Pettorano sul Gizio is located on a hill at 625 m above sea level, at the foot of the mount Mattone and the mount Genzana, on the southern edge of the Peligna Valley, in the Province of L’Aquila. It is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
The village is characterized by significant historic buildings, among which the church of San Dionisio, mentioned as early as 1183, the castle of the Cantelmo, of Lombard origin, belonging to the noble family of the Cantelmo from 1310 to 1750, and the ducal palace, in addition to the five town gates.
In the municipal territory of Pettorano there is the Regional Nature Reserve Monte Genzana Alto Gizio, which protects the mountain forests and the lovely valley of the Gizio river.
According to the most accredited interpretation, the name comes from pectorale, for the breastplate shape of the town.
Others claim it derives from petra, because of the rockiness of the area, or else from the name of a village or estate connected with the Roman patrician Pictorius.
The panorama is still one of the most beautiful in Abruzzo (in ancient times these areas had fascinated Ovid, in his Amores); however, observing the side of the village where a house-tower is set in the old walls, the austere atmosphere of the Middle Ages one senses here – brightened somewhat by the Baroque portals and ornamentation – is joined by a strong feeling of dismay. It is the emptiness left by emigration that leaves visitors with a barrenness in their soul.
The visitor looks around and thinks of all the life that used to pulsate in the town, while wandering aimlessly through the many small streets, the rue, that make their way down to the city walls, winding among stairways, courtyards, old buildings with walls often chipped and crumbling. The old cobblestone streets, the Cantelmo coats of arms faded by time, the Baroque portals and the inscriptions on the façades that still put on ducal airs, the stone of the ancient houses, the line of the city walls, and the mountain that envelops the town as if to encapsulate it in a spell: one does not forget Pettorano.
The town took on its present-day shape in the late Middle Ages, when the circuit of walls was erected with six gates, five of which can still be seen: Porta San Nicola (above the arch a 17th century fresco shows St. Margaret holding up the village in her left hand), Porta Cencia, Porta San Marco, Porta del Mulino (which gives access to the industrial archeology park, composed of the remains of mills built by the Cantelmo family along the Gizio river) and Porta Santa Margherita.
There are many important buildings within the walls, for the most part the fruit of the demolitions and renovations of pre-15th century buildings done during the late Renaissance-Baroque period.
The 1706 earthquake made new renovations necessary, such as that of the Mother Church, reopened for worship in 1728. Among the religious buildings, worthy of a visit are the small Church of San Nicola outside the walls, already existing in 1112, and the Church of the Madonna della Libera, from which depart the characteristic descending streets (rue) that lead to the river valley passing through interesting architectural stratifications.
The other churches, San Rocco, San Giovanni and Sant’Antonio, retain little of their original structure.
The imposing remains of Cantelmo Castle, today restored, watched over the village during the long period of abandon after the castle no longer served for defense and for controlling trade in the valley. The pentagonal tower that still soars above the Pettorano was the core of the defense system, around which the walls with their six gates and the two remaining circular towers were erected.
The Ducal Palace was the other domain of the Cantelmo, their private residence, divided into three wings around a square court, with the fourth side open to the valley. The inner courtyard (now Piazza Zannelli) has a beautiful fountain.
Lastly, there are the many fine buildings that evoke, also with a sense of abandonment, the period when the village flourished: Palazzo De Stephanis, the façade of which is a triumph of rococo style; Palazzo Croce, which preserves inside the only fragment found in the West of the Edict of Diocletian (301 AD); Palazzo Giuliani, another important building from the 18th century, and Palazzo Vitto-Massei.
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