ABRUZZO FOOD AND WINE TOURS 2008
CASTELLI, the worldwide known abruzzese ceramicsThis small village, rising on a rock dominated by Mount Camicia between the rivers Rio and Leomogna, is a favourite destinations for tourists and art lovers. It hosts an Art Institute and a Ceramics Museum. For its position, it is the starting point for climbing the Eastern side of the Gran Sasso. Known since pre-Roman times, in the XI century flourished under the influence of the Benedictine Abeey of San Salvatore, whose monks introduced the local population to ceramics. This art then achieved world stature from the XVI century onwards, with such masters as the Grue brothers and Gentili and Pompei families. Castellian ceramic art, which became famous in the sixteenth century, appears to have extremely antique origins. It was probably the Benedictine monks, before the Valle Siciliana feudatories, who first introduced glazed ceramics around the 12th century. However, the present centre of Castelli has only developed as a town, and thus economically, since the fifteenth century. The mother church of San Donato, with a 13th century wooden polychrome, the majolic altar-piece by Francesco Grue (1647), and a medieval silver cross of the Sulmona school have been preserved.
In August, a large market exhibition of current ceramic production is set up but it is possible to wander around the streets of the town anytime of the year and come across numerous craft shops and stores. Prices vary greatly depending on the type and decoration, the choice ranging from simple rustic-like crockery with the typical "floracci", to the most refined imitations of antique collections maybe even decorated in pure gold. Monogrammed dinner-services can also be ordered or particular objects commissioned and decorated to one's own personal taste, thus making the most of the workmanship of the craftsman. Among the road out of the town and down into the valley one comes across the factories which produce mainly for markets abroad. The famous Acerbo Collection, based at Loreto Aprutino, is one of the largest private collections of majolica.
The spread of Castelli's great fame in the 16th century is attested to by Antonio Bueter, who, in his book, Cronica generale di Spagna (General Chronicle of Spain), when talking about some famous Moorish majolica production, wrote: "According to Pliny, Corebo, the inventor of working clay, whilst in Athens, did not make them any better neither were they any more valuable than those of Corinth or Pisa, nor those of Castelli of the Valle Siciliana d'Abruzzo or anywhere else, neither were they more beautiful or better crafted".
That must have been the case if the Aragona, Orsini, Farnese and other noble families of the day commissioned their everyday and most elegant dinner services from the Castelli ceramists.
The Castelli ceramic museum is situated in the cloisters of an ancient convent, just outside the town, where display boards show the working methods and fragments discovered during archeological research. One kilometre from the town stands the ancient icona (as small churches were once called), of San Donato whose modest appearance is deceptive as, on entering the church, one cannot help admiring the trussed ceiling entirely decorated with sixteenth century polychrome bricks with coats-of-arms, arabesques, human figures and animals painted on ceramic.
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