To sum up centuries of history in a few lines, we can say that Chieti is an elegant hilltop town, one of the four provinces of Abruzzo and amongst the most ancient of Italian cities. According to mythological legends, it was founded in 1181 B.C. by the Homeric Greek hero Achilles and was named Theate in honor of his mother, Thetis. As Theate Marrucinorum, Chieti was the chief town of the warlike people of Marruccini.
- Our walking tour starts at the majestic Cathedral of San Giustino, formerly a Gothic church that was restored several times over the years until it finally got a Baroque-style aspect in the late XVIII century. Despite its rigorous, solemn, and clean internal architecture, the church appears very ordinary in its imposing structure, however, the real surprise lies only six feet under. Going down the stairs on the left side of the main altar, an unexpected (and quite different) atmosphere appeared to our eyes, the Romanesque Crypt impressed us with its murals and stoned vaults. The church is located at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, a few meters from the terminal bus. Entry is free, silence and decorum are strongly recommended.
- A few steps away, our look was captured by an old-fashioned sign saying “Giuseppe Fasoli & Figli”. The shop proves to be the oldest goldsmith in town, founded in 1840 and remained unchanged so far: in fact, it retains the original furniture and vintage interiors, carefully restored by the current owners. Among the most significant pieces, it is possible to admire golden madonnas and talismans against the ‘evil eye’ forged over a century ago. If you wish to pay a visit, just go and ask permission to peep in to dive into a glorious past (address is Via Pollione 7).
- Located at the beginning of the main pedestrian area, Marruccino Theatre represents the beating heart of the city. It is a vivid example of neo-classical theatre architecture, featuring a richly decorated sky with squares at the center, showing figures of the muses and medallions with the portraits of the greatest musicians and dramatists. Individual or group guided tours are available by appointment.
- Strolling along Corso Marruccino, on your left side stands the oldest bar in the city, the popular Gran Caffé Vittoria. Founded in 1920 as “Caffé Roma”, two years later its name was changed into “Gran Caffé Vittoria” to celebrate the proclamation of the Fascist Empire. Countless documentaries and TV reports were turned at Gran Caffé Vittoria, which is still considered the best venue in town. In the past, it hosted literary circles and was a regular haunt of writers, politicians, and intellectuals, nowadays it is also used for books presentation, press conferences, and cultural events organized by private institutions and public bodies. Perfect for a brunch with friends, or an intimate coffee just for two, you can find Gran Caffé Vittoria at Corso Marruccino 89. Open daily, free wifi.
- If you are lucky enough, you may find a local flea market, perfectly combining that so-truly-Parisian-bohemian-allure with the lively colorfulness of Abruzzo. Local markets are usually held every second Saturday and Sunday of the month
- Nestled in the very heart of the city, Palazzo de’ Mayo has become a cultural center that effectively and continuously contributes to the intellectual and economic growth of the territory. Its belief is that the development of local communities lies in the knowledge, enhancement, and enjoyment of the artistic heritage Abruzzo is so rich in. In addition to housing the Banco di Napoli Foundation, since June 2012 Palazzo de ‘Mayo is the beautiful container of cultural initiatives: the complex includes the prestigious Museum of Art, the halls for temporary exhibitions, the auditorium of the Library Art, the courts, and the Italian garden. Once a month it is possible to visit the ancient Via Tecta, one of the hypogeal rooms of the so-called “Underground Chieti”, whose access is just below the Palazzo basement. Museum entry is free but opening times vary according to seasons.
- If the weather is warm, do not miss a walk around the elegant Villa Comunale. For sure a fine example of 19th-century urban park style, the Villa resulted from the merging of the gardens of two noble families, the Frigerjs and Nollis, who formerly lived in the area.
- For lunch you can stop at Casina dei Tigli, a lovely restaurant opened in 1935. I recommend a window seat overlooking the gardens, outdoor tables are also available as long as the weather is mild. I usually opt for a vegan entrée plate for two, a seasonal risotto, veal fillet served with potato medallions and roasted eggplants. 2 course meal + 1 glass of house wine costs around 25 € pp. Open daily, free wifi.
- To end the day tour, I recommend a visit to Villa Frigerj otherwise known to the world as the National Archaeological Museum. Perched on a little slope and surrounded by trees and plants, the little museum hosts the fiercest symbol of Abruzzo, namely the Warrior of Capestrano. The mysterious statue, found by chance in 1934, is a huge male figure – most likely a prince or leader – wearing war weapons and endowed with religious powers. The Warrior suggestively dominates the bare room, thus inspiring deep reflections and evocative thoughts. The entrance fee is 4 € pp.
NOTE TO THE READER: The best way to enjoy the city is by walk. The street is where you’ll unearth those unexpected finds: The penetrating aroma of coffee. The comforting smell of bread. The handmade wonders of local craftsmen. The tucked-away piazza. Abruzzo always has the power to surprise.