Located about 60 miles east of Rome, Sulmona is the birthplace of the Roman poet, Ovid, and confetti, the colorful candy-covered almonds (Jordan Almonds in the U.S). Sitting between two national parks and surrounded by the Apennine Mountains, Sulmona is the major town in Abruzzo’s Peligna Valley.
Even though it is a small city—the town has about 25,000 residents—Sulmona boasts an extraordinary number of cultural, historical, artistic, and food-related attractions.
If you are lucky enough to travel to this Abruzzese jewel, be sure to check out these 10 sights.
The Medieval Aqueduct and Fountain
Location: Corso Ovidio, Sulmona
In the historic city center, a number of ancient buildings still stand, and one of the most beautiful is the 13th-century aqueduct. Built in 1256, it once supplied water to mills, craft shops, workshops, and homes alike. The 330-foot-long aqueduct has 21 arches made of hand-hewn stone.
In the 15th century, the city added the Fontana del Vecchio (the Old Man Fountain) that still supplies residents with ice cold mountain water. The fountain itself is the head of a man thought to be Solimo, the founder of Sulmona.
Water from the Gizio River falls from Solimo’s mouth.
Located in the shadow of the aqueduct, Piazza Garibaldi is the main square of Sulmona. There is a beautiful baroque fountain in the middle of the square, and shops, cafes, and restaurants surround it.
Throughout the year the piazza hosts a number of events, including the twice-weekly market (see 3. below), concerts, La Madonna Che Scappa at Easter, and July’s jousting tournament—Giostra Cavalleresca.
Location: Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona
Every Wednesday and Saturday are market days in Sulmona. Held at Piazza Garibaldi, the market is a popular place to buy everything from fresh produce to meats and cheeses, from household items to clothing.
The Sulmona market is my favorite because it really has everything and is a glimpse into Italian life.
If you go, notice how dressed up many of the people are as they meander through the stalls or stand and socialize with friends and relatives.
There are also daily markets in the surrounding towns. If you are interested in visiting markets in any of them, be sure to check out websites for the town or region as they will list market days and times for you.
Tip: Be sure to grab a porchetta panini (roast pork sandwich) while you’re there.
Location: Viale Roosevelt 33, Sulmona
The Cathedral of San Panfilo is located at the beginning of Corso Ovidio, the main street that runs through Sulmona. Dating to 1075, the church sits on the site of what was once a Roman temple.
While it looks very plain on the outside, the inside is beautifully restored. Be sure to check out the underground rooms that contain relics of Pietro da Morrone (Pope Celestine), the pope who resigned after five months because he wanted to live a solitary and simple life. He became a hermit and lived in the hills of Monte Morrone overlooking Sulmona.
Abbey of Santo Spiritu
Location: Via Badia 28, Badia-bagnaturo, L’Aquila
Cost: Small charge
Three miles from the city center of Sulmona and at the base of Montagne del Morrone (Morrone Mountain) is the Abbey of Santo Spiritu, a former monastery that is being restored. Built in 1293, it was the home of Pope Celestine before he abdicated.
For hundreds of years the abbey was the main monastery of the Celestines, but when Napoleon cracked down on monastic life the abbey was deconsecrated and became a poorhouse.
Later it became a prison, and during World War II, Germans executed members of the Italian resistance there.
Location: Corso Ovidio, Sulmona
In Italian, passeggiare means to take a walk, but when Italians talk about la passeggiata they are talking about an evening stroll in which the whole town—men, women, teens, children, and even dogs—participates. A cultural tradition, la passeggiata creates a sense of community as friends and family come out to the main streets or piazzas and amble along, socializing with each other, enjoying aperitifs, and getting some fresh air.
Nowhere in Italy is the passeggiata as impressive as in Sulmona.
Around sunset head to Corso Ovidio, the town’s main street, and you will see well-dressed women walking arm-in-arm, men talking in groups, and teens enjoying time together. Take some time to stroll the Corso yourself, and you’ll see how relaxing it is.
Tip: While you are walking the Corso, be sure to check out the statue of Ovid in Piazza XX Settembre.
The Complex of the Annunziata
Location: Corso Ovidio, 231, 67039 Sulmona
Cost: Small charge
The Basilica of the Annunziata was built by a group of monks in the 15th century, and the palace next to it was finished almost 200 years later. The palace had several uses over the years, and as late as 1960 it was a city hospital.
Today it is home to the Civic Museum where you can find exhibits of art covering four centuries as well as an auditorium that the Sulmonese Chamber Music Society uses.
The complex is a mix of Broque, Renaissance, and Gothic architecture and design due to renovations made after earthquakes and other disasters that damaged it. The church has three naves, and paintings by a number of Italian artists adorn the side altars and vaults.
Some of the furnishings date back to the 17th century, and there are two organs in the wooden choir loft both dating to the mid-18th century. The bell tower, built in the 16th century, is 65 meters high.
The Civic Museum is the largest in the Peligna Valley, and it occupies 10 rooms of the palace. You can view archaeological finds, art, Roman remains, traditional Abbruzzese-Molise dress, art, sculptures, and more.
Tip: The Tourist Information Service is in one room of the Annunziata. You can get a link to the town’s free Wi-Fi service there.
Pelino Confetti Museum
Location: Via Stazione Introdacqua55, Sulmona
Italian confetti, known as Jordan almonds in the U.S., are sugar-coated almonds that were originally thrown during carnivals. Today, Italians traditionally give confetti to guests at weddings, baptisms, and other events.
You’ll find stores selling confetti in bags, boxes, and artistic shapes throughout Sulmona, but you might want to visit the Pelino Confetti Museum to learn the history of confetti. In addition to tasting the many types of confetti now available, you can tour a recreation of an 18th-century confetti workshop and see Sulmona’s first telephone, the factory’s first electric motor, and the special utensils and machines used in years past.
Tip: There are a number of different flavors of confetti available, so be sure to ask for a sample before you buy. At the museum and at the shops they will let you taste the different kinds.
Visit Surrounding Hill Towns
Sulmona is a great base from which you can explore many of the small hill towns in the area, each with a variety of things to explore.
Pacentro, home to singer Madonna’s ancestors, is famous for Cantelmo-Caldora Castlewhich has a trapezoidal foundation and a tower on every corner.
Pettorano sul Gizio, about 10 minutes from both Pacentro and Sulmona, has its own Cantelmo Castle. You can enjoy a good cappuccino at Bar al Cortile and enjoy the view of the valley from Piazza Zannelli.
Bugnara hosts the Romantica International Florists’ Festival, an all-night festival where florists from around the world decorate the town.
Pescocostanzo, Roccaraso,and Rivisondoliare all populardestinations for skiers and snowboarders in the winter.
Tip: Each of the towns has a number of festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Be sure to check out the calendar of events before you go.
Enjoy the Outdoors
If you like being outdoors, you’ll find three national parks, one regional park, and more than 35 protected reserves in the area. The region’s 18 ski resorts have about 151 miles of slopes, and the mountains are perfect for walking, hiking, and cycling most of the year.
As noted above, skiers and snowboarders will appreciate the availability of ski and snowboard venues close to Sulmona.
If the ocean is more your style, a quick trip to the coast (about a 30- or 40-minute drive) will put you on the beaches of the Adriatic.
Special to BookCottages.com by Christine Culter.architecturehistoricsmall town