Beppe and I recently took part in the Active Abruzzo 2021 program with CNA Abruzzo. We cycled through all four provinces in the region and ended by the sea on what is known as the Trabocchi Coast.
What is a trabocco?
A trabocco is an old fishing machine, common along the southeastern coast of Italy, namely in Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia. Trabocchi (plural of trabocco) were built to offer fisherman a safer alternative to fishing boats.
Long ago, boards were placed on the half-submerged rocks that dotted the beaches so that the fishermen could fish further offshore. Over time, wooden stilts were added to erect freestanding platforms that allowed fishermen to go even farther out into the sea. When the railroad reached the region in the 1890s, the fishermen traded fish with the railroad crews for pieces of rail. The rails replaced the wooden stilts and still support the trabocchi today.
The platforms were built with a giant net underneath it and a sturdy winch above. Fisherman could heave the winch around the central post to draw up the net. The trabocchi were connected to the land by a narrow pier.
There are many different theories about the origin of the trabocchi. Some historians claim that they were invented by the Phoenicians. Others point to one of the oldest manuscripts in Abruzzo that mentions the trabocchi, by father Stefano Tiraboschi who belonged to the Celestinian order. In “Vita Sanctissimi Petri Celestini," he wrote about Pietro da Morrone's stay at the monastery of San Giovanni in Venere from 1240-1243, describing his visit to a panoramic viewpoint to admire the sea below “punteggiato di trabocchi” (dotted with trabocchi).
According to other scholars the origins of the trabocchi date back to some French families who moved to Abruzzo after the devastating earthquake in Foggia in 1627. The strong shocks generated a tsunami that devastated the coast of Abruzzo and caused thousands of deaths. Some others credit their construction to the settlement of Jewish families around the end of the 18th century.
According to the most reliable hypothesis, the trabocchi date back to 1700 when Dalmatian laborers moved to the Teatine Coast (in Abruzzo) with their families. The largest group of these families had the surname “Vri” which eventually evolved into "Valentine." This is still the most common surname among the owners of the trabocchi in Abruzzo today.
Whatever their actual origin, what all historians agree upon is that they were used as a safer alternative to fishing boats on the sea.
Magical and Practical
"At the extreme point of the right-hand promontory, on a bank of rocks the Trabocco stretched, a strange fishing machine, constructed entirely of beams and planks, like a colossal spider-web."
(Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Triumph of Death)
Described as dreamlike, other-worldly, crabs, spider webs, living machines, among other things, most people don't believe what they're seeing once they first spot a trabocco.
They are much sturdier than they appear, but when they do succumb to the elements they are rebuilt following strict guidelines.
The well-known poet from Pescara, Gabriele D’annunzio, was so fascinated by the trabocchi that he wanted to rent a villa near the Trabocco Turchino in San Vito Marina in 1889. In his famous novel “Il trionfo della morte” (The Triumph of Death) from 1894, there is a detailed description of these magical structures.
The Trabocchi Today
After the second World War, more modern forms of fishing became available and the trabocchi fell into disrepair. Decades later, there was a move to preserve and protect this cultural heritage.
In 1994 the region of Abruzzo passed a law for the the conservation of the trabocchi.
Today, there is a 70-km (43.5-mile) stretch of coastline from Francavilla to San Salvo, known as the Trabocchi Coast, where several trabocchi are conserved and rebuilt when necessary following specific regulations. Zoning laws are also in place that prevent the construction of brand-new trabocchi. Only established trabocchi can be rebuilt or repaired.
All of the trabocchi are privately owned, and nowadays several of them have been turned into seasonal restaurants.
Beppe and I dined at Trabocco Punta Cavalluccio in the province of Chieti and it was amazing, just as we expected it to be. There's nothing better than enjoying a multi-course seafood meal suspended over the water.
Whichever trabocco you choose, you are guaranteed a special experience and great food. Most are open from spring until fall and it is advised to make reservations ahead of time.
Here is a map of trabocchi that are currently open to the public.
Have you eaten in a trabocco? Let us know about your experience in the comments, below.
Would you like to plan a trip that includes a visit to the Trabocchi Coast? Get in touch to get the conversation started!