THE SHEEP TRACKS
You are on the Sheep Tracks.
Walking along quiet eternal paths holding the history and tales of the agricultural landscapes and scents of the Rural Daunia. If you pay attention to the whispers of the earth and the chattering of the wind, you recognize the pride and tenacity of the Gente di Terra (People from the Earth). Dust, labor, hard work, scents and a greater respect for the earth are the custodian of this trip, of this itinerary that explores windswept tracks as well as those trod by both animals and men. These are trails where the calmness of these enchanted surroundings allows you to still hear the voice of those who have been there prior to you. This is the cradle trail that holds the old track that goes all the way from L’Aquila to Foggia.
This is the track of long transhumance journeys, of whole herds of people surrounded by heads of cattle that from the mountain came herding towards the plain running away from the cold and to graze in warmer lands where, now it is lovely feeling the sun kissing your face as you walk along. Tread slowly through this itinerary, make it just one long inalation, as if you were the last devoted shepherd to its herd.
Looking around you will feel surrounded by three different intercepting landscapes that will daze you just as they continuously open new imaginary visual trails as they manifest to you while you walk along.
The first one to captivate your eyes will be the one of the Tavoliere delle Puglie. Its huge sunny outstretch can be distinguished by the presence of large agricultural estates and farmhouses. For this reason it is called the Mosaic of San Severo to distinguish it from that of Foggia. This is a plain that, slightly sliding towards west, it allows to easily spot the frizz hilly views of the Appennino Dauno whereas, by peaking on the east side, it is a pleasure to enjoy the view of what is left of the old Candelaro river which according to the legend is responsible of the geological connection and unification of Gargano to the Peninsula. In the middle, just across the long fine main trail of your itinerary, it is easy to notice the abundant countryside filled with tidy olive groves, vast vineyards and sporadic orchards.
Nature and history meet all along your itinerary until you are called to turn your eyes towards the second scenery: the Valle del Fortore. Here the landscape changes and the mosaic of agricultural fields leaves space to longer more irregular terrains that seem ready to follow the loops of a not always active stream, and then, engage with the ripples of the alluvial plains. By getting closer to it, it is easy to blend in with the green parts of the stream, the scrubland in fact which is one of the main ecological network keeper of this very rich biodiversity pool.
The third scenery demanding your attention is the Crinale della Serra where the villages of Serracapriola and Chiuti castle are. Sloping along this terracing for a few kilometers, all you experience is silence, fatigue and a slow pace. The olive tree will be your main company on this journey reminding you to follow along the pathway leading to the tip of a gently dominating hill from where you will be able to spot the trail, the landscapes and the charming views which led you all the way to there passing via two offshore villages along the tail of the Appennino Dauno gently sliding towards the sea, enjoying a slice of south terrains that would have left you completely breathless.
The Mosaic of San Severo, the Valle del Fortore and the Crinale di Serra are simply not enough for you stop as the horizon seems to constantly draw new landscapes in the distance, so that it is becomes easier and easier if you let yourself being led by these views. Looking towards the North, they will show you another aspect of the Daunia Rurale: the one of the coastal lakes.
The Aquila-Foggia route is a touristic itinerary made by different components. It has the ambition of unifying cultures and open the dialogue amongst far away regions and so lead its travelers from Foggia towards the centre of the Gente di Terra (People from the Earth). This is an itinerary that goes through San Severo and Torremaggiore, continues towards San Paolo di Civitate and Serracapriola, up to reaching even beyond the Puglia borders. It is a seductive trail that continuously opens to new crossroads, passages and deep but at the same time quicker routes typical of the scenery of the transhumance like Madonna del Ponte, in the Parco Regionale del Fortore. It is here, in this dense woodland and wildlife terrain that the legendary battle between the Normans and Pope Leon IX took place 18th June 1053. It is during this battle that, Brunone dei Conti of Egisheim-Dagsburg who had been elected by the Catholic Church to be the 152nd Pope, was defeated, caught and transferred to Benevento where he was imprisoned. This was a bloody battle that marked the beginning of a new destiny for the Mezzogiorno of Italy (the South). By Madonna del Ponte, take the time to look a bit further and you will notice that the transhumance clearly shows strong evidence of how past and present keep on intercepting each other by the regular repetition of the herds seasonal migrations, of cows and shepherds who from the heights of the Abbruzzo and Molise regions, move towards the plains of the Tavoliere via the grassy trails of the sheep tracks.
In 1447 Alfonso l of Aragona, decided to introduce some sort of tax system to this sheep tracking travelling trend. So he founded in Foggia and, named this practice as ‘Regia Dogana della Mena delle Pecore in Puglia’ (Royal Custom of the Sheep Transhumance in Puglia). The aim was to protect these trails and safeguard the animal rearing and grazing rights. You can almost still hear the voices of the shepherds dealing with the custom officers as well as the sound of the tingling coins they were paying to settle their deal. The main tracks, those ones that still nowadays some people call majestic, stretched over a grassy trail 60 Neapolitan steps long (about 111 mt). They looked almost like ‘motorways of the King’ and even belonging to the public domain, were periodically checked for their solidity as they were very often invaded and encroached by neighboring landowners.
Tracks, trails and arms of lands they are all names that change according to the length or the depth of its layout. These are passageways developed through time, by giving in to the natural structure of its places and, by following the rivers lines and the unavoidable passages generated by its natural relief.
These are fascinating places animated by a very articulate connection between people and their cultures. They are the same charismatic elements that, as you walk slowly while listening to the calming sound of Nature, also offer you the opportunity to taste the dishes of the old rural agro-pastoral tradition which is lasting over times and memory. The transhumance is a very old tradition whose marks of the rural building style created by the agro-pastoral civilization are still very evident. All along your sheep track you are to encounter large farms, fountains and small rural suburbs settled around modest quaint little churches, privileged witnesses of people devotion. Furthermore, you can spot ‘directional stones’, engraved crosses, chapels and taverns, bridges and creek fords where it is great to notice the spontaneity of its Nature generated architecture that favored the lives of shepherds and roamers so becoming the distinctive sign of the whole civilization of the Gente di Terra, people who know well about working hard, conquering and respecting Nature where strength, tenacity and perseverance are qualities which have allowed their transmission through generations and which, speak of people who have turned hospitality into a virtue and embraced it as a way of living.