Roccascalegna is one of Abruzzo’s must-sees if you fancy a bit of castle hopping, more for its unusual setting than for its fortifications. It made me think of the Wizard of Oz, like Dorothy’s house strangely stuck in a place that the mind perceives it doesn’t belong.
It sits perched over 100m on top of the larger of a pair of limestone formations protruding from the valley floor, and from a distance looks like a giant witch’s cloak rising up from the lush surrounding floor trying to break free of the Majella mountains fencing it in.
Roccascalegna in its present form, apart from some thickened walls & square towers in its C16th Aragon period, dates back to the C11th when it built on top of an existing fort that the Lombards had used as a stronghold in the C6th, to fight against the Byzantine Empire based just 40km away on the Adriatic coastline of Chieti.
Its restoration, begun after the 2nd World War was finished in 1996, and is mostly sympathetic to its Norman former self, though a tribute to those former fierce gothic battles is via a reproduction flame thrower. They were incredibly interested in sewage in their attempt to keep the plague and dysentery-like diseases at bay with a room devoted to it and its dispersal. Its most interesting story is I think of its Aragon period when the feudal Baron Corvo de Corvis bedded local brides on their wedding nights, making the most of his lordly rights by stealing their virginity in accordance with “Jus primae noctis” custom, until he was stabbed by one young feminist donna!
Depending on the time of year you go up it’s a perfumed walk up, surrounded by elderflower, honeyed orange acacia interspersed with the surreal giant yellow Ferula linkii, that look like giant bright yellow cow parsley, not too difficult but, girls, definitely no heels! When we went there was a photographic exhibition relating to the “wolf-brigands” of Abruzzo and their oppression in the 1860s. Unfortunately for us all in quite heavy Italian, but who knows they may read this and do a translation for English-speaking tourists!
Opening hours are Saturday & Sunday 10-13.00 & 15-18.00 October 2nd thru to July 23rd, when it is then open every day until Sept 11th with a closing time of 20.00 and 21.00 in August. Tickets 3 euros.
Tip – If you like cloud watching it makes the perfect spot to view the latest rain givers form over the Majella and for a spot of truffle hunting.
View the TV adaptation of Umberto Eco’s In The Name of The Rose that was filmed here