Montesarchio stands on a hill, 300 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Mount Taburno in the middle of the Caudina Valley. It is the most populous municipality in the province of Benevento, after the capital, and assumed the title of city by Presidential Decree of July 31, 1997.
Dominating over the town are Mount Taburno and the hill on which the tower and castle stand; lower down are the two parts of the old town, the Vetere side and the novo side. The hill dominates a vast plain where the city has expanded in recent decades.
Not to be missed
The town’s two most important buildings, the Tower and the Castle, tower over the top of the hill, and from them the entire view of the Caudina Valley can be seen. The Tower and Castle were originally conceived as medieval military structures; it is now used as the site of the Sannio Caudino National Archaeological Museum.
On display inside the ancient tower is “The Rape of Europa,” a famous crater by Assteas, nicknamed the “most beautiful vase in the world” because of the refinement of its designs and the almost magnetic appeal it exerts on the viewer who stands before the vase, more than 70 cm tall, made by the well-known vase painter, Assteas in the fourth century B.C., after whom it is named.
The museum houses a permanent exhibition of archaeological artifacts, enhanced by digital technologies. It is possible, in fact, to visit the exhibition “Imaginary Red,” which through an immersive path shows the story of the Caudium vases. Set in the cells of the Bourbon prison of the Castle, through the narration of stories, myths and heroes, it offers a journey into the fascinating world of images painted on craters of Greek and Italiot production found in the necropolis of ancient Caudium.
The historical part features religious buildings such as:
the Abbey of St. Nicholas. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, although it has been remodeled several times over the centuries. The interior preserves several remnants of the original Romanesque structure such as the arch preceding the presbytery. Here one can admire a high altar in polychrome marble surmounted by a large painting.
Church and Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the complex was built by Franciscan fathers in the 15th century. The church has a nave with a single side chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. Inside is preserved a wooden sculpture of the Madonna, made by Neapolitan sculptor Carmine Lantriceni. Overlooking the cloister, commissioned by Count Carlo Carafa in the 15th century, is a bell tower built in a later period.
Church and Convent of St. Francis. Built in 1339 but the present appearance dates from the 18th century. The church, in the Vanvitellian style, has a facade with three entrances (the central one has a wooden door inlaid with scenes from the life of St. Francis). The interior has three naves and has Baroque altars and paintings. The convent is currently a municipal seat.
Church of the Purità, San Pio and San Leone, founded as the private chapel of the D’Avalos family, still preserves the passageway that led to the noble palace. Of particular interest is the chancel with its richly decorated chancel, central marble canopy and high altar, consisting of geometric and floral motifs.
Church and Convent of St. Mary of Constantinople (17th century). Inhabited by Capuchin Franciscan friars. Built by Nicholas Davalos, prince of the village, out of devotion for the escaped danger of the plague of 1656 that struck the Caudine valley. In the early 20th century it was used as military barracks.
Old Latovetere Cemetery, probably the oldest church in Montesarchio, erected in the Lombard period and used as a cemetery in later times.
In the main square of the historic center, Piazza Umberto I, are the Church of the Annunziata – built in the 17th century – and the Fountain of Hercules, considered the town’s emblem, which stands in the center of the main square. The work, inaugurated in July 1868, consists of a circular base with a basin, surmounted by a sculptural group represented by four lions and on a podium the figure of a warrior Hercules; the same mythical character that also appears on the town’s coat of arms. The residential nucleus over the centuries developed around the Via Appia, a very important road network of the Roman era traveled by crusaders on their way to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.
A bit of history
Several hypotheses have been advanced on the origin of the place name Montesarchio: Mons Herculis is a reference to Hercules, the symbol of the town, Mons Sarculus derives from the agricultural implement “sarculum,” Mons Arcis or fortress hill, Mons Arcolo derives from a name for a Lombard leader. The area of Montesarchio, inhabited since the Neolithic period, is identified with the Samnite city of Caudium (founded in 8 B.C.), the capital and most important agglomeration of Sannio caudino as well as a famous urban center of those times where they traded many products such as vases and other artifacts from “Magna Graecia.” The city is famous for the Battle of the Caudine Forks in which the Romans were defeated by the Samnites and forced to suffer the punishment of the Caudine Forks. The city was probably destroyed after the defeat of the Samnite League in the 4th century BC. Numerous archaeological remains date back to Roman times, such as the Caudium excavations, the baths, and the Roman aqueduct. The Romans also built the famous Appian Way there, linking Rome with Brindisi via Benevento. Under the rule of the Lombards the urban agglomeration called “Latovetere” was born, typically medieval, with the houses leaning against the castle and tower. In Norman times, thanks to the increase in population, the “Latonuovo” neighborhood was born instead. Montesarchio was a feudal possession of the Della Leonessa or de Lagonissa family from 1278 to 1480, of the Carafa family from 1480 until 1528 when it passed to the D’Avalos, who held it until the end of feudal rule in 1806. The town’s tower was used to hold a maximum-security prison inside at the time of the Bourbons. There was imprisoned, among others, the Italian patriot and politician Carlo Poerio today remembered with a plaque in what, legend has it, was his cell. Administratively, Montesarchio in 1861 passed from the dissolved Principato Ultra to the newly formed province of Benevento. During the 20-year fascist period the municipality had the municipal library and elementary school built.
The most important events in Montesarchio are the Corpus Christi Festival and “I Giorni del Borgo” in September.
Typical products are Aglianico and Falanghina wine, cazzarielli with goat meat and lavanelli.
The coat of arms and banner of Montesarchio were granted by Presidential Decree of July 31, 1997. The coat of arms consists of a shield bearing the design of Hercules, clad in a sheet that covers only his lower belly, accompanied by a lion, with, in the background, a landscape consisting of a low-trunk tree, to his right, and, to his left, the remains of an ancient small cylindrical tower. The sky is blue, with a small white cloud in the background. The field background is green. Under the shield is a stripe with the inscription: Hercules alexicacos. The municipal banner consists of a light blue banner.