An absolute gem and one of my favourite regular stops in Abruzzo: the medieval town of Castelli and its fabulous maiolicas.
Castelli is a comune in the province of Teramo, Abruzzo, included in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park.
The medieval hill town lies beneath Mount Camicia on the eastern side of the Gran Sasso Massif. Castelli is best known for its maiolicas, a form of decorative ceramic, which were collected by the nobility of Europe for centuries and which were at their pinnacle from the 16th through 18th century and are still produced today by local artists. Castelli’s main church is San Donato, which holds a maiolica altar-piece by Francesco Grue (1647) and a medieval silver cross of the Sulmona school. Its tiled ceiling is believed to have been decorated by the ceramics master Oracio Pompei or artists working from his studio.
Today, Castelli hosts an art institute and ceramics museum as well as many ceramics shops and studios.
The birth of the famous maiolicas from Castelli is connected to the natural features of the territory, particularly to the abondant presence of clay quarries, beech forests for the woods and the ovens, rivers full of Silica deposits. The traditions related to the manufacturing of maiolicas date back to the Etruscan period, it was facilitated by benedictine monks who produced tools of everyday use. The first evidences come from the XV century but it is not possible to state the exact beginning of the maiolics manufacture. From the second half of the year 1500 this art form saw its maximum splendour. The Maiolics became the only real economy , nowadays the majority of the population of this area still dedicates their time to this noble art.
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