Scanno: Italy’s photographers’ village and its “heart lake”

We had read that Scanno, in the unknown region of Abruzzo, was one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It has its stamp and everything. More than one in fact. But when we arrived, we understood that, beyond the listings and the marketing, Scanno was special. A village of just over 2,000 inhabitants on top of a rock at 1,000 meters high, next to one of the oldest national parks in Italy and a deep canyon in which opens a heart-shaped lake. Does or doesn’t it sound idyllic?

Jumping on Scanno’s Strada Abrami

A medieval village of shepherds that had its moment of splendor in Baroque times thanks to its wool industry. Wool that made him famous throughout the Kingdom of Naples, to which he belonged. At that time the typical costume of its women was born, surely one of the reasons that brought here to the very same Henri Cartier-Bresson and that converted to Scanno in the “Village of photographers” in the twentieth century.

It is true that the baroque palaces and medieval buildings of Scanno have gone through better times, that there are some cracks and that a few faded and chipped facades need touch-ups… But the village is still amazing. In fact, that slightly decadent air even gives it a touch – maybe Cartier-Bresson thought the same. It looks like a real nativity scene! Join us, we will tell you everything there is to see in Scanno, one of our places what to visit in Abruzzo.

What to see in Scanno, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy

Basically what you have to see in Scanno is the historic center, with its narrow streets, its slopes, its views, its fountains, its wrought iron balconies, the baroque portals of its palaces and churches…

As you walk, notice two very characteristic elements of Scanno: the arches and exterior stairs of their houses. The former are old access gates later absorbed by the village or a way to connect different buildings. And the latter even have their own name here: cimmose. These stairs connected the street with the first floor of the houses, where the rooms were, while on the ground floor there were stables and cellars. The fact is that they are now their hallmark and are often decorated with plants and flowers. They look like they’re made for Instagram!

What to see in Abruzzo Scanno
Arcos and cimmose, a classic Scanno image

We are not surprised at all that the CNN Choose Scanno as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and call it “rural paradise”.

Did you know…?

The Romans called this place Scamnum, seat or bench, for its position on a rock. Rock on which the Apennines rest in this area.

The Piazza di Santa Maria della Valle and his church

After leaving the car in the Viale del Lago, the main access point to the village, our visit to the historic center of Scanno began with the Santa Maria del Valle Square. Right next door, there is the tourist office, where we got a map of the town and the surroundings so, better starting point, impossible.

What to see in Scanno Vista Viale Lago
The view of Scanno from the Viale del Lago

In the square stands the church of Santa Maria del Valle, or the Assumption, with its Romanesque bell tower that stands out from many corners of the town with its 35 meters high. Inside we find remains of medieval frescoes, baroque wooden furniture and the chapel with the relics of San Constanzo.

The Strada Abrami and the Fontana Sarracco

The church and square are nice. But the good thing really starts when you stroll through the historic center. We start the route through the Strada Abrami, the main street that divides it in two. Shortly after starting, we find the Fontana Sarracco, a fountain with masks that was aMedieval brevadero. It is one of the most iconic corners of Scanno And their baroque masks even have names: they are popularly known as the king, the queen, the friar Zoccolante and cappuccino.

What to see in Scanno Strada Abrami
The main street of Scanno, the Strada Abrami

The Piazza San Rocco and Palazzo Mosca

Touring the Strada Abrami Until the end you reach the San Roque Square, or Old Square, the heart of the Old town of Scanno. Here stands the Palazzo Mosca, the most elegant of the village, with its baroque façade and its decoration of cherubs and seraphim dancing under the cornice.

What to see in Scanno Palacio
Not everything is alleys and houses, there are also palaces in Scanno

Arriving at the square we also find the church which gives it its name, the of San Roque, next to a palace with a large fresco of St. Christopher. Nearby are two others Churches: that of Saint Mary of Constantinople –with a fresco of the Madonna and Child on the throne of the fourteenth century which is one of Scanno’s jewels– and Sint Eustatius –with its baroque stuccos and processional steps–. Let it not be said that there is a lack of places of worship in Scanno!

Rincon Jump with Me

Next to the church of St. Eustace is the Arch of St. Eustatius, one of the ancient gates that gave access to the medieval nucleus of Scanno. Today, integrated into a private house.

The Cartier-Bresson staircase

In front of the church of the Virgen del Carmen is the Scalinata Henri Cartier-Bresson. Yes, this staircase officially has the name of the nicknamed as “eye of the twentieth century”. Why? Well, because he photographed her, of course. Cartier-Bresson came to Scanno in the winter of 1952 to write a report he called “Christmas at Scanno” and published in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in December 1953. The most famous of the photos in that report portrays fairly. this corner of Scanno. Women carrying bread on their heads, girls leaving the church, a cat, a group of men in the background… and many railings. He immortalized a moment of the daily life of the interior of Abruzzo in the 50s of the last century.

What to see in Scanno Scalinata Cartier-Bresson
The Scalinata Henry Cartier-Bresson

Did you know…?

Two of Cartier-Bresson’s Scanno photos are part of the MoMA Collection, as well as two by Mario Giacomelli, one of the greatest Italian photographers of the twentieth century.

The route of the “village of photographers”

The Cartier-Bresson staircase, which has not changed one iota since the middle of the last century, is one of the stops of the Route of the “Borgo dei Photography”, village of photographers. That the one who is considered the father of photojournalism immortalized Scanno did not go unnoticed. After his visit to the village of Abruzzo, many other Italian and international photographers arrived. You can see their photos in the corners they portrayed at different points of the Old town of Scanno. The route begins next to the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, in the via dei Photography –very appropriate–. You can also take a look at the baroque interiors of the church.

What to see in Scanno walking
Walking around Scanno

Did you know…?

Italian photographer Ferdinando Scianna, a friend of Cartier-Bresson, said the French photographer’s report turned Scanno in “the Lourdes of photographers”. A true pilgrimage destination!

Silla and Ciorla streets

We mention two other streets you should go through: the via Silla and the via Ciorla. In them stand other of the most important palaces and churches of the town. As the Palazzo di Rienzo, with its large carved wooden gate; the Palazzo de Angelis, with its baroque decoration, and the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, with the stuccos that decorate its interior.

What to see in Scanno Via Silla
One of the buildings of the via Silla, photographed once by Kurt Hielscher

A couple more corners. At the end of the via Ciorla rises the Porta della Croce, one of the four doors that gave access to the historic center in the fifteenth century, the only one that has been preserved. And, near the intersection of Silla and Ciorla streets, there is another of those arches so characteristic of Scanno: the Arco della Nocella.

If you’re lucky, women in traditional Scanno costume

The photographers who came to Scanno, Cartier-Bresson included, did so for its landscapes, yes, but also for its traditions, especially that of the traditional costume of its women, with wide skirts, embroidery and typical hats. Although nowadays it is not easy to see the Women in their typical costume, yes they wear it on holidays, some even every Sunday. Let’s see if you’re lucky, we didn’t…

What to see in Scanno Plazuela
A square of Scanno with its cimmose

Lake Scanno: the heart-shaped lake

Very close to the village you will find the Lago di Scanno, the largest natural lake in Abruzzo. It is one of the best known natural corners of the region also because it has…heart shape! Of course, to appreciate that shape you have to go to the panoramic point, near the Hermitage of Sant’Egidio. It is reached by the Sentiero del Cuore, the path of the heart. You can start it from the village or from the lake, we put it on the map. Eye, that from below is also beautiful and you can stop at the Church of the Virgen del Lago, excavated in the rock.

What to see in Scanno Lago Corazon
Lake Scanno

The Sagittarius Gorges and the surroundings of Scanno

The road leading to Scanno is built on the Sagittarius River Gorges. A canyon dug by water into the limestone that is spectacular even from the car. Although there are also a few trails. If you stay in the car, get off at least close to the Lake Santo Domingo and in the villages of Villalago and Anversa degli Abruzzi, two more of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

What to See In Abruzzo Villalago
Villalago, overlooking the gorges of Sagittarius

We have already said that near Scanno is the second oldest national park in Italy: the Abruzzo National Park, Lazio and Molise, where with a lot of luck you can find a wolf or a bear …

What to See In Abruzzo Lake San Domenico
Lake San Domenico

Where to eat in Scanno

If you feel like it typical Abruzzo food, a good place to eat in Scanno It’s him ristorante La Foce. There you can try the Arrosticini, the typical Moorish skewers of lamb meat. And some of the typical pastas of the region, such as spaghetti alla chitarra, with different sauces – including crayfish sauces – or Sagnette, with beans. It was all finger-licking!

Eating at Scanno Arrosticini
The arrosticini of the ristorante La Foce

Map of the places to see in Scanno

Here’s our map of the places to see in Scanno. We also tell you where we park, where the route village of the photographers and the path of the heart begin and where the tourist office and the restaurant where we ate are.

The village of photographers is waiting for you to take some pictures too…

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