‘Narrow’ Win for Tightest Italian Alleyway
Three Italian towns are at odds over which possesses the country’s narrowest alleyway. The villages of Termoli in Molise, Ripatransone in Marche and Citta della Pieve in Umbria all use their respective cramped corridors to attract tourists, but each insists that theirs is the tightest.
The first contender is Rejiecelle, or “the little street” in Termoli, a walled town on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Termoli, a jumble of white cobbled streets and bright-colored houses, is already a draw for visitors to Italy's Molise region. The town features a cathedral and a castle, both of which still bear the signs of pirate attacks, and every August a festival and firework display commemorates a raid that took place in 1566. The “little street” the locals call Rejiecelle is said to date back to a French invasion of 1799, according to Termoli native Oscar De Lena.
De Lena is president of a local archaeological society and for the past four years, he's also been self-appointed guardian of Termoli's claim of being home to Italy's narrowest alleyway. It's a boast hotly contested by rival villages, but De Lena is determined to prove that Rejiecelle is the slimmest.
"I've known it since the day of my birth," he said. "So I started measuring it over and over again, up and down, down and up. I've covered each single point. It's just 16.14 inches wide but in some parts it shrinks down to 14.96 inches," De Lena continued. "If you're a bit overweight and your tummy sticks out like mine then you'll have to walk sideways to squeeze through. Oh, and don't open an umbrella."
So proud is De Lena of his passage that he travels up and down Italy with a yard stick, sizing up potential rivals. “Wherever I go I measure each single street just to make sure we're the winners. So far, no one has beaten us,” he said.
Though De Lena claims Rejiecelle takes the cake, two other Italian towns, Ripatransone in the Marche region and Citta della Pieve in Umbria, have made identical claims about the width of their alleyways.
Simply called "the Alley," Ripatransone's well-kept 16.93 inch wide passage has for decades drawn crowds of visitors to what a sign proclaims is the narrowest in Italy. The town's mayor grants a faux-medieval certificate to those who succeed in squeezing through "a place where bodies shrink and dreams come true."
Throughout the Marche town, locals speak about the alley with pride. "Who cares about the other towns?" says Carlo Michettoni, a waiter at the nearby Sammagno bar. "Italy's tightest pathway is here."
Ripatransone, which dates to prehistoric ages, is also home to a necropolis and seven museums. The strategic cliff top position that once warded off barbarian invaders gives it superb panoramas across the Apennine Mountains.
Ilene Acquaroli, a tourism official who is also curator of the local archeological museum, says many visitors come just for the alleyway. "So many people have walked through it the cobblestones glow," she says. "Many others probably had to give up because of claustrophobia.”
Acquaroli dismissed Termoli’s claim, insisting its passage fails to meet the criteria of a proper alley, which must have a window or entrance along it, contain a pavement, and connect two roads. “We've been listed in the Guinness Book of Records and we'll fight till the very end to defend our top attraction,” she said.
The third contender, "Kisswomen Alley" in the Umbrian town of Citta della Pieve, is 17.72 inches wide and was originally set up to divide the estates of two bickering neighbors. According to a sign at its entrance, the romantic name "springs from the inhabitants' fertile imagination."
"It's so tight you can easily imagine Renaissance ladies and knights passing by, shyly brushing against each other... gentlemen kissing ladies' hands," says Fiorella Fringuello at the local tourist office.
The Kisswomen pathway opens up to a spellbinding view over local beauty spots including the Chiana Romana valley and Mount Cetona. Here too there's determination to claim the record. "We'll keep on saying that it's Italy's narrowest alley, or at least among its narrowest. It is part of our identity," says Fringuello.
Regardless of the other two contenders, De Lena is convinced that Rejiecelle is the narrowest of all. "It's a matter of historical accuracy. People must know that Termoli has the narrowest alley in Italy. It's a fact," says De Lena.
Yet until an official winner is declared, the debate goes on.