This year, 2017, we celebrate the bimillennium of the death of Ovid.
The famous Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso was born in Sulmona in 43 B.C. His influence on global culture for over 2,000 years is uncontested and here in Sulmona he has left his mark in many forms. Throughout this year and into the next, a whole range of different events, exhibitions, installations & presentations has been scheduled here – in his urbs nativitatis.
The ultimate manifestation of our pride in being the birthplace of Ovid will be sealed with the inauguration of a permanent exhibition space dedicated to the poet, entitled Spazio Ovidio. Spazio Ovidio is due to open before the end of 2017, in the former convent of Santa Caterina on Via Giuseppe Andrea Angeloni in the centre of Sulmona. It promises to be a wonderful homage to our most famous son with digital displays chronicling his life; first in Sulmona, then in Rome and finally in exile in Tomis (now called Constanta) in Romania.
In the meantime, what can Ovid fans expect to find here? What can visitors do and experience to bring them closer to the great man himself?
Here is our checklist of things to see and to experience in Sulmona:
Ovid’s Statue in Piazza XX Settembre
One of Sulmona’s most iconic landmarks, this bronze statue of Ovid was designed by Ettore Ferrari and inaugurated in 1925. Note that an identical statue can be found in Ovidiu Square in Constanta.
Ovid’s second statue
There is a tiny statue is hidden away at the entrance to the inner courtyard of the Annunziata. This section of the complex was erected between the late 15th and early 16th centuries and Ovid himself is dressed in Medieval-style clothing. He is holding a book on which can be seen the famous hemistich: ‘Sulmo mihi patria est…’ together with Sulmona’s emblem. The statue’s base is inscribed in Latin with: POETA OVIDIUS NASO – SULMONENSIS. Go and have a peek.
Sadly not. When the foundations of this site were first excavated, it was hoped with great excitement that the original location of Ovid’s villa had been discovered. In reality, it is the site of a temple dedicated to Ercole Curino from the 1st century B.C. There is, however, a very fine mosaic on display here and the view from this spot over the Valle Peligna is outstanding. It’s a fine example of building from that period, but Ovid’s villa it is not. If you want to visit, it sits on the hillside above the Abbazia Di Santo Spirito a Morrone at nearby Badia.
The Domus Arianna at the Civic Museum, Annunziata Complex, Corso Ovidio
There isn’t much to see in Sulmona itself from the period of Ovid’s life. There is, however, one hidden gem. During the 1990’s, structural work at the Annunziata Complex revealed the foundations of a Roman house dating from somewhere between the 1st century B.C. to the middle of the 2nd century A.D. Located on the ground floor at the rear of the courtyard, you can walk around above what remains of the domus on a raised metal walk-way. There are also some very fine fragments of frescoes of the period on display.
Sulmo Mihi Patria Est…
….gelidis uberimmus undis qui novies distat ab Urbe decem.
Sulmona’s motto ‘Sulmo Mihi Patria Est’ (SMPE) is taken from Ovid’s Tristia. In its full form, it means: ‘Sulmona is my home town, where there is abundant fresh water, is 90 miles from Rome’. Obviously, these are Roman miles, and not modern miles, which are slightly longer. You will see the city’s emblem bearing the initials SMPE all over Sulmona and there is a small stone monument bearing the inscription located near the Medival aqueduct bordering Piazza Garibaldi.
Of course, Sulmona’s principal street is named after Ovid. Who else?
Bas Relief by Taddeini
Under the portico on the corner of the building at the junction between Corso Ovidio and Via Porta Romana, there is a bas relief in white cement. It shows a scene from the Metamorphoses by revered Tuscan sculptor Omero Taddeini. This post-Fascist piece dates to the 1950’s and is just a small, under-appreciated artistic curiosity. It has a companion piece on the other side of the palazzo featuring Pope Celestino V.
Recently a small collection of precious books featuring Ovid’s poetry was acquired by a local tourism consortium. Amongst those volumes are rare copies, the oldest dating back to the 1500’s, in several different languages and from many countries including, France, Germany, Holland and the USA. They have yet to find a permanent home but they are often on display alongside other events and exhibitions here in Sulmona.
A local group of creatives has been making this residential area of Sulmona pretty over the last few years. So far there are 5 electricity substations which have been given a special Ovidian make-over. All are in the area known as PEEP around the road appropriately called ‘Via delle Metamorfosi’ – this particular example is located near to Via Lamaccio.
Hotel Ovidius & Narcissus Spa
If you can’t sleep at Ovid’s Villa then try the next best thing. The Santacroce family run two hotels and a B&B in Sulmona. The one located near the Cathedral of San Panfilo, is called the Hotel Ovidius and features a very nice day spa named after one of the characters from the Metamorphoses.
Ovid ‘flavour’ Ice Cream
Of course you must have a gelato while you are here! Two of the better-known gelaterie in Sulmona have Ovid flavours on offer. Da Silvio (on the corner of Via Solimo and Corso Ovidio) has chosen a classic creamy lemon theme while La Rotonda at the top of the steps opposite the aqueduct has based their flavour on ‘zuppa inglese’ (custard). These flavours are available throughout this bimillennium year, but not necessarily every day.
Sulmona’s best-loved confetti maker – Pelino – has produced a special, limited edition confetti candy flavour just to celebrate the bimillennium. The confetti candies (see header image above) are made with ingredients which would have been used in Roman times: honey, raisins & almonds. A super souvenir, or a gift for Ovid fans everywhere. Available from all good confetti stores in town and also online at Confetti Pelino
The Morsi di Gusto gourmet sandwich shop opposite the Annunziata has an Ovid flavoured panino style sandwich. It features a cream of black olives, roasted zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, salad and mustard dressing. Poetry indeed…
Local pizzeria Kilometro 00 on Via Francesco Pantaleo serves a very fine Ovid themed pizza. The ingredients are ‘zolle’ garlic scapes, local sausage, truffle, zucchini and mozzarella and all the ingredients are sourced from our immediate area.
No particular connection to the poet but they make excellent coffee! Ask for one of their special super-gooey ‘Caffe al Confetto’ concoctions – it’s the only place in town where you’ll get one. Corso Ovidio, number 224 (nearly opposite the Annunziata).
Special edition Ovid charm
The winning logo chosen to represent the bimillennium is by Gaudenzio Ciotti – a young designer from nearby Rocca Pia. Apart from being featured on all of the promotional material used throughout the year, it has also been made into a small pendant by local jeweller Eduardo Gentile. You can buy one at his jeweller’s shop at Corso Ovidio, 29.
Also available for purchase are a number of Ovidian themed items such as a little notebook, a cloth shopper, a stylus pencil and a number of different T-shirts. You can buy them from a number of stores around town, from the Santacroce Hotel Ovidius, and also from the Tourist Office at the Annunziata on Corso Ovidio.
We hope to encourage Ovidian fans everywhere to come and visit Sulmona and pay homage to our favourite son – not only this year but in the years to come. You can read more about Ovid on our blog here: A Short Biography of Ovid and here: Ars, Eros, Cibus and on this Italian website too: Bimillenario Ovidiano
With thanks to the following people for their help and collaboration in the writing of this article: Prof. Rafaelle Giannantionio, Prof. Mario Pelino, Guadenzio Ciotti, Eduardo Gentile, Marco Maiorano.