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Sante Marie is a small Abruzzo village, a jewel on a hill at 850 meters above sea level surrounded by the Carseolan Mountains. The territory is rich in groundwater and caves, with rugged and wild mountains, known as the Abruzzo Dolomites, which have tempered the character of the Abruzzese who live there.

The municipality is part of the Grotte di Luppa Regional Nature Reserve (named after an incredible sinkhole 1180 meters long) and here the Fonte della Rocca water is bottled from a source at 1100 meters above sea level. Thanks to its woods, Sante Marie is part of the National Chestnut City Association.

Its history is very ancient and begins when this territory was disputed between the Equi and the Marsi, and there are traces of ancient dry walls of fortified villages.

The Romans arrived in 303 BC conquering the nearby Alba Fucens, creating the Regio IV Sabinum et Sannium and giving the region a precise administrative structure. The remains of a Roman settlement in the Colle Nerino area can be seen.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the barbarians arrived and the population took refuge on a hill in a fortress. The hill of Sante Marie was chosen because it commanded two valleys, and therefore two possible accesses from where the attacks of the enemies could arrive.

This whole area then came under the control of the Lombards and precisely of the Duchy of Spoleto who brought back order by reclaiming and building roads. In this period a first tower was built.

At the same time the action of the church is manifested in the territorial organization of the episcopal dioceses and in the creation of small monasteries. The Benedictines were the first to arrive giving rise to a monastery which later became the Badia di Santo Stephani in Caprili.

Later, the first nucleus of the current village was slowly formed and its name derives from that of a church inside a fortress, the Castrum Sanctae Mariae.

Among the first written documents, there is a papal bull of Pope Clement III of 1188 which reports the presence of 7 churches in the area.

With the arrival of the Franks and the birth of feudalism, Sante Marie re-entered the lordship of Tagliacozzo run by Oderisio de Pontibus. Other dominations followed until the arrival of Emperor Frederick II of Swabia who dominated the whole Italian scene entering a strong deal with the papacy.

The popes then favoured the arrival of the Angevins of France and Charles I of Anjou routed all the heirs of Frederick II in the great battle that was fought in nearby Tagliacozzo.

With the Angevins, the territory of Sante Maria was part of the County of Albe and was assigned to the French knight Oddo di Toucy (Oddone de Tuziaco).

From 1294, the area was then assigned to the Orsini family and when the Aragonese of Spain arrived on the throne of Naples, in 1497 the king assigned the area to the Colonna family.

The life of the village was marked by two calamitous events: a famine in 1764 and a drought in 1779.

The border between the Papal States and the Bourbon Kingdom passed through the territory of Sante Marie and in 1846 along the whole line were placed the Cippi di Confine (Booundary Stones) which are still silent sentinels of history.

As along all the lines of separation between states, also in Sante Marie different phenomena of brigandage and smuggling occurred and there are many legends about mysterious hidden treasures.

The Colonna family held the fiefdom until 1806, when Napoleon’s French arrived in the south and abolished feudal laws.

With the restoration of the Bourbons on the throne of Naples, Sante Marie became a municipality and was part of the Avezzano district. In 1861 it entered the Kingdom of Italy after one of the most significant episodes of the contrast between the arrival of the Savoy and the Bourbon attempt at resistance.

In the Museum of Banditry at Palazzo Colelli the story is told of the legendary Catalan general Josè Borjes who came to Southern Italy in an attempt to organize the reconquest by the Bourbons.

The general was captured on 8 December 1861 in Sante Marie and a memorial stone was placed in Casali di Luppa in his memory.

In 1915, the town was hit by the disastrous earthquake of Avezzano and Marsica which once again pushed people to emigrate. In 1920 the survey of the Luppa sinkhole was completed, which proved to be one of the longest in Europe.

The history of the bandits is the common thread of the town and inspired the Way of the Bandits, a ring route of about 100 km between the altitudes of 800 and 1300 meters and which traces the paths where robbers once roamed.

Cover picture by Marica Massaro


Traveller's Guide to Italy