Transhumance: economy, culture, laws

Abruzzo, Molise and Apulia have seen for thousands of years shepherds with their flocks moving south and back north according to the season. Each year, since time immemorial, millions of sheep, thousands of shepherds, moved in early autumn from the mountain pastures of Abruzzo to the wide plains of Apulia to come back in late spring, with the melting of snows, to the green ancestral land.

The Economy

The age-old practice of transhumance still marks the economy of inner Abruzzo, and has exerted an enormous historical and cultural influence on the character, lifestyle and traditions of the Abruzzese and Molisani. In the 3rd century BC shepherds are already recorded as following the Roman roads, and they continued for thousands of years until the late 19th century, when with the railway system and industrial revolution, the pastoral economy finally declined, leaving the mountain population without the support of an age-old, stable economy system. And many, after the yearly migration, were obliged to emigrate forever.

The property of the sheep was in the hands of few families in each village or little town in inner Abruzzo and the territory of Foggia, and these families amassed in the centuries great wealth, being on the same level as the religious and political powers. They were called "massari di pecore" and with the revenues of the wool trade built and decorated the great palaces that we find in all the mountain towns of Abruzzo.

The city of L'Aquila was a crucial element: the Northern outpost in the transhumance roads, and the Southern center that provided wool to the trade of wool and textiles to merchants from Lombardy, Tuscany, France and Germany, which made of L'Aquila the wool capital of Europe in the later Middle Ages. The rich monuments of the towns, churches, palaces in Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, would not be possible without the tolls paid on the border posts by the shepherds passing with their flocks.

The Shepherds

While the owners of the sheep became enormously rich, the shepherds lived through hardships and dangers. The shepherd was the hero of transhumance: for months he was alone with his flock, and had to fight wolves and bears, brigands, the hostility of the local people living in the fields where he took his sheep to browse. He had all the risks, the owners of the sheep all the gain. But the solitary life, so similar to that of many hermits, gave rise to a surprising cultural wealth and the great wisdom, patience and stubborness so typical of the Abruzzese character; the shepherd, so far away from home and family, had long hours for his imagination each day of each year, and he created utensils and wood carving works. He could read and loved chivalrous poems and poetry, invented songs and played musical instruments; he was in constant contact with God, and built chapels and churches all along the tratturi, to stop for rest, prayer and comfort.

In 1447 a law made by the Aragonese obliged everyone having over 20 sheep or goats to pass the winter in the plains, and to pay a tax for the "mena" (the moving of the sheep). In 1549 King Ferrante I of Naples passed a law to regulate the tratturi, which were "made for the ease of flocks moving down to Apulia and return to Abruzzo" and were to be kept "of width 70 feet, without trees, orchards or other obstacles". The tratturo leading from L'Aquila to Foggia was 243 km, from Castel di Sangro to Lucera 127 km and from Pescasseroli to Candela 211 km. The beginning of the tratturo was marked by a big stone, called "titolo", still visible in Pescasseroli. The tratturo was 111 mt wide, the tratturello 55 metres and the "bracci" 18 mt.

The 1st Tratturo

The new law stated: "The first tratturo begins from L'Aquila and passing through Picenza, Manuppello, Bucchianico, Pagliete, Lentella, Montagano Arina, Santo Martino, Guglionisi, reaches to the resting place of Saccione. Though at present in this tratturo there are branches throgh which the ancient tratturo spreads; and said branches proceed from Aquila, Poggio, Picenza, Santa Maria delli Sciantarelli where one of said branches departs for Civita Ritenga, Collepieno, Forcatagliata, Ponte Santo Clemente, Manuppello, Rocca di Montepiano, Versona, Castello Novo, Scafa della Tessa in Sangro, Aragno across the borders, to stay at Pietrafracita, Cantrigno Montenigro, and Guglionsi, and the other proceeds from Santo Martino through Capestrano, Forca di Penna, Olanda Scafa of Chieti, Bucchianico, Lanciano, Scafa of Pagliete, Monte di Rifo, Cupello, Santo Sangro, Serramano, e Goglionidi dal detto Tratturo, e bracci calano li aquilani, li locati della Villa Siciliana, li Carapellotti, della Matrice, and more.

The 2nd Tratturo

The second tratturo begins from Albi, Celano, and proceeds through Rocca di Miezo, Popoli, Anuersa, Sulmone, Pettorano, Pacentro, Palena, Tarantola, Quatri, Gambatesa, Celenza Venifri, and Castelluccio. Though at present said tratturo has more branches, some of which follow through Albi, Celano, Circhio, Colloarmelo, Montagna di Coccia, Palena, Colle delle Macini, Torricella, Ponte di Santo Antonio, Bomba, Rocca Scalena, and proceed through Lentella, and other branches that proceed through Celano, Castello Dahieri, Raiano, Sulmone, and Rocca di miezo and Popoli, and still more branches and to this tratturo gather flocks from the territory of d'Albi, Celano, Ortona and more places.

The 3rd Tratturo

The third tratturo begins from Pescoasserli, and follows through Alfedena, Castello di Sangro, Servia Cantalupo, Supino, Santo Marco, Crepacore, Orsara, Bovino, Illicito and Ascoli, which collects flocks from Pescoasserli, Pesco, Opi, and more. All the shepherds of these places, both in going down and coming back, can keep their flocks to browse in the state's pastures between the periods of the two Sant'Angelo, and also after such period, without paying any fee or encountering any obstacle, and not using the feudal pastures on which the Royal Court has no power".

The Poste

The poste were the sites were the shepherds with their flocks could stop during transhumance. Fabrizio di Sangro, Regio Doganiero, passed an edict that stated: "It is hereby ordered that shepherds with their sheep should not leave Abruzzo for Apulia before 15 September, and should not cross the river Biferno before 15 october and after that time should stay in the Rina plain and nearby areas without moving to Apulia. It is hereby ordered that tratturi should be kept wide, at least 60 feet, and that the animals can freely pass across the toll duty borders freely more times for 3-4 days, as needed. It is ordered that the municipalities should guard their territory where shepherds and animals pass, so that no theft takes place and that in case of theft, the municipality shall sustain the damage and compensate the shepherd."