After surveying 15 villages in the Sannio area, we traced this archaeological ecomuseum itinerary, starting in Pietraroja with a visit to Paleolab, the multimedia museum that, through various interactive experiences, allows visitors to take a journey back in time to the Cretaceous, a period when Pietraroja was located on the edge of a lagoon.
Fossils of fish, crocodiles and salamanders, known since the 1700s, date from that time, and especially Scipionyx Samniticus, the tiny baby celosaurus known as CIRO, which lived 110 million years ago and is unique because it still has intact internal organs and muscle fibers.
The tour begins with a geological elevator, a kind of teleporter, by which visitors retrace geological epochs to the Cretaceous in a matter of seconds. Exibits, stage sets, films, and a large interactive aquarium allow visitors in the first rooms of the museum to enter this tropical environment and learn about its inhabitants. All exhibits are displayed in copies for security reasons. Continuing the journey in the Paleolab, the visitor through the various rooms traces the geological phases that led to the birth of Italy and its reliefs. The last rooms of the museum are dedicated to the history of living things on earth and the fossils that make it possible to reconstruct their history.
For younger children, an excavation field has been set up to relive the excitement of paleontological discoveries, and an educational laboratory has been created where it is possible, using plaster forms, to create a small cast of the exhibits. In addition, through watching cartoons, children can have a simplified summary of what they have seen during the tour.
The second point of archaeological interest is in Montesarchio, and includes a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Sannio Caudino, dedicated to the history of the Caudina Valley and to all the archaeological remains of the most important centers – Caudium (Montesarchio), Saticula (Sant ‘Agata de’ Goths), Telesia (San Salvatore Telesino).
From the reconstruction of the landscape in the prehistoric age, with the exhibition of finds found in various locations, we move on to the large section dedicated to the site of Caudium, the current Montesarchio. In chronological order, some grave goods from the Caudine necropolis are displayed, dating from the mid-8th and 3rd centuries BC, which bear witness to the richness and complexity of the history of the site, affected by intense trade with the Greek cities of the coast and the world Etruscan-Campanian.
Of particular interest are the numerous figurative vases of Attic and Italiot production – especially kraters – found in tombs dating back to the 5th-4th century BC. Among the most important works is the splendid crater built in Paestum in the 4th century BC. by the potter Assteas, whose signature is visible. The famous vase, an identifying element of the Museum and defined as “the most beautiful in the world”, is a goblet-shaped crater decorated with red figures, used to mix wine and water during the symposium. The best-known figurative scene of the vase represents the Greek myth of the rape of Europa: in the centre, the figure of Zeus dominates, in the form of a white bull, in the act of abducting Europa and transporting her to Crete. On the other side of the crater, Dionysus, god of wine, is depicted with a short procession. In 1973 the vase was found fortuitously during works in the territory of the municipality of Sant’Agata dei Goti. Illegally sold for a million lire and a piglet, it entered the illicit trade and in 1981 was purchased by the Getty Museum in Malibu. In 2007 it was returned to Italy after lengthy investigations.
The last part of the visit itinerary is dedicated to the other two important centers of the Caudino Sannio: Saticula (Sant’Agata dei Goti) and Telesia (S. Salvatore Telesino), of which materials from the rich necropolises are exhibited.
The Castle, of Lombard foundation, was remodeled in the Norman era and its presence is documented for the first time in the statute of Frederick II of 1241-1246. Of the original medieval structure, only the external fortifications are preserved intact, dating back to the Aragonese era and underground rooms used as cisterns. It underwent continuous renovations and, in the mid-nineteenth century, two different buildings were built for the building to be used as a prison for the Kingdom of Naples, obliterating most of the pre-existing medieval buildings. During the reign of Ferdinand of Bourbon, the tower was also used as a state prison, hosting illustrious men of the Italian Risorgimento, such as Nisco, Pironti and Carlo Poerio. After the Second World War, when the Bourbon prison was closed, the castle housed an institute for the education of orphans “Mater Orphanorum”, active until the end of the 80s of the last century.
Today the cells of the former Bourbon prison of the Castle host the permanent exhibition “Rosso Immaginario. The Story of the Caudium Vases”, an immersive exhibition that tells the story of the figurative craters found in the necropolis of Montesarchio. The video projections made directly on the painted scenes of the vases (minimapping) draw the profiles, highlight and animate the figures with plays of shadows, thus unwinding in stories of the myths and its protagonists.
The passage in the city of Benevento for a visit to the historic center is inevitable. Benevento is one of the oldest cities in the world, rich in tradition and a unique culture. It has recently been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites thanks to the Monumental Complex of Santa Sofia.
Its old town preserves intact the evidence and legends of the crossroads of peoples and cultures that have inhabited it in more than two millennia of history: the Samnites, the Romans, the Lombards and the Papal State. In addition to the variety and beauty of the monuments in its historic center, the city of Benevento is world famous for the intriguing legend of the witches, a myth that has been passed on for centuries; it has it that there was a walnut tree near the city, under which magical female creatures gathered to practice dances, sing and prepare miraculous potions based on mysterious herbs.
The Arcos Museum was opened in June 2005 with the aim of promoting art in the Sannio region. The Arcos museum also houses archaeological finds from the Temple of Isis in Benevento. Despite what one might think actually the cult of Isis was rooted in the city of Benevento. The provenance of the materials makes it possible to count the Benevento site as the one with the highest concentration of original Egyptian artifacts on site outside of Egypt. In terms of the number of artifacts that of Benevento has a small inventory compared to the Archaeological Museum in Naples or the Egyptian Museum in Turin. Arcos, however, compared to these boasts artifacts found in the town of Benevento itself.
Opening hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (closed on Mondays)
The church of Santa Sofia
The church of Santa Sofia was built around 760 by Arechi II, duke of Benevento, as a personal chapel and national shrine for the redemption of his own soul and the salvation of the Lombard people.
A monastery, now home to the Sannio Museum, was attached to the religious building, with a cloister rebuilt in the Romanesque period, which reemploys some original Lombard elements. The church of St. Sophia is rather modest in size (it is inscribed in a circle 23.50 meters in diameter) and has an interesting architectural composition. The unique star layout, converging from the entrance area toward the three opposing apses, is to be considered a rare example of Lombard architecture.
The central plan scheme, probably of Byzantine influence, has an irregularly shaped perimeter, with the insertion of a stellar pattern and three apsidal basins of limited depth.
The complexity of the interior space is enhanced by two concentric ambulatories. The innermost, punctuated by a lap of columns, defines a hexagon on which the dome is set, now taller than the original one, rebuilt following the 1688 earthquake. The outer ambulatory, decagonal in shape, is punctuated by quadrangular pillars.
Museum of Sannio
The Museum of Sannio is housed inside the Cloister of Santa Sofia. The Museum was initially set up under the direction of Almerico Meomartini inside the Rocca dei Priori. In 1928, the purchase by the proprietary body of the Cloister of the Abbey of St. Sophia then gave the necessary impetus for the setting up in the present location. It has 3 sections: Archaeological, Medievalist and Historical. The ground floor of the cloister houses the archaeological section. The certainly most famous room is that of Isis, “Lady of Benevento.” The Longobard domination of Samnium is recounted in the section dedicated to and called “Longobard minor” with a large collection of tools, utensils and weapons dating back to Longobard rule. The Artistic section revolves all around a wonderful Picture Gallery with works displayed in chronological order.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Arch of Trajan
The Arch of Trajan is a commemorative monument located in the city of Benevento. Built between 114 and 117 AD, the arch was the gateway to the city, also known as Port’Aurea. It was erected to commemorate the opening of the Via Appia Traiana, which shortened the route from Rome to Brindisi. The side of the Arch facing the city includes works and scenes of peace and civic merits; the side facing the countryside includes military scenes or scenes related to the emperor’s activities in the provinces.
Monumental Complex of St. Hilary in Port’Aurea
The church, of Lombard construction, is located along Via San Pasquale, which was a section of the Via Traiana. The name of the church derives from its proximity to the Arch of Trajan. Although its date of construction is not known precisely, we can find documents stating its presence as early as1148. At the end of the 17th century it was deconsecrated and converted into a farmhouse. The building thus underwent repairs and modifications over time, becoming unrecognizable. Only in the 1920s did Bertarelli identify the church of St. Hilary in it.
Opening hours: 09:00 -13:00 ;15:00- 18:30 (closed on Mondays)
Obelisk of Isis
In Papinian Square, a stone’s throw from Trajan’s Arch and the church of St. Sophia, is the Neo-Egyptian Obelisk. Dating back to the end of the first century AD, the obelisk was placed here only in 1872. Three meters high, weighing two and a half tons, four faces carved in red granite. The hieroglyphs, deciphered by scholars including Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli, restore a “dual” devotion, the religious one addressed to Isis and the “secular” one to Emperor Domitian, who ordered the construction of the temple dedicated to her. The obelisk bears the name of Lucilius Lupus, who materially devised the work. The obelisk in Papinian Square is the most visible evidence of Egyptian influence in Benevento.
Paul V Palace – Janua Museum
During the period of the Inquisition, a number of women, under torture, confessed to gathering for the “sabbath” under a walnut tree near Benevento; in particular, in the minutes of the interrogation of the Umbrian Matteuccia di Francesco, who was burned alive in 1428, we find the precise description of how witches came to Benevento. Matteuccia “confesses” that by dousing themselves with a magic ointment and reciting the magic formula, they could fly to Benevento under the great walnut tree to perform their magic rites. To learn more about them and unravel some of their mysteries, you can visit “Janua. Museum of Witches,” at one of the halls of the Paul V Palace, an itinerary that attempts to unravel the mystery of Benevento’s witches through stories, testimonies, documents and ancient and modern rituals.
Opening hours: Closed on Mondays – Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The cathedral, consecrated in Lombard times by Bishop David (780 AD), was enlarged and equipped with a bell tower in the 12th century. Its Romanesque facade was rebuilt, which became even more imposing and composite, with the logic of incorporating Roman and Lombard relic materials. The interior of the basilica, divided into five naves, has been the subject of archaeological excavations, while the “Janua Major” doors have been described as the greatest sacred poem depicted in southern Italy. The ‘building was almost completely rebuilt after World War II following the devastating bombing suffered in 1943.
Arch of the Sacrament
The construction of the arch can be dated between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries. The facade is devoid of the marble facing, some fragments of which remain, and of the statues originally housed in the niches on either side of the fronts. The arch gave access to the Forum area from the southern part of the city, near the Roman Theater. Restoration of the arch and neighboring structures unearthed a bath complex present in the area. The urban archaeological trail was inaugurated on July 9, 2009.
The entrance to Triggio, the oldest area of Benevento, lies directly behind the cathedral and is characterized by the presence of the ancient Roman baths and the Arch of the Sacrament and Roman Theater. What makes the neighborhood evocative is the presence of the most famous witch of these times, perhaps still around: the zucculara. She is so called because she runs through the narrow streets with big hooves, which make great noise on the stone streets. There have been stories about her for years, but it is not known whether she is just a restless female spirit or a living and breathing witch who simply enjoys scaring people.
The Roman Theater
Dating from the late 1st to early 2nd century AD, it stands in the western part of the ancient city. The tiers of seats and the Scaenae frons were covered with marble, as were marble slabs and stuccoes; there are two large rooms that, through corridors, lead into the orchestra. The cavea, semicircular in plan, is built on substructures and has three orders: Tuscanic, Ionic, and Corinthian. Of these only the lower order is preserved, consisting of twenty-five arches on pillars with Tuscanic half-columns. Some of the masks were reused in buildings in the Historic Center, where they can still be seen. The cavea ended in the upper part with a gallery, in which niches opened.
Hours: 09:00-19:00 (open daily)
Port’Arsa is the gateway to the late medieval quarter of Triggio, bounded by walls from the Lombard period. It was one of eight gates in the walls of Benevento. Today it is the only one surviving, because the others were demolished between 1865 and 1868. The walls bear the name of Prince Arechi, who had part of the city rebuilt and laid out. It is the only surviving gate of the city, which had seven others: The appearance preserves a typical example of medieval fortification, but the gate, built with Roman remnants, is from the Lombard period. In fact, this part of the city, was rebuilt and arranged by Prince Arechi with the wall that still bears his name.
The bridge was probably built by the censor Appius Claudius Blind in the 3rd century B.C. when the Appian Way was opened, It was’ restored by Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla in 202. It was’ destroyed by Totila’s Goths in the 6th century, during the sack of Benevento, and later rebuilt. The killing of Manfred of Swabia by Charles of Anjou during the Battle of Benevento (1266) took place at this bridge. Over the centuries it was’ remodeled several more times; after the 1702 earthquake, Giovan Battista Nauclerio’s reconstruction reduced the arches from five to four. Today only one of the piers remains of the original structure, built in opus quadratum, with exposed surfaces rough-hewn “rustic ashlar.” Recently the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic.
The sculpture, made of Egyptian granite, was found in 1629, in the Casale dei Maccabei locality, and was placed in front of the San Lorenzo gate, one of the eight gates of the ancient city. According to scholars, it represents the Egyptian deity Apis. The statue’s appearance appears quite crude: the horns and forehead are chipped and weathered, and the ears are broken. In addition, while the material, red Egyptian granite, and the plastic execution conceived in strict regularity from the four sides are unquestionably Egyptian, the iconographic scheme differs fundamentally from Egyptian figures of bulls, in which the legs are always depicted in motion, with the left leg advanced. Judging from the plastic execution, the figure should be assigned to the late imperial age (late 2nd century), if not to an even later period.
The fourth point of interest is in Apice in the Ponte Rotto locality, where the Appian Bridge is located, evidence of the passage of the Via Appia, a fundamental road artery that connected Rome to Brindisi and the East, defined by classical historians for the importance of the route as the regina viarum. The bridge straddles the municipalities of Apice (BN), Bonito (AV) and Venticano (AV). The structures can be traced back to a viaduct bridge from the Roman period and cover a chronological span from 1 BC to 7 AD, within which at least four different building techniques can be identified, referable to as many historical phases; in its present state, an archway and at least three bridge piers and two early medieval pillars built with reused materials from funerary mausoleums of the Hadrianic age are visible. Perhaps originally made of wood, it was rebuilt in masonry probably in Trajan’s age. The viaduct was humpbacked with six large arches varying in span from 22 to 10 meters and a linear development of about 190 m, and with a maximum height of 13 meters.