A walk around Scanno, city of stairways
Scanno was made famous by the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, most notably of the maze-like steps and alleys which are its definining characteristic. Unsurprisingly, then, the best way to experience its unique ambiance is simply to explore the streets by foot.
I found Scanno to be quite unlike Pescocostanzo, another small and picturesque historical town in this area, in so much as the former is still very much a living town, despite the fact that its location makes it feel far more remote. You'll see those tiny alleyways and stairways both steep and sweeping, but this isn't a museum; the houses seem to be owned by people working in the town rather than second-homes and expats and there are plenty of cars, trucks and everyday shops, rather than souvenir shops.
All of this makes the place rather fascinating. It feels antique in many ways, and the fact it has largely resisted touristification means you can well imagine how people would have lived there a century ago, two centuries...
At the same time, Scanno, in my opinion, isn't especially pretty. The Majella mountains which surround it are beautiful, but also rather intimidating. The buildings are dark, the small streets a little claustrophobic. Come here for the interest factor, not a trip to a typically attractive Italian town. But, then, you can find those almost anywhere. Scanno is something a bit different. I have to say that I may be in a minority, however; it has been named one of the most beautiful small towns in Italy (see link below).
You can pick up a map with an itinerary at the Tourist Information, where you'll be advised on which are the true must-sees. Churches and other places of historical and cultural interest also have boards outside with plenty of information.
- Historical Travel
Lago di Scanno
Just outside the town of Scanno lies an impressive lake of the same name. This is a popular place to come and relax for visitors and locals alike, and although there are facilities like small lakeside bars these don't spoil the overall sense of calm.
The water is clear, and you'll be able to see shoals of fish - some of them pretty large - cruising by.
Although we were there during August, the lake is apparently glacially cold year-round in normal conditions. Due to an unusual heatwave, however, the water level had gone down and you could paddle comfortably. I did get a taster of what the temperature is usually like, however; a stream trickling down into the water was icy. Refreshing on a hot day, but certainly not something you'd want to bathe in!
As it was, there were a number of people swimming and fishing, although the overwhelming impression was of a vast, empty expanse of water surrounded on all sides by high and thickly-forested mountains. Maybe it was because the sun was going down, but I found it a slightly melancholy spot, despite its beauty.
fontana del Pisciarello
The fountain of the Pisciarello, dating back to the 18th century, used to be right inside the town walls, where the Saint Anthony door once stood. It was used both by people and animals. Apparently the water coming from this fountain is very healthy and diutetic. I tasted it, and it had quite a strong "aroma".
The name is interesting. Pisciarello means - literally - "the one who's peeing" - but in the local dialect it also has another meaning: ice stalagtite.
the church and convent of Saint Anthony
La Chiesa e il Convento di Sant'Antonio (church and convent of Saint Anthony) is just outisde the village. It was built in 1590 next to an existing hospice for locals and travellers alike. Many different friars have lived in this convent - and at times it was even abondoned and closed down. At some point is was even sold to a local family.
Today the convent is again used as a convent, and this since 1938. Outside, in the courtyard, there's a bronze statue of Saint Anthony... as well as great views of the village of Scanno.
santa maria delle grazie
Santa Maria delle Grazie, Holy Mary the Merciful church used to be the home of a local fraternal order. No one knows when it was built, but evidence indicates that it existed already before the 16th century.
There are two churches in Scanno with the same name... the old one (the one in the photo) and the new one... at the turn of the 20th century the church closed down, so the fraternal order in 1907 moved to another church, the church of the Scoloppi - and they re-named it Santa Maria della Grazie.
Today both churches are functioning - and so both bear the same name, though they are very distinct buildings.
museo della lana - wool museum
The wool museum is located in a small octagonal stone building, which once used to be a a slaughterhouse - and this slaughterhouse, in turn, was built using the stones that belonged to one of the three original access doors to the town.
In this museum you can see how people lived in the past: there are four rooms - the cellar, the kitchen, the bedroom and the weaving room, there wool was carded and loomed. All over you can see old looming tools and all sorts of utensils that were used by sheperds in their daily life.
One of the two important fountains in Scanno is the Fontana Sarracco, with two arched bodies: the one on the left, built in 1549, was reserved for animals only - while the one on the right was for people. In the people's part there are for distinct "taps" with four different images: the king, the queen, the shoe-maker and the friar... only noble men could drink from the king's tap, while noble women drank from the queen's tap. The shoe-maker was reserved for common people of all genders, while the friar was only used by religious people.
Note how high the people's part is, compared to the anmal's part... there's a reason for it: it was easier for women to fill their buckets this way and carry them home on their heads.
Scanno used to be a wealthy mountain town, and its wealth can still be seen in the palaces and lodges all over town. One of the most beautiful of these is the lodge Case Roncone, with an amazing three-arched window.
Arched windows - with two or three arches - were built on the top floor of the lodges and had a very practical purpose: to serve as an "air filter" in winter, and to bring some coolness to the house in summer. Two other fine examples of arched-windows can beseen in via De Angelis (palazzo de Angelis), in via Ciorla 13 and in via del Castellaro.
chiesa di San Giovanni Battista
The church of Saint John the baptist used to be the least interesting of all the Scanno churches and was probably built in the first hald of the sixteen century. I say "used to be" because it is now one of the most interesting ones - not for its original decorations, but for the exhibition of vative statues, all life-size.
Each saint has a little sign at his feet which explains the people he protects, and their illnesses or characteristics. One example is Saint Biagio (Saint Blaise?), who used to protect people from throat-related problems, as well as to heal colds. The wooden statue at the back is, obviously, that of Saint John.
porta della croce
The only surviving door is the Porta della Croce (door of the Holy Cross): the other two doors (Porta Santa Maria - door of the Holy Mary, and Porta S. Antonio - door of Aaint Anthony) were destroyed at the turn of the century.
It was likely built in the 15th century and it had a wooden door: here's a room right over the door - it's where people would actionate it - though now it is a private flat. If you stand right below the door, you can still the hinges that allowed the door to be opened and closed.
omparso portale ligneo.
chiesa di santa maria della valle
In the small village of Scanno you can still see amazing palaces and churches in particular. There are 14 still standing, scattered all over town. You will see the most striking one as soon as you reach the village. It's in Piazza Santa Maria della Valle , and the church's name is Santa maria della Valle (Holy MAay of the Valley). Next to it there would be one of the three arched doors to the village, which was walled.
If you can visit it inside, you will note a lot of beautiful marble - in particular the two basins where the holy water is kept.
Fishing in Lake Scanno
Fishing in the lake is reputed to be excellent although time constraints did not allow us to attest to this. The fish species present in the lake include the following:
- TROUT (trota)
- TENCH (tinca)
- PERCH (persico reale)
- ROACH (rovella)
- RUDD (scardola)
- CARP (carpa)
- CATFISH (pesce gatto)
- EEL (capitone)
- WHITEFISH (lavarello)
More on horses
I was curious as to the origin of these horses and how they seem to thrive in such a rugged environment where there are no buildings or people to be seen for many many miles. I later found out that they're not there all year round. Horses, cows, and sheep are moved out to pasture for the summer and back to wherever they came from in fall, the practice is called transumanza. You'll also see shepherds with sheepdogs keeping an eye on the sheep, at least. Thank you to Deirdré Straughan for that information.
Lago di Scanno
Next to the town of Scanno is the beautiful lake by the same name. It is the largest lake of the region being 1.7 km in length and 700 m in width at its widest.
Many of Sergio Leone's Italian westerns were filmed in the Abruzzo region. Who knows, maybe old Clint rode this slope.
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