revered by residents. According to local legend, in the year 1472 a young shepherd girl caught in a violent storm sought cover in the Filetta forest and prayed to the Virgin Mary to spare her life.
A flash of lightning illuminated a small object in the forest’s underbrush, which the girl discovered was a cameo depicting Mary’s image. This cameo, which is currently kept in Amatrice’s Sant’Agostino Church, is a potent symbol of local religious faith treasured by inhabitants.
Following the earthquake in Amatrice on August 24, 2016, the Basilica of San Francesco suffered severe damage, including the total collapse of the church’s façade. The structure has not yet been secured for safe entry, however images obtained from drones and sensory robots reveal extensive damage inside the church as well. Giovan Battista Gigli’s altar appears to have collapsed and shattered, and all of the church’s frescoes were heavily damaged or destroyed.
A traditional dish belonging to the Italian rural culture, gnocchi are seen in the peninsula’s recipes from north to south. Although a general classic, few have ever seen (or tasted!) what are known as gnocchi ricci - in other words, curly gnocchi. A typical dish of the town of Amatrice, these delicious potato dumplings have a long history behind them.
A type of pasta prepared by mixing flour, eggs and hot water, gnocchi ricci were usually eaten as a Sunday meal, especially by the nobles of the area. Unlike other areas of Italy, where gnocchi were considered to be a peasant’s meal, in Amatrice this dish was little known to the townspeople.
Nonetheless, the recipe was too good to forget and survived up to our days after having been handed down orally for generations.
However, the making-process of these gnocchi is time consuming and modernity challenged their existence. In 2004, only two women who knew the recipe were left.
The town of Amatrice decided to offer a free course to teach all those who were interested how to make the local specialty - if we can still savour these gnocchi today, it is thanks to the far-sightedness of this local administration.
Strictly made by hand and usually accompanied by homemade ragù (meat sauce), gnocchi ricci are prevalently served with sugo di agnello (lamb ragù) and sprinkled with local pecorino cheese.
Curiosity: every year, at springtime, Amatrice cherishes this local specialty during the Primaverissima fair, where curly gnocchi fill every plate. Not only a mouthwatering way to fill bellies, but also a wonderful initiative to keep this culinary tradition alive!Any suggestions?
Perched at the foot of the Monti della Laga and close to Amatrice, this splendid frescoed church, also known as Santa Maria delle Grazie, contains exceptionally preserved works carried out in the Quattrocento.
Built in 1480, the Church was erected where an ancient stone niche had stood ever since the 13th century; it was a busy crossroad, where many wayfarers used to pass, hence the name of the building. The niche is still visible within the apsis, which absorbed it, and depicts a Madonna and Child. Above it, you’ll find the Coronation of the Virgin, with the Crucifixion of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi to each side.
These frescoes were carried out by local artist, and among them was the talented Dionisio Francesco Cappelli, a skilful interpreter of the Amatrician School.
Walking inside this Sanctuary is like stepping back in time. Visitors are immediately overwhelmed by the quality of the frescoes, their vivid imagery, brilliant colours and eminent significance. To the left of the nave towers a Madonna in throne with a depiction of what is believed to be the town of Amatrice in her left hand. To the right is a marvellous Annunciation, executed by the school of Carlo Crivelli.
Crivelli stemmed from Venice and trained in Padua before working in the Marche region. He was highly esteemed and his work is often characterised by allegorical images.
In addition to this, other representations of the Virgin Mary and Saints adorn the Sanctuary: Saint Anthony in particular (saint patron of animals and farming), since this was a land where farming and agriculture were truly common.
Up to the 1960s, a 500-year old, 30-metre high oak stood behind the church. This referred to the presence of the Virgin, thus affirming the importance of the church, while legend has it that it related to a miraculous saving of a little girl, menaced by a wolf, thanks to the Virgin Mary.
Be as it may, this is a magical place, which can be reached through a trail directly from the centre of Amatrice via the Retrosi hamlet, going along charming woods and pathways. Yet another hidden gem adorning the heart and soul of this splendid peninsula.Any suggestions?
A great classic of the Italian peninsula and a favourite on Italian tables, Amatriciana-style pasta has its origins in the small town of Amatrice, Lazio. Some claim that the name Amatriciana saw its origins in the Grici, what the Romans used to call those who sold bread, cheese and other foods.
What’s more likely is that Amatriciana was simply born in the beautiful borgo of Amatrice – at least the townspeople of this mountain hamlet in Rieti sure seem to think so!
A full-flavoured sauce, traditional Amatriciana is made with tasty local ingredients: pecorino cheese and guanciale (cured pork cheek). The modern-day version, today widely accepted as a classic of Roman cuisine, includes olive oil and tomatoes. Nonetheless, you can still find ‘white’ Amatriciana (the tomato-less version) in some traditional restaurants of central Italy. Garlic is also a modern addition to the recipe, but you’ll often find it mentioned among ingredients in cookbooks that claim to be reporting the original sauce.
Often used to dress spaghetti, Amatriciana is also popular with bucatini (thicker than spaghetti, with a tiny hole in the middle) but it is often served with Rigatoni and other types of short pasta - just don’t tell anyone from Amatrice.
In fact, if you’re looking to taste the real deal and you happen to be in Amatrice in August, make sure you stop by the Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. A festival completely dedicated to the world-famous sauce, the sagra features different stalls that serve traditional recipes alongside modern re-interpretations of the classic. If you’re eager to try the recipe at home you won’t be disappointed as books and souvenirs close the circle and help spread the culture of pasta all’Amatriciana to the world!Any suggestions?
The Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ascensione, known as the Santuario della Madonna di Filetta was erected in 1472 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Filetta, patron of the town. According to legend, on the day of the Holy Ascension, a young shepherdess was caught in a violent storm. While trying to find shelter she spotted a small object and retrieved an image of what she believed was the Holy Mary.
The girl was miraculously saved from the storm and the little cameo, which actually depicts the Goddess Diana, was credited as the cause of the "miracle". As the cameo was supposedly lit by a mysterious light it attracted the attention of important local religious personalities becoming a famous relic.
To commemorate the event a church was built in the very spot where the relic was found and, although the small cameo is no longer preserved in this church, it remains a very important symbol of the town and is brought in procession every year for the Holy Ascension celebrations.
Today, the small church has a very plain façade with a pointed arch door and a bell-gable. The beautiful cycle of frescoes which decorate the interior were commissioned by the town to artist Pier Paolo da Fermo.
At the centre of the fresco is the Holy Ascension of Christ showing the apostles looking at the saviour as he is taken up to heaven. To the left are village citizens as they walk in procession, while scenes from the "miracle" are depicted in the right side of the fresco, with the young girl adoringly kneeling down before the small cameo surmounted by angels.
These exceptional frescoes were carefully restored between 2008 and 2012 and provide precious insight into the history of the village and its traditions.
As a result of the recent earthquake that struck Amatrice, the church, having been strengthened a few years ago, was not too badly damaged, although some cracks occurred in the tower and the frescoes.
Thanks to the efforts by the experts of the Institute for Conservation and Restoration, with the precious help of firemen and police, the frescoes have now been covered and all fallen fragments found, so that after the structural renovation of the building the whole cycle can be reconstructed. The cameo, which was kept in the Church of St. Agostino, was also retrieved.
Ethereal images spring to mind when we think about lakes and mountains, enchanted scenarios where peaks reflect their images into water. Lake Campotosto is one such case. A reservoir and not a natural lake, it is the second biggest of its kind in Europe (the first one being the Omodeo Lake in Sardinia). Created in the 1930s, Campotosto Lake sits in the province of L’Aquila at a height of 1313m in the Natural Reserve of the Monti della Laga (part of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park).
Many photographers are attracted to this area because of the splendid images they can capture, especially in the winter, when the lake freezes over and everything comes to a standstill. In the summer, windsurfers are also drawn to the area, given the constant wind that makes surfing on the lake a superb experience.
The lake, born out of three dikes, is also where the Sentiero Italia may take you.
This national trail, more than 6000km long, connects Trieste to Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardinia, and is made up of 368 sections. One such part goes around Amatrice. Sadly hit by the recent earthquake, the beauty of this city and of the magnificent surrounding area still pertain their enticing souls.
The idea behind Sentiero Italia – marked with a red-white-red flag and maintained by local Alpine Clubs – is to teach people to respect mountains and nature.
By encountering unspoilt areas, preciously rich flora and fauna, and momentous ancient ruins, visitors are reminded of the beauty surrounding them and of how vital it is to play a part in protecting it.
You can start in Amatrice and take several directions, either around Retrosi, the Icona Passatora, San Martino, Capricchia and then back to Amatrice. Alternatively, after you have reached Sacro Cuore, continue towards Preta and then Campotosto.
The world is your oyster here, and you can craft your own path according to your interests and appeal.
The recent Amatrice earthquake obviously hit the area, and the scenery may add a touch of sorrow to your outing, but don’t be deterred and start discovering this little gem. Despite having experienced a tragedy, the locals are not discouraged and want to carry on, making Amatrice stronger than before. You can have a say in this. Help us rebuild Amatrice!Any suggestions?
Housed in what used to be the Sant’Emidio Church - one of Amatrice’s oldest and most beautiful structures, whose construction dates to the 14th century - the “Cola Filotesio” Civic Museum’s name is an homage to the town’s most famous artist, Nicola Filotesio.
Also known as “Cola from Amatrice,” Filotesio was a painter, architect and sculptor who was likely a student of Raphael.
Indeed, one of the most important items of the museum’s collection is Filotesio’s “Madonna with Child and Saint Giovannino,” dated 1527, though the majority of his works are owned by other structures, including the Pinacoteca of Ascoli Piceno - where Filotesio died in the year 1547 - as well as the Capitoline and Vatican Museums of Rome.
In addition to Filotesio, the museum displays works and objects recovered from churches in Amatrice and the surrounding areas. Among these, the Madonna of Filetta reliquary and processional crosses carved by the goldsmith Pietro Paolo Vannini. Its contents are an important testament to the area’s artistic, religious and historical patrimony.
The earthquake in Amatrice on August 24, 2016 led to the near total collapse of the Sant’Emidio Church, leaving the Cola Filotesio Civic Museum’s works buried under a mountain of rubble.
A special operation to recover the artworks and secure the remains of the church took place in the days immediately following the disaster and was completed by September 1.
Despite heavy damage to the structure, workers were able to save most of the museum’s collection, including Fliotesio’s “Madonna with Child,” which suffered only minimal damage. A temporary restoration lab has been set up in nearby Cittaducale, where the works will undergo the initial and most urgent repairs before being transferred to an as yet undetermined location.
Among the 281 individuals who perished in the earthquake, Amatrice is also mourning the loss of Renaissance art historian Floriana Svizzeretto, who had served as the Cola Filotesio Museum’s director from the year of its founding in 2002 through 2014. This article is in her memory.Any suggestions?
The church of Saint Anthony the Abbot in Cornillo Nuovo, on the outskirts of Amatrice, dates back to the 15th century. It is dedicated to Saint Anthony, a popular Egyptian monk who is also referred to as Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Great or the Father of All Monks.
The building has a lime stone gabled façade with a rounded arch and a bare stone bell-gable.
The interior, with a single nave, has an altar with a small shrine carved into the wall containing a terracotta statue of the saint by Saturnino Gatti. A statue of the Virgin Mary by the same artist can be found on the right side of the nave in front of the side altar. In the shrine one can clearly see the signature of local artist Dionisio Cappelli and the date, 1511, which gives an exact dating for the paintings.
Twelve frescoed panels surrounding the altar depict scenes from the life of the saint, while a series of interesting frescoes decorate the other walls. They contain images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus with the Apostles and other religious subjects.
A small wooden tabernacle, shaped like a temple, sits on the main altar. This precious object, also called satis pulchro ('very beautiful' in Latin), was donated to the church by Cherubino de Jacobo in 1568. The tabernacle was stolen in July 1996 and returned to the church only in 2009, after it had been missing for over a decade.
As a result of the recent earthquake that struck Amatrice, the church was badly damaged. Whereas the 12 frescoes did not suffer damage, the terracotta statues had to be supported to prevent breakage. Other important religious ornaments as well as the wooden tabernacle have been retrieved and brought to a safe location.Any suggestions?
Located at the southeastern limits of Amatrice’s historical town centre, the Church of Sant’Agostino has stood since the year 1428. Built by the Augustinians, the church’s founders originally dedicated the structure to Saint Nicholas; it was only in the 18th century that it was rededicated to Saint Augustine of Hippo.
Though the original structure of Sant’Agostino still stands today, it has undergone significant changes since its construction in the 15th century.
Among its original features, the church has conserved a marble portal in the Abruzzese late Gothic-Romanesque style that was typical of the region and characterized the church’s original design. However, the rest of the façade, built out of local sandstone, underwent significant modifications in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, original sculptures of the Madonna and the archangel Gabriel that once decorated the lunette above the portal were stolen during the 20th century.
The inside of the church was destroyed twice by fire, first in the year 1580 and then again in 1781. The whitewashed interior nonetheless conserves some important late 15th century frescoes depicting the Annunciation and Enthroned Madonna with Child, which are typically attributed to the artist Carlo Crivelli, though some believe it is the work of artist Dionisio Cappelli.
The church is situated next to Amatrice’s Porta Carbornara, which is one of the only remaining portions of the town’s medieval walls. Indeed, it is likely that the church’s bell tower was originally a feature of the walls and used for defensive purposes.
The devastating earthquake that struck Amatrice and the surrounding region on August 24, 2016 caused significant damage to the Church of Sant’Agostino. The upper section of the church’s façade, along with large portions of the bell tower, roof and outer walls were reduced to heaps of rubble that now surround the building, rendering it highly unstable and largely inaccessible.Any suggestions?
The small town of Amatrice in Italy’s Lazio region was once entirely surrounded by a protective wall, originally built in the 13th century. In its original construction, six large ‘porte’ or gates in the wall granted access to Amatrice’s town centre.
Unfortunately, the wall encircling Amatrice’s perimeter has not entirely stood the test of time, and today only portions of the original structure are visible.
Of the six original gates, only the Porta Carbonara – which is attached to the Church of Sant’Agostino - remains intact and still serves today as a point of access to the city center. Other sections of the ancient wall are still clearly visible in the southwestern area of the city between the Franciscan Convent and the Porta San Francesco.
Throughout the years, the remains of some of the gates were incorporated into newer constructions; an external wall of the Church of the Madonna was built around the Porta Ferrata, while traces of the Porta Castello can be found in the Padre Giovanni Minozzi orphanage located in the former Benedictine Convent. Others, including the Porta Marina and the Porta Romana, have been completely lost with time.
During the earthquake in Amatrice on August 24, 2016, Porta Carbonara, the only remaining gate of the town’s original medieval walls, unfortunately collapsed and was completely destroyed.Any suggestions?
Six kilometres. That’s how far you’ll have to go to find hidden history and luxuriant nature in the heart of Italy. Starting from the historical centre of Amatrice, this path corresponds to the Ancient Romanella way, the road leading to the Via Salaria, now winding up on the shores of the tranquil Scandarello Lake.
A journey through ancient ruins and a discovery of nature await you; embark on it by yourself for peace and relaxation or make this destination the perfect excuse for a family adventure! Kids will enjoy playing amid the ruins you’ll encounter as you walk.
Following the clear indications from Amatrice, as set by the Alpine Club, visitors walk along the ruins of the ancient walls and then cross a stream, the Castellano.
A small chapel (the Conicella of Saint Joseph) leads the way up until an ancient retreat, from which a marvellous vista of Amatrice opens up. The path then slopes down towards the lake; this is not a natural formation but a reservoir, created after a dyke was set on the Scandarello stream in 1924. Known as Lago Scandarello, the lake – full of fish! - is about 3 km long and its outer limits reach 11 km. It’s possible to walk around it but if you’re content with the walk you’ve just made you can simply choose to marvel at the mountains you’ll detect from there: the Laga to the east, Vettore and Pozzoni to the north.
Quite clearly, the recent earthquake will add a touch of sadness to your experience, and expect to encounter several demolished buildings in Amatrice or slightly swerve your route, but you should not think the region feels despondent. In fact, efforts are being made by local authorities to try and reinstate a normal order of things. You can play your part in this, too. Help us rebuild Amatrice!Any suggestions?
The “Garden of Knowledge”: an evocative name indeed. It does exist, in the centre of Italy, and more precisely in an area recently struck by a terrible earthquake, whose heart nonetheless still beats strong: Amatrice.
Created in 2010 with the intention of representing the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, the area includes three historical-architectural parts; the monumental complex of Saint Francis in Amatrice, the Rocca di Calascio and the Church of Santa Maria dell’Assunta of Assergi - all miniatures built to scale.
Set in an area which used to host the public gardens, the Parco in Miniatura is no theme park!
Instead, it aims at establishing an emotional connection between the visitor and the surrounding natural beauties. You’ll then find casts of the protected animals in the park, among which deer, eagles and wolves, in addition to several information panels offering all sorts of beta on the area.
Sadly, the park was damaged during the recent earthquake, and so was the Saint Augustine Church which stood close to it: its rosette and façade were completely destroyed. Efforts are being made to render the area safe once again and reconstruct what’s gone. Help us rebuild Amatrice!