Sulmona has numerous piazzas, churches and buildings of historical and artistic interest. If you are short on time, or just want a quick overview, here is our recommendation of what to see! We’ve listed them in order starting from the Cathedral of San Panfilo.
Sulmona is only just over one straight kilometre from the Cathedral at the Northern end of the centro storico to Porta Napoli at the Southern end and it’s all flat. This route takes you principally along the main Corso Ovidio with one or two short diversions. Allow a couple of hours for this tour.
This city map is available either of the two tourist offices in Sulmona which are both situated in the heart of town. You can download this onto your mobile device in advance if that suits you better or if you are visiting outside of the offices’ opening hours from this link: Sulmona Guide
The city’s cathedral ‘San Panfilo’, which sits on the northwest side of the old city was built on the site of a Roman temple. Despite the 18th-century renovation of the main church it contains a crypt which retains its Romanesque appearance.
Walk through the ‘Villa Comunale’ (town park) until you reach the beginning of Corso Ovidio. The Corso itself is the main thoroughfare which connects the principal buildings and monuments and is lined by elegant covered arcades, shops, and cafés. You will also find a number of shops selling confetti candies and other typical local produce.
Palazzo Tabassi on Via Ercole Ciofano (second turning on the right) is the oldest continuously inhabited (by the same family) palazzo in Sulmona. Built in the late Medieval period it has a wonderful window on the front facade dated 1449 and a charming internal courtyard. Walk a little further to the end of the building and you will see a small carved hunting scene set into the corner stones. This was almost certainly the tombstone of a hunter from the Roman era, re-used here in the building of this much later palazzo.
Rejoin the main Corso and continue in the same direction.
The Annunziata complex is one of the rare examples of late Medieval / early Renaissance architecture in Sulmona that survived the earthquake of 1706. Its facade contains fine sculpture and tracery work. Inside the Palazzo (middle section) is a museum showing the Roman history of the city as well as various artefacts. The church (left-hand section) is a fine example of Baroque architecture and has a beautiful interior and bell tower. The right hand section was the city’s hospital and now houses one of the Tourist Offices. Have a look around the door to the left and you will see the old wooden medicine cabinets.
Continue along Corso Ovidio…
Piazza XX Settembre. One of the main squares of the city is dominated by the 1925 bronze statue of the Roman poet Ovid. The 15th century palazzo to the left of Ovid is called Palazzo Giovanni delle Palle and features a small statue of Saint George in the niche above the shop fronts.
Continue along Corso Ovidio…
Before you reach the Aqueduct and the main Piazza Garibaldi, you’ll see the 15th century fountain called ‘Fontana del Vecchio’ on your left. So called because of the carving of the old man’s bearded head
Just a little further along on the right are the stairs leading up to La Rotonda of the Church of San Francesco della Scarpa. This was the side entrance to the 13th Church on Via Mazara which was damaged in the 1706 earthquake leaving only the wonderful arched portal with a 16th century fresco of a scene featuring Saint Francis. The area through the arch is now used as an exhibition space and this is also where you will be able to buy your tickets for the Giostra Cavalleresca in July & August.
The Medieval Aqueduct is one of the rarest and most beautiful examples in the whole of Europe. It was built in 1256 during the reign of the Swabian King Manfredi when Sulmona was part of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and enjoyed a position of importance both politically and economically; not only in Abruzzo but within the kingdom as a whole. It has 21 magnificent arches and stretches over 100m.
Piazza Garibaldi is the main square and has a large Baroque fountain. A Palio style medieval festival and horse race known as the Giostra Cavalleresca takes place here every year in the Summer. On Easter Sunday, crowds gather here to witness the ‘Madonna che Scappa in Piazza’. On the south side of the Piazza is the The square hosts a market twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is the town’s principal event arena.
Walk right to the opposite end of the piazza to see two churches.
In the far right-hand corner of the piazza, up a short flight of steep steps, is the 17th century church of San Filippo Neri. It is characterised by the Gothic portal and fresco on the facade which were reused from the nearby 14th century church of Sant’Agostino which was damaged but never rebuilt.
Church of San Rocco. This tiny little chapel, located behind the newspaper stands at the far end of the pizza on the left, was originally built in the 15th century but later rebuilt in the Baroque style. It’s rarely used but if the doors are open make sure you have a quick peak inside.
The last church of note here in Piazza Garibaldi is the 13th century church of Santa Chiara located up near the Aqueduct at the top of the stone stairs and through the doorway. Like many of Sulmona’s early buildings it was rebuilt in the Baroque style after the earthquake of 1706. Despite the rather plain exterior it has some sumptuous internal decorations and a couple of fine oil paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally attached to a convent you can see the upper galleries where the sisters would have sat during services. The old convent itself is next door and is now used a gallery and exhibition space.
Leave the Piazza by passing under the last arch of the aqueduct and turn left up the slope. Cross over the Corso and enter Piazza Plebiscito on the other side of the road.
The Church of Santa Maria della Tomba* is one of the jewels of Sulmona’s architectural history. Built on the site of a Pagan temple it has a late Gothic facade with a magnificent rose window dating to 1400. Inside the church is divided into a central nave with two side aisles separated by monumental columns. This church is the home of the Confraternity of Santa Maria di Loreto who are responsible for organising the popular Easter morning rite ‘La Madonna che scappa in Piazza’. On display inside are the 18th century statues of Mary, Jesus and Saints Peter and John which are used in this event.
* Closed for repair until Easter 2015.
Re-join Corso Ovidio and continue in the same direction towards Porta Napoli. After a few hundred metres on the right you will see the recent bronze statue of one of Sulmona’s most famous personalities – Pope Celestino V (known as ‘The Refuser’) – erected here in 2013.
The 14th century Porta Napoli, at the southern end of the city, is one off the finest existant examples of the city’s ancient system of defensive walls and gates. So named as it functioned as the exit to Napoli, until at least the end of the 19th century there was a little booth located here to collect taxes from merchants entering the city. Its rusticated rose- decorated facade also features the lilies of the coat of arms of the Anjou family and a couple of elements of recycled Roman stone work.
At this point you can either retrace your steps or venture down one of the side roads for an alternative route back to your starting point.
Adapted and translated in part from Wikipedia and from www.isulmona.it