A giant vegetable plot that used to be a lake, a record-breaking space center, a village of art and stars and the oldest city in Abruzzo.
The Fucino Plain
The large depression in the inland area of Abruzzo, specifically in the Marsica region, is surrounded by high peaks and nature reserves of great natural interest, namely the Riserva Naturale Orientata Monte Velino, the Sirente-Velino Regional Natural Park, the Monte Genzana Alto Gizio Regional Natural Reserve, and the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise.
Around a century and a half ago, the Fucino Plain was a lake. To be precise, it was the third largest lake in Italy. It was fed by numerous springs and streams, but since it was devoid of natural outlets, the water levels and the area covered by the lake varied greatly, causing significant damage to the surrounding fields and towns. Julius Caesar has already thought about draining the lake through an underground canal that would channel the water into the Liri river. It was, however, Emperor Claudius who started the endeavor by putting his labor force of over twenty thousand slaves to work in the first century AD. Did it work? To some extent. The lake was partially emptied, laying bare a wide strip of agricultural land which, however, required constant maintenance. When the Roman Empire was conquered by the Barbarians, who had no interest in these areas, the maintenance of the canals ceased and the water returned. The turning point came much later, with Duke Alexander of Torlonia, who expanded the project and had a new canal built between 1854 and 1875. The lake disappeared but the area turned to marshland. Once reclaimed, the whole area became fertile countryside. Today, in satellite images, the Fucino Plain appears as an enormous patchwork of farmed fields, patterned with all the nuances of color that this land has to offer. Top-quality vegetables, such as the Fucino IGP carrots and potatoes, are grown in this immense fertile area.
This area, steeped in history and generous in nature, is also home to the Fucino Space Center and its museum.
The Fucino Space Center
In a landscape dotted with antennas (170, to be precise), the Fucino Space Center – managed by Telespazio, a global operator in the field of satellite solutions and services – has been operating since 1963. Today, it is the most important teleport in the world and a center of excellence for in-orbit satellite control, telecommunications, television and multimedia services. Suffice to say that in 1969, the images of the first moon landing were broadcast from here and that on 30 April 1986, thanks to American satellite Intelsat V, Pisa’s Centro Nazionale Universitario di Calcolo Elettronico (CNUCE) was connected to Arpanet, the network created to link computer centers to university terminals, or research laboratories to military institutions. Over the years, this would become known as the Internet.
In 1968, the Space Center opened its museum to the public, starting with researchers and students. The museum houses some of the equipment used in the pioneering phase of satellite telecommunication development. Visitors can learn about the main events in the company’s history, such as the first transmissions (made from two vans) between the United States and Italy using the Relay satellite in 1962. Or the 8-meter diameter antenna used for transmission experiments with the Telstar satellite since 1963. In 1969, when Pope Paul VI visited Uganda, this antenna was shipped by sea to Kampala and provided the first worldwide television connection from Africa.
Another noteworthy exhibit found at the museum is the stern of the Elettra, the ship on which Guglielmo Marconi carried out his first experiments in short-wave radio propagation between the two world wars. In 1937, after Marconi’s death, the ship was purchased by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications which, in 1978, donated the stern section of the vessel to Telespazio.
What to see around the Fucino Plain
The street art of Aielli
Aielli stands on a rocky spur that overlooks the Fucino Plain. A medieval tower built by Ruggero, Count of Celano, in 1356 stands on its highest point. In 2002, it was renamed “Torre delle Stelle” (Tower of the Stars). Since then, it has become a certified astronomical observatory with a Sky Museum, a specialized scientific library, and a planetarium which can project 3,000 stars on a dome measuring six meters across.
The small medieval village of Aielli (with a population of less than 1,500) was until recently a typical desolate and remote village.
Then, in 2017, the Borgo Universo project brought color and life back to Aielli with the creation of murals that, using spray cans and stencils, painted over the scars inflicted by the 1915 earthquake. Borgo Universo then became an authentic festival of street art, music, performance and astronomy, giving the small town unexpected fame. The 26 murals that have modernized the village are by some of the most famous street artists on the international scene (Okuda San Miguel, Millo, Ericailcane, Gio Pistone, Sam 3, Alleg, Guerrilla Spam and Matlakas), and are all closely linked to the themes of astronomy and the history of Aielli.
The Alba Fucens archaeological area
The name Alba Fucens reflects one of the town’s main features. In fact, the old word “Alba” means high ground and the town is located around 1,000 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest Roman cities in Italy. The walls that protected the city, which extend for around 3 kilometers, date between the third and second century BC, and have remained surprisingly intact. The reconstruction of the city’s structure, which began with the excavations of 1949 conducted by the Belgian archaeologist, De Visscher, has highlighted the presence of some of the buildings typically associated with Roman settlements, from the basilica to the Forum, as well as the thermopolium – a shop selling drinks where the counter is still visible. The ancient thermal baths are located close to the theatre. They were probably restored in the first centuries AD when mosaics were added. Lastly, the amphitheater was created on the slopes of the hill of S. Pietro.