With the end of the Roman Empire , the Italian peninsula experienced centuries of uncertainty in the wars between the Byzantines and populations from the North Europe. In the mid-sixth century Lombards arrived in Italy, and settled in Benevento their duchy whose extension reached almost the entire southern part of the peninsula. The city experienced a new period of great importance marked by considerable economic and cultural development. Nowadays very little of that period can survive, even though the urban plan of the old town dates back the Lombard period. Unlike what happens in the rest of Italy the Lombard presence in Benevento lasted for five centuries until the beginning of the eleventh century to just disappear with the coming of the Normans in Italy.
The church was founded by Lombards and, since 2011, it has been declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site within the serial sites “ the Lombards in Italy: places of power”. The church was founded by the duke Arechi II in 760. Originally it had the function of Palatine Chapel that is to say, the church was attached to the Ducal Palace, where the Duke and his court attended religious services. Later the church was annexed to the Benedectine Monsastery, which has been of great importance throughout the Middle Ages in political life not only of the city but of much of southern Italy. The building had changed a lot throughout his life , even after the different earthquakes which often hit the city. One of the first changes was probably in the mid-twelfth century, when the church was transformed with the addition of a front aisle transforming itself from a centrally planned church with a longitudinal church. In that occasion, the Romanesque cloister was realized , it is still present in the convent . The earthquake of 1688 provoked the collapse of the tower which ruined the church and caused also the collapse of several parts, including the dome. The Church was restored in the early central plan with a new Dome and a different façade , the current , from clear baroque inspiration. The internal part was also modernized with a new Baroque decoration, decoration which was then removed in the last restoration carried out in the mid-twentieth century. In occasion of this last restoration, the building has taken more and more a medieval aspect, with a star – shaped plan. On this occasion there were some pieces of frescoes attributed to the ninth century , although we can not exclude a later date. Today the church of Santa Sofia, is one of the most original buildings of the early medieval period, especially the complex plan formed by a central hexagon, at the vertices of which there are six Roman bare columns that connects the pillars and perimeter walls with an original blend of vaults of different shape and type. On the façade, also with varied and original stylistic synthesis , there is a romantic portal , probably of the twelfth century. In the lunette depicts Christ enthroned between the Virgin and St. Mercury , while kneeling , maybe is the Abbot John IV, author of the twelfth-century reconstructions. The Church was once again a place of worship and parish in the 60s. so the timing of visit is ordinary, proper of a church. Apart from the timing for liturgical celebrations, after the visit to St. Sophia , you can come out on the left, and find the entrance to the Samnium Museum , which occupies the cloister and the old Benedectine Monastery in addition to other adjacent rooms of more modern construction. Although the Museum collections is mainly of classical archaeological material, the Lombard period is represented by some funerary tombs from some towns and by a discrete collection of Lombard Coins. The museum is open every day except on Monday from 09:00 am to 19.00. the ticket costs 4 € , reduced 2 €. You can also buy for 6 €, reduced 4 € a cumulative ticket valid for two days, to visit in addition to the Museum , the Collection of Isis at the Museum Arcos, and the stories of the Arc in Saint Ilario. Leaving the Museum through the book shop you are in the square where , at the centre, there is ,dominating, the round neoclassical fountain with obelisk supported by lions made in the early nineteenth century during the French Revolution (1806-1815). In fact, it was exactly at this time, in 1810, that the square assumed a shape by expropriating and blowing down the fences in front of the church of St. Sophia. Though an irregularly shaped square, it has a very harmonious shape. In the north-eastern corner of the square, you find the bell tower of St. Sophia, rebuilt in 1738 after the collapse of the previous one during the earthquake of 1688. The considerable distance from the Church was not for chance, but was made in order to avoid that in case of future collapse, it ruined again on the church. By observing the side Western you can still read the inscriptions in Lombard characters , to remember the primitive foundation of the tower, between 1038 and 1056, at the time of Abbot Gregory II. Beside the inscription there are 5 modern emblems to remind the major periods of history of Benevento. The first, on the top on the left, recalls the samnium period (VII-IV BC), the second is that Roman one (IV B.C- VI AD) and the third is that one of the Lombard domination (VI-XI ). On the bottom, the papal emblem to remember the period of membership to the Papal States (XI- XIX century) and finally the last one with the municipal symbol SPQB, referring to the post-unification period ( since 1860 ) when the city regains its autonomy by the church as part of the new Kingdom of Savoy . On the other two sides of the tower are placed two marble panels, made in 1936 by the sculptor Michelangelo Parlato by drawing of the historian Alfredo Zazo, who represented the periods of greatest importance of the city, during the period of Samnium and when it became the capital of a Lombard Duchy extended over most of Southern Italy. After completing the visit of the Square St. Sophia, you can continue to the Municipal Theatre “Vittorio Emanuele”. Just after, turn right into street Falcone Beneventano. After few meters we get the square Piano di Corte.
Square Piano di Corte
The urban plan surrounding the square, is the heart of Lombard’s settling in Benevento since VIII century. In this place, bordering the pre-existing plan of the Roman city, the Lombard’s dukes built a palace for their own court with connected lodgings and offices for militaries and civil purposes. Nothing left of this presence, except the inward court of the palace. Likely, the duke’s lodging was in the eastern side of the court, where today stands the massive Palace Zamparelli, once upon a time Carissimo. If we observe a city plan , we can notice immediately that this building, the square, next to the court, and all the properties connected to St. Sophia, whose church was originally the palatine chapel, are perfectly lined up, just to confirm that there was a unified planning. All the neighbourhood set around this square, called Trescene, shows a stratification both horizontal and vertical, typical of a spontaneous urbanism in medieval period. After giving a look to the great mask, walled in the northwest corner of the square, probably coming from the Roman Theater, we continue our itinerary down to the Trajan Arch. We find on the right, the Confraternity of St. Anthony Abate and the church with the adjoining monastery of St. Agostino. This last property belongs today to the University of Sannio and the church has been transformed into auditorium. Along the street Giovanni De Nicastro, we can see the walls lining the road: they are mostly authentic walls of the Lombard period. Especially in the last part before reaching the Trajan Arch, on the right, we can see the walled stones which marked six large arches, belonging to a medieval building , then disappeared to leave place to the convent of St. Agostino. According to some scholars these arches maybe belonged to the xenodochium of St. Benedict as testified by the literary sources of that time.
Passed the Trajan Arch , on the right, at the beginning of the street St. Pasquale, you find the church of Lombard foundation dedicated to St. Ilario. It is very difficult to date it with certainty, in fact many hypothesis , ranging a period of three centuries, between the VIII and the X, have been stated. Transformed into rural building, it has been recognized and restored only recently. Several excavations have been done lately, they have brought to light some medieval structures, both inside and outside the church. The church and the area surrounding are property of the Province of Benevento, which here has created a multimedia route “ the stories of the Arch” in order to show the History of Trajan, as narrated in the relieves of the Arch, and the different aspects of the history of the monument as well as the life at the Roman period. The Museum of St. Ilario is open every day of the week, from Monday to Sunday, holidays too, from 10:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00. The ticket costs 2 € , reduced 1 €. You can also buy for 6 €, reduced 4 € a cumulative ticket valid for two days, to visit in addition to St Ilario, the Samnium Museum, the Collection of Isis at the Museum Arcos. After visiting St. Ilario, you can proceed toward the centre of the city. After passing the Trajan Arch, you can turn left entering the street Giuseppe Manciotti. Just after, on the left, there is a gangway of late medieval period even if the current coating is of totally different time. Proceeding on it, on the left there is a late Roman relief walled with four togate headless figures. Continuing on alley I St. Nicholas, you get in the end the main street Garibaldi. We have partly the heart of the Lombard settling in Benevento. After passing the main street , we enter Street Tenente Pellegrini. On the left we see the imposing façade of the former Monastery of St Domenico, which nowadays houses the Rector of the University of Samnium. Just a little bit further you arrive nearby the Lombard area of St. Vittorino.
The female monastery of St Vittorino was built in the X century, near a church maybe already existing. Between 903 and 910, after Saracen raids the nuns of St. Salvatore from Alife (province of Caserta) were forced to run away and found protection here in Benevento. In 910 the got by the Lombard Princes the permission to live in St. Vittorino. They started so to build their monastery which, over the years, became a more and more imposing and large building. The church was enlarged in the XII century and other works were started in the XVII century. Damaged by the earthquake of June, 5th 1688, several parts of the monastery and church were build again. The monastery was abandoned at the beginning of XIX century, when, during the French period, there was the repression of religious orders. The large building became partly a private property, partly was acquired by the near orphanage of Annunziata. Its restoration has began recently and it is still in course. For sure this is one of the places with more stratifications in all the historical centre, and it could preserve much information about the urban structure in medieval time, also in the future. The area , inside, is not open at the moment. After passing the site of St. Vittorino, proceeding on street Tenente Pellegrini, you arrive at street Annunziata, just opposite the homonymous church , which appears on the left. The church has a baroque style and was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1688, however , this place also is connected with Lombard memories. In 663, the city was attacked by the Byzantine army when then, Constante II tried to conquer again southern Italy, and dispelled the Lombards. Citizens in Benevento managed to resist the siege and defeat the Byzantines, because, as the legend says, the Duke of Benevento Romualdo I, standing in this place, and looking at the plain below, where the Byzantine army was, had a vision of the Virgin ( as the legend of Constantine) who forecasted the victory if he had converted to Christianity. After the victory and the conversion, he had this church built and devoted it to Annunziata to remember the vision he had had. Contemporarily , in the place where the Virgin had appeared to him , he made build a chapel devoted to St. Maria della Libertà ( Mary of Freedom), recently demolished. Proceeding on street Annunziata, you can pass one of the most particular streets of the historical centre, plenty of views and hidden corners. After passing on the left the Palace Mosti, the current Town Hall, you get near an alley called Montevergine, a ramp of stairs down to the street Gaetano Rummo. The Arch dominating these stairs, according to some scholars, is the first gate Rufina, of Lombard period. Crossed the road, you are near the former food market, which has been being restoring nowadays as a commercial area. Proceeding towards the Post Office, you can notice on the road, on the asphalt, just in the curve, some stones on the ground which sign the position of the second gate Rufina, demolished in 1928. Arriving near the post office, you turn right and enter street Torre della Catena. Here you start the ring road along the perimeter of the Lombard walls in the southern part of the city, arriving where there was the ancient gate of St. Lawrence, now completely disappeared.
The first perimeter of the city , by the Romans, is completely unknown, while we are surer about the wall built by the Lombards, because much of it has survived until now, even though with several demolitions and lacks. The first Lombard walls enclosed only a part of the former Roman city, going roughly from the square St. Sophia to the Cathedral. Later, the walls were enlarged, also incorporating the south-western part of the city. This took place in the VIII century by the Duke Arechi. The new part which was added, was called “Civitas Nova”, although the presence of many Roman ruins, including the theatre, gives evidence that the new part had been urbanized by the Romans and the “new” one was only in reference to the former Lombard settlement. Proceeding on the street Torre della Catena, obviously, you can admire on the right the walls built in the VIII century to border the “Civitas Nova”. The wall system is various and so it is difficult to understand. Surely many sections have been rebuilt or restored in later times, so the wall are often Lombard for what concerns the foundation, but they are not Lombard for the masonry we see today. The most authentic parts are found in the southwest near the corner, after passing street Teatro Romano, which leads to the homonymous structure appearing on the right. After passing a squared tower, with large stone blocks, Lombard for sure, and a cylindrical tower, we get near another squared tower, called St. Nicola , maybe because in this place there was an ancient chapel dedicated to the saint. This tower incorporates an ancient Roman stone arch. Proceeding along the curve, you reach Torre della Catena.
Torre della Catena
There is very little remaining of the tower nowadays, after the collapse caused by bombing in 1943. At the beginning the tower was linked to the walls by an arch over the street, just in the curve .This arch had been built by Dacomario (maybe the first papal rector) in 1077, to open a gate in the walls and improve the traffic in this area. The tower was damaged by later effects, such as the destructions made by Federico II in 1240, or by the earthquake in 1456. An epigraph , disappeared today, reminded the reconstruction of the tower made in 1475. Particular is also the name of this tower. According to some scholar , the word “catena” (chain) would be a correction of the Lombard word “contena”, by which they named a sort of moat. As it was near the river and the canals here up not so many years ago, we can say that at the beginning the tower was surrounded , outside, by a course of water.
After passing Torre della Catena, we come near the only surviving door of the Longobard wall, obviously excluding the Arch of Trajan, which was also used for several years as an urban door. The structure of the gate has been made with recycled stone materials, taken from the near Roman Theatre, or else from the disappeared amphitheatre also standing in this area. Previously this gate was referred to be Portella delle Calcare. Since the Middle Ages and up to modern times, in this area of the city, there were productive activities related to the production of building materials using often burial elements from the ancient Roman buildings. Is it not to be ruled out that it was the fully-grounded amphitheatre to provide the material for this industrial production in the Longobard Era. The area of Civitas Nova was never really urbanized, it was often destined for agricultural use, vegetable gardens above all and industrial, as a place of lime, bricks and other building materials manufacturing. Just next to Port’Arsa, entering on the left side, there is an ancient medieval furnace, (it is in private property, therefore it is not accessible). Probably from it, in modern times, propagated the fire that destroyed the wooden fixtures used to close the door when night. That is the reason why, probably came out the name of Port’Arsa (that is to say, burned gate).