On the banks of the river Fortore
Castello di Dragonara overlooks the homonym forest located at the bottom of the castle walls of this ‘citta’ di frontiera’ (boarding town). It is from here that this seventh itinerary begins. It is a track inspired by water as it follows the course of the river Fortore all the way down and across the valley. You will be following the course of the river Fortore pretty closely along its banks wherever possible. This a trail that speaks of adventure and sudden route changes. This probably comes out of the meaning of its name Fortore ‘forte in un’ora’ (strong in one hour) actually revealing the pace for this itinerary that naturally dramatically varies according to the season. This, like many other rivers in the Tavoliere, is a typical torrential river whose life depends on the rain precipitation and seem to follow some sort of sharp alternation between long dry periods and shorter but quite heavily flooded times especially during Autumn and Winter. These events quite obviously bring evident changes to the landscape terracing, embankments and in general of the whole plain whose color periodically changes from yellow, green and rock white. Despite its torrential nature, this is not an invisible unsubstantial river. It is in fact the second longest strongest river of Puglia after the Ofanto. Starting from Montefalcone di Val Fortore in the province of Benevento at the height of 720 mt above the sea level, it is 86 kilometers long, passes the province of Campobasso after receiving the waters of the Tona stream to reach the Puglia region ending up into the Adriatic between Lesina (Lake Lesina) and Chieuti. Its riverbed is full of history, tales, names and faces like that of the Battaglia delle Canne that apparently happened by the Fortore and not by the Ofanto. This is a battle that marked an era, it happened during the second Punic war fought between the Romans and the Carthaginians and considered by historians a truly significant battle from a military artistry point of view. This because of the meticulous circling manoeuvre of the lower numbered troupe to the enemy that, in one day cost the Romans, the loss of fourteen legions over the original sixteen which included the cavalry order of both parties. According to the records of the official historiography this battle happened on the 2nd August 216 BC in the triangle between Barletta-Canosa-San Ferdinando di Puglia which is where Canne di Battaglia is nowdays not too far from the Ofanto. According to other sources and archeological findings, it is believed that the battle actually happened on the Fortore embankments near where it meets the Tappino stream and where the Occhito lake reservoir is nowadays, nearby the township of Gambatesa (province of Campobasso) and Celenza-Carlantino (province of Foggia). Myths, oral traditions, tales, one thing is certain, that this river has also drawn the attention of the old Greek cartographer, geographer, historian Strabone who mentions this river in his accurate mapping of Puglia which he divided in four geographical areas. Leaving these curious useful digressions behind, you can easily get back on your track following along your water route on the embankments of the river Fortore. The whole valley is overlooked by the hillside complex of Chieuti and Serracapriola and goes from the left side of the river gently sloping down towards the coast. The fully visible hills view on the northern-western side is your constant landmark on this trip. Furthermore, the Fortore, full of bends as it is, is a very significant bio-diverse element with respect to the ecosystem between the Apennine and the coast life. The sight of the valley is made of old farmhouses, rural estates and derelict city walls all the way around until, by the edge of where the river is, it is easy to spot in the distance Masseria Reina Vecchia and Masseria Mezzana of Ferole and beyond these, Masseria Fara della Sentinella.
This particular route leads quickly to the Fortore after passing by the Taverna di Madonna del Ponte where it meets the Ippovia del Bosco di Lauria (horse-trail of Lauria forest). It is here that this journey becomes even richer of tales and archeological crossings. Beautifully immersed in the Regional Natural Park of the middle Fortore, Bosco di Lauria (natural forest of Lauria) is a 25 Km long track that can be cycled, walked or horse-ridden and that is guaranteed to leave you with a wholesome idea of what the Fortore valley is about. The Taverna di Madonna del Ponte is the junction, the starting point, the connective between memory and nature with all its archeological and natural layers joined within. Not to mention the historically pivoting strategic location of the Taverna being at the crossing point of many ways, be guaranteed to control the surrounding areas and so, fully support its economic sustainability. This geographical structure has played in favor of human settlements that date as far as the VII-VI millennium BC (Old Neolithic), the Roman times of Teanum Apulum and Civitate during the Byzantine one.
Nonetheless, the transhumance has left important traces in this area where the Tratturo Regio l’Aquila-Foggia was one of the three main ‘green’ ways that linked the Abrruzzo region with Capitanata (northern Puglia, Foggia area). The waterways life of the Fortore is remembered also by Plinio especially for it helped the flourishing of human settlements with its agriculture and pasture farming also allowing the evolution of the ecosystems of all the surrounding areas. It is along its riverbanks that, back in the days, children were used to pick up the roots of the Maurizia and chew on them all the way back home. They were used to stash it plenty so that it would last a whole week. It was some sort of currency exchange very popular with the youth. The riverbanks of the Fortore are also very rich of argyle that the transhumance shepherds were used to apply on their sore body parts to relief their pain. This is the place where the customs were. One look around and it will be easy for you to spot some old imprint with the price for the custom of something or other good. Leaving history and civilization behind, it’s now time to head south of the plain up to the Abbazia di Sant’Agata Martire lying over the roman ruins of the northern-eastern side enclosure. Not too far in the distance, it is the sea like reaching, touching you from that distance when it becomes breezy on that side of the river Fortore.
The Abbazia was built in 1328 thanks to significantly beginning of the work of the Cistercensi di Casanova. It remained under the control of the Abbazia di Tremiti for many years to come this because of its strategic positioning looking over the sea, with an instant clear view of the islands around and in the proximity of the travelable river Fortore fitted with a ‘non incomodo porto’ (not so easy accessible harbor), the Abbazia was an absolutely crucial constant meeting point and exchange for wayfarers, travelers, pilgrims and dealers on their way to the Tremiti Islands. This area was primarily dedicated to sheep farming, but it was also valuable for buffalo, mares and pig farming too. What was produced here was sent to the Tremiti Islands and then exported. These were days of prosperity, wellbeing and abundance. The Abbazia di Sant’Agata became particularly powerful thanks to its very robust walls until when in August 1567 a swarm of Turkish galleons docked by the Fortore delta allowing the Ottoman troupe to reach the entrenched Abbazia di Sant’Agata, plundered it and set on fire. For many years to come the Abbazia was pretty much forgotten. After moving away and over the walls of the Abbazia, it is easy from there heading towards the coast. The agricultural colorful ‘mosaic’ type of structure of the farmlands becomes more intricate as more damp areas seem also to appear showing how this area is extremely important from an environmental point of view. In the depth of its reeds live and reproduce, breed red egrets, bitterns, great reed warbler, bearded reedlings and cetti’s warblers. On the wet muddy salicornia covered riverside it is easy to spot hawks and harriers who come to lay their eggs or spend the winter here. It is during spring and autumn migration times that it is possible to spot black and white swans, flamboyances, storks and the spoonbill too. Grey herons and egrets are present in the area all year round. This is the sign that life is still very present in this very spot, a quiet place that makes it the ideal shelter where to find some rest before starting travelling to discover new routes.