Rocca Calascio is a medieval fortress that rises on a rocky peak in the heart of the Abruzzo region. It is not only the highest fortress in the Apennines, but also one of the most spectacular and fascinating locations in Europe.
It has been the setting for several movies, including the 1985 fantasy film Ladyhawke, starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. In this article, we will explore the history, the beauty and the secrets of this enchanting place, and we will explain why it is a must-see destination for any traveler who wants to discover the authentic and magical side of Italy.
A fortress with a thousand-year history
Rocca Calascio was built in the 10th century as a single watchtower to control the surrounding territory and protect it from invaders. It was part of a strategic system of castles and fortifications that defended the borders of the Kingdom of Naples, which at that time included most of southern Italy. The watchtower was located on a high and isolated spot, at an altitude of 1460 meters above sea level, from where it could dominate the landscape and spot any enemy movement.
Over the centuries, Rocca Calascio was expanded and fortified with four cylindrical towers, a walled courtyard and an inner tower. The fortress had a double function: it was both a military outpost and a refuge for the local population in case of danger. The inhabitants of the nearby village of Calascio could access the fortress through a secret tunnel that connected it to the church of San Pietro. The fortress also had a cistern to collect rainwater and a chapel dedicated to Saint John.
Rocca Calascio was never attacked or besieged by any army, but it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1461. The earthquake caused cracks in the walls and towers, and made the fortress unsafe and uninhabitable. The fortress was abandoned and left to decay, while the village of Calascio was rebuilt at a lower altitude, where it still exists today.
Today, Rocca Calascio is a national monument. It can be reached by a scenic road that winds through the mountains or by a hiking trail that starts from the village. The road is open all year round, but it may be closed in winter due to snow or ice. The trail is about 2 kilometers long and takes about 30 minutes to walk. It is suitable for anyone who is moderately fit and enjoys walking in nature.
The fortress offers a breathtaking view of the Gran Sasso massif, the highest mountain range in Italy after the Alps; the Campo Imperatore plateau, a vast plain that resembles a lunar landscape; and the Navelli plain, where saffron is cultivated. It is also surrounded by a natural park that hosts a rich flora and fauna, including wolves, bears, eagles and hawks.
Visiting Rocca Calascio is like traveling back in time to the Middle Ages, when life was simple but harsh, and when people had to rely on their courage and ingenuity to survive. It is also an opportunity to admire the beauty and diversity of nature, which changes according to the seasons and offers different colors and sceneries.
A place of spirituality and art
Near Rocca Calascio, at a slightly lower elevation, there is another jewel of architecture and culture: the church of Santa Maria della Pietà. This octagonal church was built in the 17th century as a votive offering for the end of a plague epidemic. According to legend, a shepherd named Pietro had a vision of the Virgin Mary on this spot, who asked him to build a church in her honor. Pietro gathered some stones and started to build the church with his own hands. When he finished, he realized that he had used exactly eight stones for each side of the octagon.
The church has a simple but elegant facade with a rose window and a portal. Inside, it has a single nave with a dome and an altar with a painting of the Madonna della Pietà. The painting depicts Mary holding Jesus’ body after his crucifixion. It is attributed to Giacinto Diana, a Neapolitan painter who worked in Abruzzo in the 17th century.
The church is also known for its acoustics and its musical events. Every year, in August, it hosts a festival called “Musica sulle Apuane” (Music on the Apennines), which features concerts of classical and contemporary music performed by international artists. The festival is organized by the association “Amici della Musica di Rocca Calascio” (Friends of Music of Rocca Calascio), which aims to promote the cultural and artistic heritage of the area. The church is also used as a recording studio for musicians who want to capture its unique sound. Among them, there are famous names such as Ludovico Einaudi, Franco Battiato and Paolo Fresu.
The church of Santa Maria della Pietà is a place of spirituality and art, where you can feel the presence of the divine and the human. It is a place where you can listen to the silence and the music, and where you can admire the harmony and the beauty of the architecture and the painting.
A movie lover’s dream
Rocca Calascio has been chosen as a filming location for several movies, thanks to its scenic beauty and its medieval atmosphere. The most famous one is Ladyhawke, directed by Richard Donner in 1985. This movie tells the story of Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer), a knight who is cursed by an evil bishop to become a wolf by night, and his lover Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer), who becomes a hawk by day. They are helped by Philippe Gaston (Matthew Broderick), a young thief who escapes from the bishop’s dungeon.
The movie features many scenes shot at Rocca Calascio, such as the final confrontation between Navarre and the bishop, or the romantic moment when Navarre and Isabeau see each other briefly during an eclipse. The movie also showcases the beauty of Santa Maria della Pietà and its surroundings. The movie was a success at the box office and received positive reviews from critics and audiences. It is considered one of the best fantasy movies of the 1980s and one of the most memorable love stories in cinema history.
Other movies that were filmed at Rocca Calascio are The American, starring George Clooney as an assassin who hides in an Italian village; and Il racconto dei racconti (Tale of Tales), based on the fairy tales by Giambattista Basile and starring Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel and Toby Jones.
Rocca Calascio is a movie lover’s dream, as it offers the opportunity to relive some of the most iconic scenes and characters from cinema history. It is also a place where you can imagine your own stories and fantasies, inspired by the magic and the mystery of the fortress and the church.
A destination for all seasons
Rocca Calascio is a destination that can be enjoyed in any season, as it offers different attractions and activities throughout the year. In spring and summer, you can admire the blooming of the flowers and the greenery of the landscape, as well as enjoy the fresh air and the sunny days.
You can also participate in various events, such as guided tours, historical reenactments, festivals and markets. For example, in June, there is a festival called “Rocca Calascio in Fiore” (Rocca Calascio in Bloom), which celebrates the arrival of spring with exhibitions, workshops, concerts and tastings. In July, there is a festival called “Rocca Calascio Medievale” (Rocca Calascio Medieval), which recreates the atmosphere of the Middle Ages with costumes, games, shows and crafts. In August, there is a festival called “Rocca Calascio Sotto le Stelle” (Rocca Calascio Under the Stars), which offers astronomical observations, night walks, concerts and screenings.
In autumn and winter, you can experience the charm of the snow and the frost, as well as the warmth of the fireplaces and the local cuisine. In December, there is an event called “Natale a Rocca Calascio” (Christmas at Rocca Calascio), which transforms the fortress into a nativity scene with lights, decorations, music and food. In January, there is an event called “Ciaspolata al Castello” (Snowshoeing to the Castle), which invites visitors to explore the fortress with snowshoes. In February, there is an event called “Carnevale di Rocca Calascio” (Carnival of Rocca Calascio), which celebrates the traditional carnival with masks, dances, games and sweets.
Rocca Calascio is a destination that adapts to your preferences and needs, as it offers different experiences and emotions in every season. It is a place where you can find peace and relaxation, as well as fun and adventure.
A place to fall in love
Rocca Calascio is a place that inspires love and romance, as it did for Navarre and Isabeau in Ladyhawke. It is a perfect destination for couples who want to spend some quality time together, away from the stress and the noise of the city. You can stay in one of the cozy and rustic accommodations that are available in the area, such as B&Bs, farmhouses or cottages. You can also enjoy the local gastronomy, which is based on fresh and organic products, such as cheese, honey, saffron, truffles and wine.
Rocca Calascio is a place that will make you feel like you are living in a fairy tale, where you can discover the magic of nature, history and art. It is a place that will make you fall in love with Italy and with yourself. It is more than just a fortress or a church, it is a place that has a soul and a story to tell. It is a place that will captivate your senses and your imagination. It is a place that will leave you speechless and amazed. It is a place that you will never forget.
If you want to visit Rocca Calascio, you can find more information on its official website or on its Facebook page. You can also book your tickets online or contact the local tourist office. You will not regret it.