Abruzzo Ulteriore II in the early 20th century
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The territory, primarily mountainous, made this province known as the "Switzerland of mainland Italy": among its peaks the Gran Sasso with its 2921 m (some say 2914 mt ) - over 8,700 feet - is the most elevated mountain in the Apennines.
Because of the mountainous nature of the territory the valleys are small and narrow, among them the Sulmonese, the Aquilana, the Marsicana, the Amiternina, the Forconese, the Falacrina, the Rovetana.
The most important highland area is that of the Cinquemiglia (5 Miles), a plateau of about 8 km, the highest point along the Aquila-Naples route.
The climate of the province of Aquila was very rigid on the mountains, whose peaks were covered with snow for about 7 months of the year; the lack of forests on the high mountains made the climate particularly rigid even in Aquila, Amatrice, Leonessa and in the Cicolano (Valle del Salto). The temperature went from 4-7 degrees Centigrade below zero in winter to the 23 -27 degrees centigrade in summer. The climate was slightly milder on the hills. "Healthy in every part, never dominated by the Sirocco wind; the air is pure and light, fresh and clear are the waters"
The soil in the province of Aquila was primarily calcareous, flinty and clayey. Worth of mention are the quarries of beautiful travertine in Paganica, the quarry of bunkered mortar and white and red stone in Barisciano; red and yellow marble quarries in the territory of Lucoli. Also to mention are the numerous springs of mineral water, among which the vinegary-sulphurous waters of Antrodoco and Raiano and the thermal waters of Popoli.
Abruzzo Ulteriore II was considered the most forested province of Italy. One fifth of its surface was covered by trees: Turkey oaks, oaks, beech trees, maples, ashes, woodland elms, lindens.
The agriculture of Aquila area was greatly varied and as much various were the products. On the few hills they cultivated olive trees, grapevines, seed, yields and excellent fig trees and saffron.
Agriculture was however practiced primarily in the valleys: the Sulmonese was the most fertile with abundant production of wheat, wine, oil, potatoes, hemps, saffron, anises, vegetables, olives and fruit plants. The valley of the Aterno that from Navelli reached Montereale turned above all to wheat cultivation, legumes, grapevines and yields.
"The excessive crop fields caused a lot of deforested grounds in the mountains, and a lot of peaks have become quarries and steep because of the streams that are no more blocked by the forests, so the valleys beneath are subject to floods". The wide valley of Celano extending from Pescina to Tagliacozzo includes the ample basin of the former Fucino lake, fertile with wheat cultivations, maize, fodders, legumes, flaxes, hemps.
The aromatic seed of the anise of Scurcola Marsicana and the saffron flower of Navelli, Civitaretenga, San Demetrio, Santa Maria del Ponte, Fontecchio, Sulmona, Magliano were basic products in Abruzzese trade. "But the cultivation of the land is completed with some negligence, because the conditions of the ground for defect and crop imperfection, are not improved. And it is also to point out a certain numbness and apathy of the populations." To that the corruption of the ruling classes and the absence of ways of communication must be added
"Poor are the conditions of the poor mountain men of this province, that to earn a scarce bread, abandon temporarily the pure air of the fatherly cliffs and go down to the unhealthy Roman countryside or in the malaria-stricken Tuscan maremmas, where they hoe and reap those fields on which they often die of fever." These were the awful conditions that pushed so many desperate souls to emigrate.
Abruzzo Ulteriore II has a great number of sheep that are transferred, during the winter, to the "Tavoliere" of Apulia or to the Roman countryside. Castrated lambs and kidskins were the most used meats; delicious is the heifer of Rocca Di Mezzo, judged even better than that of Sorrento. Abundant are also game and hunting animals.
The manufacturing industry was not so developed: the men were devoted above all to "arts and crafts"; the women to "spinning, weaving, needlework, knitting and of other home crafts". Of particular interest was the art of the lace pillow for the production of marvellous lace.
The population that in the 1881 census was 353,027 rose to about 436.300 in 1901 The illiterates that in 1871 were over 70% of the population, in the town of Aquila in 1881 had dropped to 51%. The kindergartens were only 8; the elementary schools were 662 with about 35,600 pupils; the secondary education boasted classical high schools and technical schools in Aquila, Avezzano, Sulmona and Pescina.