Discovering the ancient heart of the city: the capo quarto churches
The square, the fountain, the church are the symbolic places of the inhabitants of the fortified villages who arrived in the new city. A city soon overwhelmed by wars and conflicts. Destroyed in 1259, it remained vacant for seven years, until it was newly rebuilt with the squares, fountains and churches that still characterize it. The fortified villages united to form the quarters, each marked by their own possessions, squares, fountains, churches, and castles. From the splendid capo quarto church, that is the “head” church of the quarter, with an adjacent square and fountain, we will delve into the heart of the old city through the alleyways and lanes that in the Middle Ages followed the natural structure of the ground.
Santa Maria Paganica is situated on the highest point of the city, it is the greatest capo quarto church built by the inhabitants of Paganica along with the adjacent 13th-century church of San Giustino demolished in 1934. The current structure dates from the reconstruction following the severe 1703 earthquake. The building has a single nave with side chapels, a large transept and it is characterized by a large semi-circular apse and transept. From via Accursio you can reach the back square characterized by the imposing bell tower which served as a defensive structure, and the splendid lateral portal dated back to the 14th century. The square is surrounded by ancient 14th century buildings with precious decorated stone windows and, on via Accursio, you can appreciate the medieval abode “of Buccio”, a rare example of minor gothic architecture and palazzo Benedetti which, behind its façade, hides one of the most characteristic Renaissance courtyards. Along the north side of the church, we can admire the ancient portal built in the second half of the 13th century and probably part of the old 13th century church. The monumental portal characterized by bas reliefs and richly decorated capitals is one of the most ancient portals of the city. Before leaving the square, we can appreciate the fountain of eighteenth-century origin, and palazzo Ardinghelli that was also rebuilt in its current forms in the 18th century with the triple balcony and the finely decorated windows of Palazzetto Colantoni of fifteenth-century origin. Heading to Piazzetta Chiarino we reach via San Martino a typical medieval street flanked by ancient palazzos hide courtyards and gardens, such as the old house of Jacopo “notar Nanni” with its refined loggia and round arches. Turning right onto via San Benedetto in Perillis we reach via Cascina with its old Church of Santa Maria now converted into a family home, but which still preserves its stone façade, an ogival window and a monumental portal on via della Mezzaluna that we cross among ancient portals. Just few metres along via della Mezzaluna we reach via Del Capro, then turning right onto via Rustici we find the impressive portal (17th century) of the Incorvati residence. Along via Rustici, which is named after an ancient family from Rocca di Mezzo, we can appreciate several palazzos built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Walking along the lateral alleys such as via degli Albanesi and via delle Streghe, we reach via Coppito and, turning left, we find San Pietro square with its church and the beautiful stone fountain.
The church was restored between 1969-71. It was built by the inhabitants of Poppleto in the second half of the 13th century thus becoming a linchpin for the community of the quarter which was particularly active thanks to presence of important families such as the Gaglioffi, the Camponeschi and the Pretatti families. The façade is divided horizontally and vertically by pilasters and cornices; the two stone lions of roman age were discovered during the restoration works in the 19th century. Of particular interest is the Gothic portal of Burgundian style and the walls in opus aquilanum (i.e., a particular type of masonry). The bell tower (13th century) has an octagonal map, very similar to the one located in Santa Maria of Collemaggio; the mullioned windows, the portal and the octagonal pillars can be dated back to the early 14th century. The suggestive interior has a strong asymmetrical structure. It consists of a single nave with a single lateral corridor, which is at the base of the structural asymmetry, the transept is divided into two parts with different longitudinal configuration. This characteristic feature has been interpreted as symbol of Jesus’s tilted head on the crucifix. On the right side, it presents a small aisle (13th century), which was probably part of the original structure of the church. On the west side of the apse, we can appreciate fourteenth and fifteenth century frescoes, such as the cycle describing the legend of St. George and the dragon, the statue of St. Peter enthroned. Of particular interest is also the fresco of St. Louis King, in the apse of the left. From the square of San Pietro, turning onto via Santa Teresa, we reach via Barete where we find the apse of the imposing church of San Domenico. The church was erected on the site donated to the Dominicans by Charles of Anjou on 24 February 1300. The convent and the church were erected in the first half of the fourteenth century on the site of a thirteenth-century building. Indeed, the majestic protogothic portal, located in the western apse, dates to the 13th century. The current structure is the product of the several restorations such as the repair works following the severe 1703 earthquake. The church represents one of the most exquisite examples of the Abruzzo gothic style. The building has five polygonal diversified apses, while the outside walls are made of ashlars. Reaching the square dominated by the beautiful unfinished façade (18th century), we appreciate the white 14th-century façade made of ashlar masonry whose architectural design reminds that of the Holy Door of Santa Maria of Collemaggio. The 18th-century interior has preserved the original structure of the basilica, while the apsidal chapels feature architectural elements typical of the 14th century. an old convent was also built on the same square and which later in 1810 was converted into a prison and which today is under restoration. The building houses the adjacent old church of San Sebastiano, which at the end of 1400s housed a hospital administered by the Compagnia dei Disciplinati of St. Thomas Aquinas. From San Domenico square, walking along via delle Carceri we reach the Church of San Quinziano, an old parish of the fortified village of Pile built in 1226 under the Angevin domination. The oldest remains of the current building consist of the bell tower and the walls in opus aquilanum on the west side. The façade made of ashlar masonry and the portal can be dated back to the 14th century, whereas the single chamber dates to the restoration following the 1703 earthquake. Walking few metres, we reach piazza Fontesecco and then turning onto via Sassa, we find the monastery of the Beata Antonia. The complex which contained also a hospital was founded with the name of Eucharist Monastery in 1349 by the Gaglioffi family and was later donated by Giovanni of Capestrano to Donna Antonia of Florence and to her nuns. Before leaving via Sassa, we can appreciate the exquisite 16th-century courtyard inside Palazzo Fiori in front of the monastery, and on the left, the 14th-century façade of the Gaglioffi residence. Turning right onto via Cesura, we enter the quarter of San Giovanni and after few meters we reach Piazza Santa Maria di Roio overlooked by the regal 18th-century palazzo Rivera and its monumental portal, and by palazzo Persichetti whose courtyard houses a collection of remains of Roman age belonging to scholar Nicolò Persichetti.
The church of Santa Maria di Roio, built by the inhabitants of Colle di Roio, in its current architectural design with a single-nave interior, dates to the years after the 1703 earthquake. The original 13th-century façade in stone ashlars is decorated by the portal and the rose window in the lower central part. . heading towards via del Cardinale, at the junction with via Agnifili, we appreciate the building of the same name that houses a beautiful 15th-century courtyard characterized by rounded arches. From Piazzetta del Cardinale we turn onto via dei Drappieri leading to the capo quarto church of San Marciano e Nicandro built on the site of the church of San Giovanni di Lucoli whose majestic portal has been reused for the church of San Francesco di Paola in via XX Settembre. the church was built in the early 14th century by the inhabitants of Roio and later rebuilt after the 1461 earthquake. Of the late 13th-century church on this site only the lower part of the façade, the portal and the rose window remain. Via S. Marciano is characterized by residences and palazzos of the old noble de Nardis family. Turning onto via dell’Arcivescovado we reach via Simeonibus surrounded by the “Cancella” on the right, that is 15th-century bottegas overlooking the market square, later dismantled and then reassembled behind the Post Office building. Heading towards piazza San Marco we appreciate the 14th-century lateral portal of the church of Santa Maria di Bagno and one of the oldest find in the city: a stone decoration of Langobardic origin inserted in the façade of the church of San Marco. From here we head towards piazza Santa Giusta, where we appreciate the chief church of the San Giorgio quarter. The square is dominated by the church, one of the oldest in the city, by the refined stone fountain and the imposing façades of the 15th-century Palazzo Bonomo-Ximenes, Palazzo Dragonetti, and the Baroque-style Palazzo Centi. It is likely that the church was initially dedicated to Saint George and only later it became the parish church of the inhabitants of Bazzano and dedicated to Santa Giusta. We can still appreciate the original 13th– and 14th-century architectural structure. The great rose window rich in floral decorations and the Neo-Romanesque portal with columns and lunette frescoed by Giovannantonio of Lucoli, complete the element. To conclude the itinerary, we suggest visiting the old quarter of San Giorgio behind the chief church, delving into the ancient and steep slopes (Costa Masciarelli, Costa Picenze) that from Porta Bazzano lead to the city.