Cerreto Sannita

Ideal seventeenth-century town and the heart of ceramic art

 Hor questa terra con le Chiese, Monasteri, e tutto in tanto tempo, quando porria dirsi un Credo, cadde tutta, tutta, tutta, senza che vi rimanesse pure una casa da desolarsi cosa che chi non la vede, stenteria crederla.”

Giovanni Battista De Bellis, vescovo


Location

The historic center of Cerreto Sannita is located in the upper valley of the Titerno River on a stubby hill surrounded by the Turio and Cappuccino streams, at the gateway to the Matese Regional Park. The urban layout looks like a sort of “ideal city” erected, following the 1688 earthquake, by Count Marzio Carafa, whose family had ruled the fortunes of the local fiefdom for two centuries. Extremely rational, symmetrical and orderly, perhaps inspired by the cardo and decumanus of the ancient Romans. It presents, in fact, an elongated rectangular urban plan, wide parallel streets that seem to be drawn with a ruler, right-angled intersections, well-squared blocks, low buildings, palaces detached from each other, wide thoroughfares, wide squares. Cerreto Sannita presents itself as an open town without walls, characterized by ancient artisan workshops aimed at ceramic work.

Not to be missed

A visit to the historic center of Cerreto Sannita, a beautiful example of an orthogonal, earthquake-proof town, a model of urban reconstruction and successful social and economic recovery. The ancient reconstruction in addition to safety also took care of aesthetics, endowing the town with late Baroque churches, elegant palaces, portals surmounted by showy masks, and Rococo details scattered throughout the urban fabric. In the historic center there are many eighteenth-century private palaces (Ciaburro, Ungaro, del Viceconte, Magnati, Nardella, Giordani, Carizza, Villa Langer), often with important ashlar portals dominated by masks. Entering the city from the southwest, immediately after the Church of Mary of Constantinople (1616), which preserves a wooden choir and remnants of the ancient local ceramic pavement, one encounters the harmonious ensemble formed by the majestic Episcopal Palace (1696), the former Episcopal Seminary, and the luminous Cathedral dedicated to the Ss. Trinity (1739), frescoed in 1780 by Francesco Palumbo, with 12 marble altars and with two bell towers surmounted by half-domes covered in yellow-green majolica “riggiole.” Past the Museum of Ceramics, one then climbs to the spacious San Martino Square, at the end of which stands the collegiate church of San Martino, designed by “royal engineer” G. B. Manni and completed in 1733: the fa├žade is preceded by a wide, scenic staircase with curved ramps. On the opposite side of the square, on the other hand, stands the Palazzo del Genio (the name is the one that had a theater named after the Italic Genius) with the feudal lord’s block that housed the tavern, theater and prisons, completed in 1711. A further stretch of road then leads to the beautiful Baroque church of San Gennaro, with its unusually elliptical-shaped dome covered with cerretese majolica embrici: the church now houses the sacred art section of the Museum of Ceramics, with wooden statues, canvases, vestments and sacred objects, including a valuable chiseled reliquary calendar containing relics of several saints and a piece of the Cross. Beyond Piazza Roma, overlooked by beautiful 18th-century buildings, stands the church of San Rocco, built by survivors of the plague of 1656. Then, continuing up the hill, past the ruins of the old Ducal Dye Works of woollen cloths (an industry that made old Cerreto rich in the 17th century, we reach the sanctuaries of the Grazie (1587), attached to the Capuchin convent, the shrine of St. Anne and the Madonna del Soccorso. Not to be missed is a visit to the artisan workshops of Cerreto Sannita and San Lorenzello, which boast a special tradition related to the processing of typical ceramics, recognized as “Cerretese.” When walking through the streets of the two villages, it is easy to notice ceramic objects in the stores, workshops and artisan laboratories that today, as in recent centuries, animate these towns. Objects recognized by tradition as typically Cerretese are celebratory plates, holy water stoups, apothecary jars, and tiles decorated with wind roses or festoons.

Natural environments

The Morgia Sant’Angelo is an imposing stone boulder, also called a “lioness” due to the curious resemblance to this feline. Its surroundings have been the site of a human settlement since prehistoric times and, around 700 AD, the Lombards used the cave at the base of the rock formation as a place for the cult of San Michele Arcangelo. The cave was also used for profane purposes, as a shelter for the flocks.

In addition to the Morgia there are other interesting natural environments that can be reached north of Cerreto. A path leads to the spectacular bridge of Hannibal, humpbacked, which legend associates with the passage of the Carthaginian leader during the Second Punic War (216 BC). Built in Roman times to cross the Titerno stream, it is 13 meters long, about 1.50 meters wide and has a span of 9.15 metres. Then beyond are the wild gorges of the Titerno, dug by the water over millions of years generating exceptional potholes of giants even 12 meters wide. Then climbing up to about 500 meters in height, under the Rocca del Cigno you can find the large Grotta dei Briganti, which has a 20-metre-high room inside, the “cathedral”, with stalactites and stalagmites.

History

The municipal territory of Cerreto Sannita has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as evidenced by the results of some archaeological excavations carried out at the end of the 19th century near the morgia Sant’Angelo or “Leonessa.” The 1688 earthquake completely destroyed ancient Cerreto and most of the Sannio villages. Marino Carafa, brother of Count Marzio, decided to rebuild the town further downstream, according to an orthogonal pattern, on more stable ground. The area chosen to build the new Cerreto consisted of a vast, squat hill lapped to the east and west by the Turio and Cappuccini streams and crossed from north to south by the ancient Via Telesina, which connected ancient Cerreto to Telesia. For centuries, the Titerno River has provided the ceramists of Cerreto Sannita and San Lorenzello with the raw material to develop a craftsmanship that in the 18th century became art in its own right, and which, thanks to the workshops of contemporary artisans, today allows the two villages to be two of the 47 “Italian cities of ceramics,” consortiumed in the network of the Italian Association of Ceramic Cities (AiCC), established in 1999. A further stretch of road then leads to the beautiful Baroque church of San Gennaro, with its unusually elliptical-shaped dome covered with cerretese majolica embrici: the church now houses the sacred art section of the Museum of Ceramics, with wooden statues, canvases, vestments and sacred objects, including a valuable chiseled reliquary calendar containing relics of several saints and a piece of the Cross. Beyond Piazza Roma, overlooked by beautiful 18th-century buildings, stands the church of San Rocco, built by survivors of the plague of 1656. Then, continuing up the hill, past the ruins of the old Ducal Dye Works of woollen cloths (an industry that made old Cerreto rich in the 17th century, we reach the sanctuaries of the Grazie (1587), attached to the Capuchin convent, the shrine of St. Anne and the Madonna del Soccorso. Not to be missed is a visit to the artisan workshops of Cerreto Sannita and San Lorenzello, which boast a special tradition related to the working of typical ceramics, recognized as “Cerretese.” When walking through the streets of the two villages, it is easy to notice ceramic objects in the stores, workshops and artisan laboratories that today, as in recent centuries, animate these towns. Objects recognized by tradition as typically Cerretese are celebratory plates, holy water stoups, apothecary jars, and tiles decorated with wind roses or festoons. The municipal territory of Cerreto Sannita has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as evidenced by the results of some archaeological excavations carried out at the end of the 19th century near the morgia Sant’Angelo or “Leonessa.” The 1688 earthquake completely destroyed ancient Cerreto and most of the Sannio villages. Marino Carafa, brother of Count Marzio, decided to rebuild the town further downstream, according to an orthogonal pattern, on more stable ground. The area chosen to build the new Cerreto consisted of a vast, squat hill lapped to the east and west by the Turio and Cappuccini streams and crossed from north to south by the ancient Via Telesina, which connected ancient Cerreto to Telesia. For centuries, the Titerno River has provided the ceramists of Cerreto Sannita and San Lorenzello with the raw material to develop a craftsmanship that in the 18th century became art in its own right, and which, thanks to the workshops of contemporary artisans, today allows the two villages to be two of the 47 “Italian cities of ceramics,” consortiumed in the network of the Italian Association of Ceramic Cities (AiCC), established in 1999.

Curiosity

On the gastronomic front, Cerreto Sannita boasts a rich rural tradition, linked to the products and recipes of a territory that is sometimes harsh but surprising in variety and quality. Starting with wine, such as Sannio doc, Falanghina del Sannio doc, Sannio doc subzone Solopaca, Falanghina doc subzone Solopaca, Campania igt, Benevento igt. The hilly clay soil actually provides an ideal habitat for quality production, both in wine and oil, equally important thanks to ancient cultivations of olives such as Ortice, Ortolana and Raccioppella. Cerreto is in fact a “city of oil,” and as such it has put itself forward in recent years thanks to the efforts of administrators and businesses to create a cultural itinerary that enhances oil and other local treasures, the focus, for example, of two successful events such as the Gastronomic May and Autumn Decors and Flavors, an opportunity to present other local specialties as well, such as cheeses (ricotta, pecorino, caciocavallo), which are particularly tasty because they are made from the milk of sheep and cattle that graze freely, feeding on mountain flowers and grasses on the Parata, a vast highland pasture that stretches a thousand meters above sea level on Mount Coppe.

On the Parata itself, a rare and aromatic mushroom, the virno, also sprouts, which due to its intense aroma some even compare to the truffle and which between April and May “invades” the dishes of cerretese cuisine, in handmade tagliatelle or in the traditional lamb stew of laticauda (“broad-tailed”) sheep, a local sheep whose breeding resumed in the last 30 years seems to have averted the risk of its disappearance from the area. The virno is a small mushroom with a light hazelnut cap, also commonly known as St. George’s mushroom, since it begins to sprout after the feast day dedicated to this saint, April 23. Which is also the time when Cerreto also expresses another seasonal star of the local cuisine, the asparagus.