photo © Tonino Bernardelli
San Donato in the Val Di Comino
The characteristic medieval town of San Donato Val di Comino is located at 728 metres above sea level, on the slopes of Monte Pizzuto on the border of the regions of Lazio and Molise. Behind it has a beautiful backdrop in the form of the spectacular mountain scenery of the Parco Nazionale D’Abruzzo and the slopes of Monte Pizzuto which are clad in a forest of beech trees. The town has a beautiful outlook over the scenic landscape of the Val di Comino.
The territory of San Donato includes the villages of Campo Casino, Capella, Cappella Lucida, Case sparse, Castagneto, Colle Javerra, Cretone, Folingaro, Fosso, Miliarda, Pedicone, Ponte di Tolle, San Fedele, San Paolo, Sant’Andream Santo Janni, Selve, Serola, Valanziera and Vorga.
The town itself is is divided into several rione or districts, namely: Castello, Duomo, Capolavalle, Lago, Portella, Convento, Cappella Lucida and San Paolo. The inhabitants are known as Sandonatesi.
The Medieval Tower
At the highest point of the town, sited on a rocky spur, stands the 13th century square tower that guards the Sanctuary of San Donato. The Counts of Aquino constructed a watch tower and castle in this area. The tower was strategically positioned so as to have commanding views of the Val di Comino and the mountain pass of Forca d’Acero. The town was protected by a ring of fortified walls and some townhouses were incorporated into the defensive structure. The town was accessed through three gateways: the main entrance was the Porta dell’Orologio or Porta al Greco (13th century). If you look closely there are three crosses carved into the stone of the gate. Legend, has it that these crosses represent three bandits who were hung at the gate in the 16th century. The second gateway was the Arco di San Donato with its Gothic Arch (14th century) and finally there is the Porta del Colle (Porta Ponente).
The Historic Old Town of San Donato
The historic old town descends along some steep cobbled lanes. These connect to a maze of alleyways, arches, covered passageways (Gl ‘Spuort) and small religious shrines. The twists and turns were constructed as an additional defence mechanism to offer protection from any invaders, as well as the icy mountain winds.
In Via Maggiore there is the “Stone of San Bernardino” also known as the “Stone of Scandal”. This was where the town’s unfortunate debtors were forced to sit and be subjected to public ridicule.
Over the centuries San Donato’s prosperous nobleman built elegant residences and many of these houses and courtyards of bygone ages are still in evidence today. Some houses have beautiful keystones, rich in symbolism, above their doorways and other intricate decorations carved by the master stonemasons of the town. They identified the social class of the residents. As the village expanded over the centuries it extended in tiers down towards the valley, where a newer quarter of merchants and rich bourgeois was established. Via Pedicata leads to the 14th century Cathedral of Santa Maria and San Marcello. Opposite the cathedral is the 18th century Palazzo Quadrari.
The Lower Town
Piazza Carlo Coletti
In the main square of San Donato is Piazza Carlo Coletti. Here there is a sundial dating from 1891 and the War Memorial.
A weekly market is held on Sunday mornings in front of the Town Hall in Piazza Libertà, where there is a stone olive oil press and a curious fountain in the shape of the boot of Italy. There are two memorials, the first is in memory of the Jewish women and children that were sent to live in San Donato by the Germans during the Second World War, and who were later rounded up and sent to Auscviz. The second memorial is dedicated to a heroic parachutist. Maurizio Simone, who was awarded a gold medal.
The Geological Museum and Environmental Culture Center is located in a wing of the Franciscan Convent. The museum is open at weekends and on festival days. Address: Viale Tenente Maurizio Simone. Tel: 340 8900435.
The Museo Della Civilta’ Contadina or Museum of Country Life, recalls rural and cultural traditions of times gone by. The museum is open at weekends and festival days. It is also located in Viale Tenente Maurizio Simone. Tel: 0776 512008. A Virtual Tour of the Museum
San Donato is popular with summer visitors, city dwellers who want to escape the oppressive heat and enjoy the fresher mountain air and families of emigrants return to connect with their place of origin.
There are numerous paths that lead up into the mountains and also trails suitable for mountain-biking. Forca d’Acero is just half an hour’s drive away and offers spectacular panoramic views and is a take-off point for hang-gliders. During the winter months skiing facilities can be found at the local resorts of Forca d’Acero (1538 meters) and Pescasseroli (1167 metres) and the Prati di Mezzo (1450 metres above sea level).
San Donato borders the natural wilderness of the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo. The park’s headquarters are located in the historic centre of Pescasseroli in the Province of L’Aquila. The protected natural park is renowned for its unspoilt nature, with an incredible variety of flora and rich in wildlife eg. deer, chamois, wolves, the Marsican bear, and golden eagles and numerous other birds of prey.