History of Atri


See Atri guide for highlights and historic monuments

Atri is a town in the Province of Teramo, strategically located on a terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea, in a territory best known for the presence of so-called "calanchi", i.e. geological formations caused by the erosion of clayey soil.

The area of Atri has been inhabited since the Iron Age, as shown by archaeological finds. There are two accredited hypothesis about the origins of the city: the most likely says that the town was founded by the Etruscans; while the second connects Atri to the existence in the area of a colony founded by Dionysius of Syracuse (405-367 BC).

Atri in Roman times

The city of “Hatria” (Hadria) took this name in the Roman period (see etymology further down), and reached its peak when the Emperor Hadrian built his thermae in the city.

Although devastated by Hannibal (247-182 BC) during his military campaign in Italy, the town proved loyal to Rome, and for this reason it was elevated to the rank of “Municipium”.

Atri after the Romans

After the fall of Roman Empire, during the barbarian invasions, Hatria "Picena" (to distinguish it from "Hatria" or "Hadria" (today "Adria") of the Veneto, Province of Rovigo) began its decline.

It then became part of the Duchy of Spoleto, of which it proved to be one of the major cities, though fallen, as Paul the Deacon narrated in the 'Historia Langobardorum' ("History of the Lombards") (Book II):

"Vetustate conpsumpta Adria, qui Adriatico pelago nomen dedit" ["Adria, defeated by its antiquity, which gave its name to the Adriatic Sea "].

Entering the Middle Ages

In 1252 Atri became an Episcopal city at the behest of Pope Innocent IV and from the second half of the 13th to the first half of the 14th century it was ruled by an oligarchy of wealthy merchants. In 1395 Atri came into the possession of the Acquaviva, a powerful family in the province of Teramo.

The Acquaviva held power in Atri for nearly four centuries, and thanks to them, the town experienced some moments of great peace and prosperity.

In 1760, the last feudal owner of Atri, Isabella Strozzi, voluntarily relinquished all right, and therefore in 1775 the whole area became part of the Kingdom of Naples under King Ferdinand I (1725-1825), and then became part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Origins of the name Atri

The etymology of Atri seems to be related to a family name. G. Serra writes:

"“Adria "Hatria", the name of a city of Piceno, home of the family of Emperor Hadrian, now called "Atri", (was the) name of a person very common among the Romans”] [1].

A very detailed analysis of the origins of the term "Ater" ("dark"), which we find in many Italian names, was made by G. Recchia, who notes that "Ater" is linked to the presence of a river or water:

"[...] G. Devoto specifies that the Umbria river 'Nera' was among the first to be inhabited by the proto-Villanovan people called 'Naharani / Na-harti'. The city of Terni is located at the confluence of the rivers Nera and Serra, and the Romans called it 'Interamna' ('between the rivers'), 'Na-hartium'. The name of Terni also seems to be derived from 'ater' (... the same thing can be said for  Atrani'), where the city is crossed by the Dragone River, the waters of which disappear, swallowed into an abyss...

... so the ancient city of 'Atrano' is defined as 'dark' linguistically, and in the area of Salerno there is also the 'River' Atri. We note that the same meaning is present in 'Aternum', near Pescara, and in 'Atri'-' Hatria' (in the Piceno) and Adria (in Veneto). The Greek term 'Hades' means 'hereater' ('dark place'), which suggests an etymological link meaning an 'underground' environment ... refers to 'watery underground caverns' [...] " [2].

The etymology of Atri therefore refers to the concept of "darkness" and "river". As it has been observed [3] “it is beyond all doubt that the term 'Macrinum' corresponds to the port (in Greek 'epineion') of 'Hatria '('Atria'), located at the mouth of' ‘Matrìnos Potamòs’ ('river Matrino'), mentioned by Strabo (58-25 BC).

Indeed Atri is mentioned by Livy (59-17 BC), Strabo, Mela (first century AD), Silius Italicus (26-101 AD), Ptolemy (90-168 AD),  Paul the Deacon (720-799 AD), and other authors.

See also the travel guide for Atri.

References

1. See G. Serra, "Outlines of a Linguistic History of  Medieval Italy", Liguori, 1965: 56

2. See G. Reccia “Topografonomastica e descrizioni geocartografiche dei casali atellano-napoletani di Grumo e Nevano”, Istituto di Studi Atellani, Istituto geografico militare, Florence, 2009: 111-12, notes 230, 231

3. "Athenaeum", University of Pavia, Vol. 27, 1968: 137