For centuries, the rugged mountains of Abruzzo have defined the people and cities of the region. The people of Abruzzo -- called Abruzzese -- have always lived among the natural defenses of the mountains.
Historically, the Abruzzese were tribal sheepherders, and throughout the Roman era and the Middle Ages, sheep farming continued to be the main activity of the region. The feudal era transformed the region from an area of isolated villages into an area of villages whose isolation was reinforced by stone walls and castles. Even today, the population is small. The capital, L'Aquila, is home to only 70,000 people [source: Comuni Italiani].
The Renaissance came more slowly to Abruzzo than it did to urban centers such as Florence and Siena. In the subsequent centuries, the region changed hands several times -- from Spain to Austria to the Bourbons to the Napoleonic Empire -- before Italy's 1860 unification. Though some of the coastal cities still show the influence of these different empires, the changes in power met with deep resistance in the inland mountains. They also had the effect of creating a wide income gap between farmers and landowners, which made it relatively easy for fascism to gain a footing here in the 20th century. At the end of World War II, Abruzzo -- which had actively resisted the Nazis -- suffered heavily at the hands of the retreating German army. The region didn't recover until several decades later [source: Vinitalia].
The mountain slopes of Abruzzo are important in another way: they provide ideal conditions for viticulture (the cultivation of grapes). Abruzzo's winemaking tradition may go back as far as the sixth century B.C. It was well in place by the first century B.C., when the poet Ovid -- a native of the Abruzzo city Sulmona -- sang the praises of local grapes. Some sources say that when Hannibal made his historic march over the Alps, he relieved his soldiers with Abruzzo wine from Teramo (then called Pretuzi) [source: GD Italy].
How is all that history reflected in today's Abruzzo wine? Find out on the next page.