santo stefano di sessanio

A journey back to the time of journeymen and princesses

Once upon a time there was land full of villages perched high on the mountaintops, of smiling shepherds and hard working journeymen folk.

Once upon a time there was land full of villages perched high on the mountaintops, of smiling shepherds and hard working journeymen folk. In this land, called Abruzzo, in a village embroidered onto the foot of Gran Sasso called Santo Stefano di Sessanio, there lived a princess, whose greatest dream was to be able to see the world. But her parents would not let her leave the tower built in the centre of the village: it was altogether too dangerous a world for a young girl. The princess was miserable. Day after day she paced back and forth at the window, watching the riders and wagons go down the hill, along the road and then disappear heading who knew where. So, one night, in secret, the princess escaped, her heart pounding with fear and excitement. She ran through the forest and caught up with some shepherds who were guiding their flocks to fresh pastures, along the Regio Tratturo road leading to Foggia. This road was the biggest and busiest route for getting the flocks to pasture in winter and it had brought growth and prosperity to the village.

The princess looked around her as she hurried along. How huge the sky looked! And what was that silver light down there in the valley? It was the moonlight reflecting on the lake. How stunning her Sessanio was at night!

But she knew that if the shepherds caught sight of her, they would take her back to the tower! So, the princess stole the clothes from a sleeping shepherd and then, dressed as a man, she drew a moustaches above her mouth with a piece of charcoal before joining the long line of people and sheep moving along the road. Thousands and thousands of sheep, particularly the black carfagna ones, and hundreds of men were walking down the road. It was one big, merry bleating of sheep, hearty cackling and whistling of shepherds and barking of sheep dogs. The princess thought that she’d never seen anything more beautiful. She glanced back at her village afar off: its walls, the tower, the houses. There it stood, everything so magnificently built. For a moment the princess hesitated, thought of turning back. She thought of the sleeping fields, of the women about their weaving and carding, of the bakers and cobblers. She thought of all her honest and hardworking people, letting her mind wander along all the narrow, concentric alley ways and her eye embrace every single stone of her tall tower, and she wept. “I will return, my Sessanio,” she said. “But first I’ll be like the humble Abruzzo shepherd: tired out I’ll discover after travelling far and wide, that even the ocean, if it were able, would come to pay you a visit.”


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