Santo Stefano di Sessanio is a small mountain town in the Province of L'Aquila in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, adjacent to the high plain of Campo Imperatore, a region of mountain views and rugged terrain.
It is a fascinating tiny medieval village with its narrow alleys and stone houses, many dating back to the 15th century.
The town is listed as one of Italy's most beautiful hamlet.
The most accepted theory about the origins of the name is that it derives from Sassanio Sextantio, a small Roman settlement located near the modern town.
The first news, leading to the existence of San Stefano are traceable to the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century which saw the formation of the large fiefdom of the Barony of Carapelle, including, among others, the territory of S. Stefano, which had an important strategic role as the first center of the Barony of L'Aquila bordering the County over the road coming from Barisciano.
Walking through the winding streets you can admire the fifteenth century homes, including the Captain's House and the enchanting panorama that embraces the valleys of Tiryns and dell'Aterno and goes up to the bottom of the chain of Sirente and Maiella.
The hamlet is one Abruzzo's most famous historical centers , a living symbol of recovery of the territory, where the high altitude, the silence and the enchanting appearance of the place , give visitors the feeling of being projected to another place in time. It was once a fief of the Medici family of Florence.
The gateway to the square built by the Tuscan family still bears their family coat of arms.
While there is no real defense walls, the village is surrounded by buildings seamlessly, which served as house-walls, as shown by the few and small windows.
With the unification of Italy and the privatization of land in the plains of Puglia, the millenary practice of transhumance came to a stop and for San Stefano begins a process of a fast political and economic decline caused by the greatly reduced population due to emigration.
The town with its ancient building in ruins and only a few 100's inhabitants, has become an attraction for tourists from the world over, also thanks to the thriller movie 'The American', with George Clooney, filmed on location and in the the nearby town of Castel del Monte.
The film highlights Italy’s most beautiful untouched landscape, and Abruzzo was chosen as a means of helping to profile a stunning area that had suffered and continues to suffer from the earthquake in 2009.
The 1985 film, "Ladyhawke," with Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer, was also filmed in the area.
So was the movie the "Name of the Rose" with Sean Connery and Christian Slate, filmed at Castel Calascio.
Being close to Rome (about 150km) the small village has also become a fashionable weekend and summer retreat, making tourism the village's main source of income, featuring small boutiques, art galleries and eateries tucked into ancient stone structures.
The Medici held it until 1743, a period of maximum splendor thanks to the flourishing commerce of the “carfagna” wool, produced here, worked in Tuscany and then sold all over Europe.
Today, a good chunk of the town, belongs to Daniele Kihlgren, a swedish-italian preservationist who in the mid 90's discovered the almost abandoned town and along a local architect set out to give it a new life .
This approach to the conservation of the landscape and of the historical heritage, and its cultural value have become projects which are driving the economy of the whole area.
Rediscovering the rural heritage of southern Italy
Book well in advance Renting a car is strongly suggested
The 14th century tower was destroyed by the 2009 earthquake but the De Medici enclave is a marvel of Renaissance Tuscan design.
Porticoes, arched doorways, decorated windows, shelves, still adorn the beautiful buildings that overlook the winding streets.
During the Second World War, the village was occupied by German troops as a privileged observation post, establishing their Headquarters in the "Captain’s House".
The Tower enabled them to spot the movement of troops miles away, thus carrying out again its initial function.
Nearby places worth visiting - Things to do
Built in the XV century, Rocca Calascio (image below) was used as a watchtower to control the entire surrounding area below.
The fortress is located at about 1500 m. above sea level. The breathtaking view is worth the trip.
For those who are interested in physical activities, the area offers many activities to choose from, such as hiking, mountain and rock climbing, horseback riding, hang-gliding, kite flying, cross-country and downhill skiing and snow-shoeing in winter.
Below, Piana Campo Imperatore, the largest plateau of the Apennine ridge.
Known as Italy's "Little Tibet".
Below: At only 10 km away from Santo Stefano you find the grotto di Stiffe, the largest and best known of the natural caverns in the province of L’Aquila, showcasing swift rapids and spectacular waterfalls.
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