Morcone presides over a vast territory of more than 100 square kilometers in the valley of the Tammaro River in the province of Benevento, on the border with Molise. We are in the lands of the ancient Samnites and in one of the most picturesque villages of Sannio.
The village stands about 600 meters above sea level, arranged in a sunburst pattern on the slopes of Mount Mucre, in a position equidistant between Benevento and Campobasso in the valley where the Tammaro River flows that feeds the huge Campolattaro reservoir an artificial lake that began to compose itself in 2006 in the face of the closure of the sluice gates of the large dam.
Not to be missed
The ruins of the castle, located on top of the village, strategically dominate the surrounding landscape. It was probably erected in the 10th century although the first documented record dates back to 1122. The ruins of the castle, consisting mainly of truncated perimeter walls, highlight how it was built on top of a Samnite settlement. The lower part of the basement is in fact made of stone blocks in polygonal work, common to all Samnite fortified structures. The entrance to the fortress, consisting of a portal with a pointed archway, is still preserved.
The historic center of Morcone fans out along the mountain. Mostly narrow, winding streets, consisting of steps made of local stone, open between the various houses, civil and religious buildings. The 1980 earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the urban fabric and in particular to religious buildings; evidence of this can be seen in the architecture of St. Mark’s Church and the Town Hall, which have been renovated in a modern style. Of the six access gates, only one called St. Mark’s Gate is preserved.
The Municipal Park was created at the end of 1920 when the then mayor Della Camera considered using a vacant space, created by a landslide, for the construction of the municipal villa; named Rimembranza Park, a monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Great War was built inside it. At that time the villa was very large, but in 1964 a second landslide hit the villa, reducing it to its present size. It also has rides, a tennis court and a space dedicated to summer events. In 2010 it was named after Morcone citizen and mayor “Tommaso Lombardi.”
One of the most important squares in the country, located on the terrace of the Giuseppe Diana Scientific Institute, it takes its name from the composer and first conductor of the Italian Guardia di Finanza band, Giuseppe Manente born in Morcone. It is a square with a rectangular plan, very composed and rigid consisting of three consecutive squares on different levels of height and equal to each other.
Among Morcone’s civic buildings is Casa Sannia, which stands southeast of the historic center and is built on the striking cliff known as the “Prece,” abutting the San Marco stream. Currently Casa Sannia is home to the Municipal Library, the Municipal Historical Archives, the “Enrico Sannia” Civic Museum and the “Achille Sannia” School of Science and Technology Museum.
In the historic center stands the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peace, with its painted bell tower. The interior has three naves and contains several valuable paintings and sculptures. It houses the ancient wooden sculpture of the Virgin brought there in the 12th century by the inhabitants of the “Stampa” district. This wooden statue, of Greek taste, has a fine workmanship.
Other religious architecture includes: the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, erected in 1670 by the will of the townspeople; and the Church of St. Bernardine, rebuilt in the early 20th century after a fire, with ceramics from Cerretese preserved in the facade.
The small church of San Rocco is located 500 meters from the castle and can be reached by a convenient municipal road. Surrounded by greenery, it is located a short distance from a fountain from which very fresh water flows. On August 16 each year, during the feast of St. Roch, “frese” (large cookies) are washed and eaten, in memory of the popular tradition that a dog brought bread to the saint every day while he was in isolation because he had contracted the plague.
Not far from the Castle, in a small square stands the Church of St. Savior, an ancient sacred building built on a temple from the Hellenistic period, as evidenced by numerous traces found below the present floor during the latest restoration work. The church reached its peak in the 11th century when it became an episcopal seat, a function it held for about a century. Inside are traces of frescoes, a 17th-century baptismal font and a sarcophagus from 1316.
The Convent of the Capuchin Friars was erected in 1603 at the behest of Marquis D’Aponte. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina held his novitiate there and was admitted on January 6, 1903. The cell where the saint lived has been musealized and houses various parameters and sacred objects. Two paintings depicting the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and the adoration of the Magi are located in the refectory. Attached to the convent is the church of Saints Apostles Philip and James.
In addition to visiting the historic center of Morcone and its localities, nature walks are the best way to discover this vast corner of the province of Benevento and Alto Tammaro. There are numerous practicable environmental trails starting from Morcone that wind through a varied and fascinating landscape rich in history and naturalness. The territory of Morcone is crossed for more than 5 km. by the royal Tratturo Pescasseroli-Candela and by numerous tratturelli. These routes, used by shepherds in transhumance, today constitute interesting nature trails that encounter on their path fountains, drinking troughs, remains of dry stone walls that indicated the way to the flocks, country churches, the cave of the nun, Spino Lake (karst lake), mills and small waterfalls.
The area includes the WWF reserve of Lake Campolattaro, a SPA (special protection area) aimed at maintaining habitats suitable for the conservation of migratory wild birds; a SCI (site of community interest) area that protects the conservation of natural and semi-natural habitats of flora and fauna.
A bit of history
The name Morcone derives from the Latin mucro, meaning sharp point, thus connected to the mountain around which the town is developed, Mount Mucre. Morcone’s origins blur between legend and history in the tales of an ancient Samnite city-perhaps Murgantia or more likely Mucrae, oppidum of the Sannio Pentro, from which Morcone’s real name would derive – whose mighty remains of polygonal walls are visible below the ruins of the medieval castle and still exist on the hilltop.
On May 20 Morcone’s patron saint, St. Bernardine of Siena, is celebrated with a religious festival preceded on the 19th by a large bonfire purifying the vices of the world.
August 16 marks the Feast of St. Rocco with religious rites and the custom of offering rustic doughnuts soaked in the waters of a fountain near the church.
The Feast of St. Domenico brings with it the custom of distributing blessed loaves of bread.
In summer there is the Morcone Fair, a reference for the entire province of Benevento. Stands are set up in the various pavilions, covering different sectors: agriculture, industry, furniture, energy, heating, clothing, leisure, gardening, and gastronomy.
Morcone’s evocative Living Nativity, dubbed “the nativity within the nativity,” is usually staged in the first days of January. The magic of Jesus’ birth and ancient crafts that have disappeared today are relived, as well as small markets and scenes of family life.