The castle, of Norman-Swabian origin, was built around a watchtower around the 11th-12th centuries. The original tower, called “normanna” and “dell’ulivo”, part of a territorial defensive system, was visually connected with other towers in the surround, like the Mucchia tower (on the coast) and with the city of Lanciano and Guardiagrele inside. To it are linked many legends related to the cruelty of one of its owners who, ruling these places with terror, beheaded its opponents on the highest tower, that of sighting. The tower became a symbol of terror and repression until the De Riseis, some feudal lords of Crecchio (seventeenth century), planted an olive tree on its summit, as a sign of peace with the population, hence the name “Torre dell’Ulivo” (tower of the olive tree).
On the map of Crecchio drawn in 1768 the Castle appears as an austere castellated fortress, but in 1789 it will lose this feature ,when Barone Camillo De Riseis transformed this residence into a leisure and holiday resort for important people and European nobility such as: Letizia Bonaparte, Gabriele D’Annunzio, the Prince Umberto II of Savoy and his wife Maria Josè.
The castle, through a series of vicissitudes and various owners, in 1789 became the residence of the De Rieis, dukes of Bovino, Taormina and barons of Crecchio, and in a short time this manor was one of the most sought after by the nobility of the era for the its garden, with rare plants and its gushing fountains, richly decorated with marble statues and naturally for the luxurious and sumptuous feasts that were held both in summer and in winter.
Unfortunately, a cold morning in September 1943, the enchantment and carefree life of the court was broken by the arrival of King Vittorio Emanuele III, his wife and the General Staff, who were fleeing Rome and before embarking from the port of Ortona, they were guests of the castle for one night. These were chased by the Germans, as Crecchio was crossed by the “Gustav Line”, as soon as the king managed to escape to Ortona and despite the attempts of Gaetana De Riseis to have Vittorio Emanuele III deflect from his serious decision to leave Italy, the Germans bombed the castle from its foundations, reducing it to a pile of smoking rubble. During the following winter the drawing of the Gustav line across the nearby hills transformed it into a German strategic stronghold. In the 70s the castle was restored.
Some argue that the ghost of a De Riseis and his beautiful lover dwelt in the halls of the manor. It is whispered that suddenly there are loud noises on the upper floor followed by a metallic clink. Others say that sometimes you can see a beautiful lady passing through the castle rooms quickly and quietly as if she were suspended in midair!
It is whispered that climbing the fifty-five steps leading to the ancient watchtower, also known as the “tower of the olive tree”, it’s possible hear sounds like lamentations coming from the walls and some feel strange presences right at the foot of that building…..
Considered one of the most precious pearls of the province of Chieti, the castle of Crecchio, also called castle “De Riseis-D’Aragona” (from the names of the noble families who inhabited it), is now home to the Museum of Byzantine and High Medieval. The Archeological Museum hosts a series of objects from Pre-Roman and Frentanian tombs. Under the Roman rule this area possibly became a municipium and the landscape was divided among large villae rusticae (farms) for the cultivation of olive trees, vines and cereals. After the devastating Greco-Gotic War (AD 535 – AD 553) the Byzantines re-fortified the main settlement and put garrisons in the countryside, protecting the villae from the Lombard raids of the 7th Lombard Duke of Benevento. The Ducal Castle remained in possession of the De Riseis family until the end of World War II.
Every year, in Crecchio, there is a three-day long event, hosting thousands of visitors yearly: “At dinner with the Byzantines”, from the evening to the night, a travel into the memory of this land, through cultural events, guided tours into the museum, reconstructions of the Byzantine society and (excellent!) eno-gastronomic stands among the borgo alleyways. At the twilight torches are lighted up and ancient soldiers, matrons, courtiers and eunuchs roam the streets. The perfumes exalt the senses in the historical center which echoes with the rolling drums and the war cries of the soldiers. The sound of the trumpet announces the triumphant procession celebrating the deeds of the comes Vitalianus, conqueror of Aternum (Pescara) and scourge of the Lombards.
As guests of the “Vassilissa”, the patrician matron in the retinue of the Byzantine troops, you can taste ancient delicacies, served on red slip plates, and wine mixed with honey, spice and rose petals in the gastronomic points on the borgo’s alleyways. Some photos of 2018 edition…..