Every now and again we feel the need to leave the enchanted valley and so it was with much pleasure that your intrepid reporters made their way to the Eternal City recently for a particularly pleasurable day out.


Domus Christi Domus Naturae

Domus Christi Domus Naturae: Majella National Park on display at the Vatican Museum – credits @Musei Vaticani

The principal motivation for our trip was to visit the temporary exhibition entitled ‘Majella: Domus Christi, Domus Naturae’ at the Vatican Museum. Located in a marquee structure, just off one of the principal courtyards, it’s attracting a diverse range of visitors from all over the world. It’s a smart move actually. If you had the opportunity to take the Parco Majella ‘on tour’ where would you go? Straight to those who we already know to have an interest in Italian travel, history, culture and we assume also a sensibility for the sacred and the spiritual. Plus the Parco Majella is easily reached in under 2 hours from Rome!  
Conceived by the Parco Nazionale della Majella, whose headquarters are just outside Sulmona at Badia, this wonderful exhibition chronicles the life and times of the hermit Pietro da Morrone who later became Pope Celestino V – known in popular culture as the ‘Pope of the Great Refusal’. Born in 1215, he spent many years living in remote isolation here on our local mountains, foraging for food and living in caves and ditches. His devotion to God, manifested in fasting and prayer, led him to become a popular figure who was in 1294 elected Pope. 


Pope Celestino V

Pietro da Morrone, also known as Celestino V at the Domus Christi, Domus Naturae exhibition – credits @ Musei Vaticani

It’s a nicely presented multi-media affair with video, interactive bits and bobs, professional reproductions of key works and some multi-lingual handouts for non-Italian speakers. There is also some particularly inspiring landscape photography by local photographer Luca del Monaco, which we hope will prove to be at least one of the catalysts for more visitors to the area
The exhibition focusses on one of our most colourful characters but places his story within the context of the almost unaltered scenery, the evocative traditionalism, and the unique places of profound spirituality here in our area. One of the highlights of the exhibition, and indeed one of the local features which it aims to showcase, is the string of hermitages and refuges which are dotted around the mountainside here in Abruzzo. These miracles of construction, often clinging to the cliff face through sheer faith, are popular destinations for hikers here in the warmer months and offer a unique perspective on what life must have been like for the holy men who chose to remove themselves from temptation to the most absolutely remote spots they could find.


Domus Christi Domus Naturae

The hologram of a monk is the narrating voice of the multi-media exhibition Domus Christi, Domus Naturae – credits @ Musei Vaticani

This exhibition is without doubt a great advert for not only for the Parco Majella but indeed for the whole of Abruzzo.  Having read an article describing our regional tourism initiatives as a ‘Ferrari stuck in the garage’ it’s great to see some good old-fashioned ‘outreach’. Whilst it’s not the right time to be using ‘holy men and mountain’ analogies, this is pretty much what this exhibition does, and does it very well.
NOTE: At time of going to press, we do not have the full itinerary of where this exhibition is going next but it’s certainly going on tour so we hope you have the opportunity to catch up with it later on its journey. It’s staying at the Vatican until at least February 23rd and then will be on the road going to Bologna, Napoli and Milan amongst other cities.
Our second reason for going to Rome was to meet a Rome-based blogger and publisher called Diana Simon of the popular Browsing Rome and Browsing Italy sites. We’ve discovered in the last year or so the sheer volume of good, heartfelt writing by a legion of (frequently unpaid) enthusiasts on almost every subject related to Italy, Abruzzo, food, travel and all things inter-related. Surprise, surprise the majority are super-nice, enthusiastic, supportive and collaborative! By joining forces with other bloggers who have their own carefully cultivated, niche readership we are spreading the word about Sulmona further than we could do so on our own merits. Plus we benefited from some great local knowledge with a lunch visit to a super cool Roman eatery just a few minutes walk from the Vatican.

So here as an added bonus is a restaurant review! While we were swapping tales about Rome’s new status as a rip-off destination for modern tourists, and how hard it is to find a truly good place to eat in the popular areas, Diana led us swiftly away from the Vatican to a smallish side road near Piazza Risorgimento in Pratiabout 10 minutes by foot from St. Peter’s Square.

Sorpasso is an eclectically styled diner-cum-higgledypiggledy back room eatery. Cool, understated, not quintessentially Italian or even Roman at first glance but with a fun vibe that makes you hope the food is just as good but really you don’t care either way.

So imagine our joy in discovering that the co-owner is Abruzzese! A total coincidence but one which enabled us to share with Diana just a small piece of our home territory.

Top of the antipasti menu is Pizz’e Fojje – an abruzzo side dish of bitter greens and corn flour…not too dissimilar from something that the hermit Pietro da Morrone might have foraged high up on the hillside hundreds of years ago. For some extra authenticity there are jars of Nonna’s canned tomatoes for sale behind the bar plus a not too shabby selection of Trebbiano, Cerasuolo and Montepulciano wines to boot.

Between us we had a delicate tagliolini with calamari and carciofi and a dish of orecchiette al ragu. We were perched at the bar as the Friday lunchtime crowd had beaten us to the best seats but we enjoyed watching the hubbub of the staff and regulars and we were tally enthralled by the ‘meat cage’ too!

The house speciality is however the ‘Trapizzino’ which is a kind of mini pizza wrap served with a variety of fillings. A good snack alternative and one we think we’ll look out for on another visit. You can find out more about trapizzini and the Roman street food movement over at Katie Parla’s blog, here.

Note that Sorpasso also has a few outside tables on the wide pavement – a definite plus for the crazy foreigners who must, must, must eat outside whenever they can.

Finally our tips for travel to Rome for the day.

By all means take the car* if you want to but it’s really not necessary. There are 2 bus companies that do daily trips to Rome’s Tiburtina bus station. We chose PStar for a number of reasons. Leaving from the IP (service station) under the Capograssi bridge at 06.43 it’s slightly faster than the alternative. The buses are also modern and comfortable and have wifi. You can also book online. Leaving early means you can enjoy the stunning scenery on the way into the city and, depending on the time of year, watch the sun rise over the mountains. Arriving in Rome just after 8.30 ‘Italian time’ then gives you a full day to enjoy yourself before taking the 5.30pm bus back to Sulmona getting in at aperitivo time 🙂

The buses all arrive at Tiburtina bus station. Follow the crowd across the forecourt to the Metro station and find your way into town. Tiburtina is on the Blue B line and just four stops from Termini which acts at the city’s main transport hub. Tickets cost just €1.50 each and you’ll need plenty of pocket change.
*Tolls to Rome and back cost about €30 so factor that into your planning.

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About The Author

The WTS Team

Written and curated by bi-lingual partnership Katy Gorman and Susanna Iraci, Welcome To Sulmona is the first born and remains the best-loved child of their marketing & communications consultancy ‘Quid Novi'. They enjoy researching and creating copy for their own website alongside that of the other many guest authors. More often than not Katy is ‘words’ and Susanna ‘pictures’. Katy Gorman: Ex-pat Anglo-American, Quid Novi wordsmith, English teacher & resident of Sulmona since 2009. Susanna Iraci: Marchigiana, Quid Novi visual designer & photographer - also resident of Sulmona since 2009.

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