"The medieval hill town lies beneath Mount Camicia on the eastern side of the Gran Sasso Massif. Castelli is best known for its maiolicas, a form of decorative ceramic, which were collected by the nobility of Europe for centuries and which were at their pinnacle from the 16th through 18th century and are still produced today by local artists. Castelli maiolica was a favorite dinnerware of Russian Tsars." (Wikipedia)
As we made plans with the local Christian community on how to plug in and serve, we quickly made the no-brainer decision to visit Liceo Artistico per il Castelli. Marco had connections in, as a former instructor, and an open house was coming up. Our major challenge: how to move 47 of us up the mountains in a 9-person van.
Our logistics ninjas worked and drove like bosses, some testing their skills as Italian race car drivers, only to abandon all hope as near misses multiplied (with both cars and car sickness). Ancient OM vans do not perform quite as well as Fiats. Neither do stomachs.
Rounding one last switchback, we caught a glimpse of our destination, sparkling in the sun. Spilling out in the little town then, we got a glimpse of a top-of-the-world view of the region. Ceramic shops, statues and signs filled the town. Shutters were soon clicking on the cameras.
Those on the first shift of van transport had time to browse a bit until we all got there, and then we relayed the team up the last leg, to the high school. Pretty desolate place to plant an art school. And not just any art school, but Italy’s leading high school for the arts.
Carla Marotta, its beaming director, greeted us in pretty-darn-good English, and proudly showed off her domain. Studios, galleries, workshops, a few potters at work, the senior projects, the library (where a computer-driven machine whirled plastic into unbelievably complex designs). After our tour, she left us to explore on our own, advising that we be sure to visit the international museum on site--which we did--filled with works donated from around the world. Gads.
As we wandered down to explore the monumental sculptures of the seniors’ art projects—up to maybe 15 feet tall—a classical guitar duo parked in a corner and lulled us into a happy stupor until the vans pulled up. It was time for the first group to leave. Sigh.
I was in the second group, and almost got to hear a quartet acting/singing Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Of course, just as introductory remarks completed and the singers took the stage, the vans arrived. Dang!
Votive candles lined the driveway, leading us out through the logjams of those arriving. We returned our students to their studios, pumped and inspired by this glimpse into Italy’s glorious art heritage. And we definitely need a return trip to Castelli.
So there you have it. The secret is out. If you're ever in Rome, you might want to take a car or a bus ride (about 3 hrs.) and visit Shangri-La. Overnight accommodations in Centro Evangelico d'Isola, of course!