Pietraroja

A la Cannelòra o sciòcca o chiòve ca vérnu è ffòre. Rispónne la vècchia zìta: “ci ne stà n’àta quarantìna”

Proverb

Location

Pietraroja lies on the green slopes of the eastern part of the Matese in the province of Benevento in Campania, a naturalistic oasis that of Mount Mutria, which marks the borders with the towns of Sepino and Guardiaregia. Woods, springs and canyons make up its floral beauty and mark its end with Molise.

Wrapped in an enchanting naturalistic landscape, Pietraroja is a geosite of unique historical, cultural and scientific value in the national panorama, containing a wealth of animal and plant fossils of internationally recognized beauty and scientific relevance for many years. Many scholars have written about the value and richness of the Pietraroja geosite.



Not to be missed

The Geopaleontological Park and “Ciro”

Pietraroja is home to an important geopaleontological park with an associated museum, the Paleolab, where fossil finds of considerable importance can be seen.

Particularly important was the discovery of Ciro, a baby dinosaur, the first in Italy, which also retains some internal organs: his species has been named Scipionyx samniticus. The discovery of Cyrus revolutionized the reconstruction of the paleogeography of Italy, previously thought to have been entirely submerged during the Mesozoic era. Other fossil remains found in Pietraroja include those of numerous fish (including Belonostomus), reptiles (Chometokadmon, Derasmosaurus) and amphibians (Celtedens).

The Church of St. Mary of the Assumption

The most important monument is the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta in St. Nicholas Square, located in the upper part of the town. It was erected with elements of the earlier Church of St. Paul of Pietraroja destroyed in the 1688 earthquake. Notable are the Romanesque portal (11th century) supported on either side by a lioness and a bear suckling two infants and the high reliefs

Natural areas and hiking trails 

Belvedere: The terrace leaning against the characteristic cemetery, located where Pietraroja stood before the 1688 earthquake, provides an enchanting 360-degree view of the area: the Mutria and Moschiaturo mountains, the valley of Cusano Mutri, the mountain of Solopaca and even Vesuvius on clear days. Remnants of buildings from the old town destroyed by the earthquake are still visible.

Another interesting excursion for spectacular views is the circuit of the edges of the Civita limestone table. Starting from the Castello district, you can also visit the mouth of the deep karst sinkhole called the Trabbucco.

On the way to Sepino: Interesting is a visit to the impressive gorge (in the locality of Rave) upstream of the Stritto fountain (located in the territory of Cusano Mutri) excavated for millions of years by the Titerno; in it is the inaccessible cave of the Briganti or cave of the Fate. The observation point can be easily reached from the paved municipal road in the Canale locality, just outside Pietraroja in the direction of Sepino, where one must turn left and continue to the Ariòla locality, below the rocky massif on which the Civita is located.

Not to be missed is the Santa Crocella pass, a mountain saddle with a landscape of stupendous beech forests, between Mount Tre Confini (1,419 m a.s.l.), near the Palummàre (Palombaio, eastern portion of Mount Mutria) and Mount Moschiaturo. The pass marks the border between the municipalities of Pietraroja and Sepino, as well as between Campania and Molise.

On the same road, about 1 km before arriving at the Santa Crocella pass, you can visit, turning left, the locality Pesco Rosito (Péscu Rusìnu) from which the red stone that gave the village its name was extracted. From here you can also make the climb to the top of the Palummàre or go to the Torta forest, bordering Campitello di Guardiaregia (CB).

From the saddle of Santa Crocella, before the beech forest, it is easy for hikers, even non-professional ones, to climb to Mount Moschiaturo, taking the wide path to the right of the carriageway. The trail climbs to the top of the mountain, where there is an enchanting view of the upper Benevento area.

Mount Mutria: Another hike not to be missed for the superb views of Campania and Molise is to Mount Mutria (Mùtigliu). In addition to the challenging direct central climb skirting the large circular rock formation of the white Iummènta, the easiest way is to take the route to the Bocca della Selva ski resort (hamlet of Cusano Mutri), located at the foot of the western part of the mountain. Arriving at the 3 Faggi refuge, the road on the right that climbs the left side of the mountain should be taken. Leaving the vehicle at the end of the road is the path, with signs of the route to follow, which leads to the central peak of the mountain.

River itineraries: Trekking enthusiasts can walk along the stream bed of the Titerno. For this purpose one must go to the locality Campusciàru, which can be reached from the municipal road that starts from the locality Canale. After a few dozen meters turn right and continue for a few kilometers to the bridge over the stream, where it is possible to descend. One encounters many natural pools of running water (the ùrvu) of which the largest are that of the Pénta and that of the Ursu after a jump of many meters. The latter ùrvu cannot be reached from the stream bed, so one must take the path that follows the stream itself on the left.

Another trekking route is the ascent of the Torbido (Trovele) stream, a tributary of the Titerno, which passes through the valley below the hamlet of Potéte. To reach it one must take the road to Cusano Mutri and in the hamlet of Vigne turn left and go down the Potete road. When you reach the bottom, before the bridge over the Torbido, you start to climb its bed. It is possible to see the system that brought water to the stone basin of the old Pietraroja mill and arrive at the ùrvu called Cùru de la Cucózza (bottom of the gourd).

Fountains and springs: the many fountains in Pietraroja cannot pass unnoticed, with their fresh, light water,  diuretic and detoxifying, therefore picnic destinations. Neglecting those in the village, the closest are the one by the geopaleontological museum and the one in the Canale locality just outside Pietraroja, to the left of the road to Sepino, where there are also seats.

Continuing along the same road, after about a kilometer on the right is the Willow fountain in the locality of Cesamari, near the local buildings. Still further on, after the second fork, taking the road to Morcone, one encounters on the left the busy Radica (Ràrichia) fountain, which takes water from the Moschiaturo Mountain aquifer.

These fountains are easily accessible; however, wanting to enjoy springs immersed in picturesque woods, you must also walk stretches. At the foot of Mount Moschiaturo is the Làu Pésula fountain, immersed in a beech forest. Going up it, in the locality of Valle Grande (Vàlle rànna) there is a  very cold fountain called Cursarégliu. To get there, once you reach the summit, take the convenient path in the direction of the borders of Sepino, walking for about a kilometer.

Also of interest is the Tasso fountain, which is situated in the locality of Filette (Fulètte); at the first fork in the road to Sepino, on the left is the path leading to Bocca della Selva. After a clearing equipped for picnics, on the right is the path leading to the fountain amidst plants including yews. Continuing further upstream on the left is the Paola fountain, in the territory of Cusano Mutri.

A bit of history

Pietraroja arose as a center of the Samnite Pentri, who inhabited the south-central Apennine area between the Mainarde and the Matese, and placed their capital in Bojano. The present-day settlement does not coincide with the Samnite village, as the village is currently in its fourth edification, subsequent to the earthquake of June 5, 1688. Certainly the villagers were involved in the Samnite Wars, as well as in the Social Wars against Rome, suffering the genocide of the Pentri perpetrated by Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Roman domination and the Latinization of Sannio meant that all traces of the Oscan language previously spoken by the Samnites were lost in the local dialect.

After the Roman one, Pietraroja underwent the various dominations of Sannio (Lombards, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragonese, Spanish). After Longobard rule in the gastaldate of Telese, being part, from the 12th century to the 14th century, of the sub-feud of the Sanframondo, a powerful dynasty of Norman origin. The progenitor of this one, Raone of San Flaymundo (11th-12th century), obtained from the Norman king Roger II of Sicily, in his conquest of southern Italy, the possessions of the vassals of Count Rainulfo III of Alife, his brother-in-law, who had attempted to resist him along with the southern barons. The reference to Count Raone is still found in old Pietraroja songs to indicate superb people.

The above possessions included, among others, the territories of Pietraroja, Cerreto Sannita, Cusano Mutri, Guardia Sanframondi, Limatola, San Lorenzo Maggiore, Massa, Faicchio, Ponte as well as Dugenta in Terra di Lavoro and Bojano and San Giuliano del Sannio in Molise. The Sanframondos also held them under the Swabian and Angevin kings. Pietro Sanframondo held the title of baron of Pietraroja.

In the 15th century (Aragonese period) Pietraroja passed to the Marzanos: in 1401 it was owned by Goffredo di Marzano, count of Alife. In the second half of the same century King Ferrante of Aragon bestowed this title, with the possession of Pietraroscia (present-day Pietraroja), Chiusano (now Cusano Mutri) and other municipalities to Onorato Gaetani. Later Pietraroja passed to the Carafa family, whose possessions also extended into Molise; they held it until the abolition of feudality promulgated in 1806 by Joseph Bonaparte at the establishment of the French kingdom in Naples.

After the annexation of the Kingdom of Naples to the Kingdom of Italy, the town was a center of Bourbon reaction. With Guardiaregia, Sepino, Campobasso, and Cusano Mutri it was one of the headquarters of brigandage on the Matese massif. Of Pietraroja is remembered above all Gabriele Varrone, leader of the band of the same name, known for raids (1861) at Civitella Licinio, a hamlet of Cusano Mutri, and at Pietraroja itself against National Guard posts. The brigands’ base was the impregnable cave of the Brigantes or Fairies, which could only be accessed by abseiling with ropes. In December 1863, the National Guard laid siege to the brigands hiding in the aforementioned cave and persuaded them to leave by saving their lives in return. The promise was not kept and they were shot in the locality Aria della Corte (Short Air), located behind the municipal building.

During the Unification period Pietraroja saw heavy emigration, especially to the United States. After World War II the flow moved mainly to northern and central Italy and Europe (Switzerland, Germany and England). The opening of a stone quarry in the locality of Canale, which, moreover, was later closed, a clay quarry in the locality of Saure, which was no longer extracted because of its poor quality, and a colored marble quarry in the locality of Pesco Rosito, which was opened but never came into operation, did not serve to reduce these flows.

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Curiosity

Folk beliefs: Pietraroja has also been a land of magicians and janàre (witches). Between the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Pietraroja lived a famous magician, zi’ Pèppu Mamèo, an old shepherd, famous throughout the province. People from outside the province and even from Rome also came to the magician; he did not receive monetary compensation for his responses, but only in kind. It was a time when people believed in the magician or witch or janara, who, transforming herself into wind, penetrated rooms at night to bewitch or put evil spells on children. Pietraroja’s old magical beliefs are evidenced by a high-relief in Turin Street, dated 1606, consisting of a face with a tongue on the outside for witchcraft with magic language writing.

Festival of Typical Products of Pietraroja [in August]: Pietraroja cuisine is made up of simple but tasty dishes partly because some of them in the past were prepared outside the home by shepherds who had few but wholesome and natural products. Most of the staple foods were produced by families and only very few that were not produced locally were bought, such as wine, olive oil, fruits and vegetables that could not be grown in Pietraroja’s climate. So many dishes remain from the culinary tradition that harken back to the fabulous Neapolitan cuisine but which, thanks to the uniqueness of the place, create and tell a unique and all zero-impact experience.