The Royal Shepherd’s Path
The Royal Shepherd’s Path

The Royal Shepherd’s Path

Tratturo Magno – footsteps of the shepherds.

The Taiwan earthquake brought to mind a similar serious event in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009. Two years earlier, we had walked along the historic Tratturo Magno route and the centuries-old footsteps of the shepherds in the same landscapes. Tratturo Magno, also known as The Royal Shepherd’s Path, refers to the ancient paths that shepherds used to move their flocks to the highlands of Abruzzo (in summer) and back to the plains of Foggia (in winter).

Our international group was assembled to honor this significant heritage route. We hiked the traditional path alongside sheep flocks, with shepherd and livestock guardian dogs accompanying us. We slept in an old stone church. Local farmers fed us during the day, and in the evenings, we shared our experiences around the campfire. Along the way, there were checkpoints where notable figures stamped our shepherd passes. The national television also covered the event.

I served as the photographer for the group. The route was challenging, and as an inexperienced hiker, my gear was inadequate. Among other beginner mistakes, I set off with brand new hiking boots that turned out to be a size too small. There were moments when my steps weren’t that smooth. One of the livestock guardian dogs, a Maremmano-Abruzzese breed, noticed this and walked behind me as a precaution. It did the same for the sheep facing challenges. No one was left alone.

I got the opportunity to join the trek again two years later, but this time, I was assigned a horse and a local guide who knew the mountains, as the walkers followed a slightly different route. The absence of a common language wasn’t a barrier amidst the breathtaking scenery as we rode side by side along centuries-old shepherd paths.

This time, the journey was accompanied by a lot of sadness. In the same year, L’Aquila in Abruzzo experienced a serious earthquake, Italy’s worst in decades, claiming nearly 300 lives. In addition to encountering the beautiful mountain landscapes, we also came across the ruins of L’Aquila, which we had fond memories of from before. But what stood out the most was the people’s hope, resilience, faith in the future, and incredible sense of community.

Today, the same route is imbued with even more nostalgia. Pierluigi Imperiale, a passionate advocate of local shepherd culture, the pioneer and heart of the current Tratturo Magno treks, passed away in August 2022 at just 67 years old. Everyone who walks the Tratturo Magno route today follows in the footsteps of early shepherds, but also in his legacy. He refused to let the ancient routes be forgotten. In 2019, the cultural tradition also received UNESCO status.

The official Tratturo Magno trek is aimed to be organized every year, and other guided tours are also conducted in the area. You can also hike independently along the Royal Shepherd’s Path. For example, cyclists have discovered these stunning landscapes.