Benevento experienced its first urban development when its territori became part of Rome, as a result of the gains against the “Samniti”. The city was reached in the IV. C B. C by the Via Appia, which entered the city through the bridge “Leproso”. Since then it has gradually enlarged and enriched with remarkable and great monuments. Some of them, especially from the imperial period, have left archaeological remains which are still visible, such as the ruins of the temple of Isis, built by the Emperor Domitian, the Arch of Trajan, to commemorate the opening of the new route to the Apulia, the Roman Theatre built in the second century. The signs of this Roman city are visible not only in the monumental remains and artefacts in museums, but are scattered everywhere in the walls , in almost all the streets of the old town. We suggest to make the visit walking even if the first part of the tour ( from Santi Quaranta to the Roman Theatre) could be toured by car. Estimated visiting time, at least 4 hours.
The Roman structure was originally a cryptoporticus , built in the jump of altitude between the ridge, and over which ran the Via Latina and the plain where the Via Appia arrived too. Partially destroyed by bombing of the last world war , which brought down the vault that once covered the cryptoporticus , today only some walls have survived; they give an idea of the original equipment. Its first destination is still discussed and uncertain as well as its dating.
From Santi Quaranta, wlaking down San Lorenzo street, on the left, near the crossroad, stands the statue of the Bue Apis . Founded in 1629 , it was placed there and still remains in that position, in the same stand too. The sculpture comes from the temple of Isis, the same which has given a large quantity of sculptures and remains, the same which are mostly preserved in the musem Arcos.
From the intersection where the Bue Apis is, onto the right in the street Torre della Catena, you reach the intersection with Munanzio Planco street dedicated to the Roman general who figured here in Benevento, a colony of military veterans. On the right, at the end of this road, you can find the place where in 1985 few foundation walls were discovered , they belong to an amphitheatre of the I C. BC. The structure is no longer visible in the high and the excavations carried out up today are currently not accessible. The tour continues along Via Appia Antica and turning to the right , we proceed towards Leproso Bridge.
Across this Bridge, came into town the Via Appia, from the previous section of Capua. It is a humpbacked bridge, consisting of four arches. It crosses the river Sabato before it converges slightly in the river Calore. The essential elements are still in its original structure. After the closing to the traffic is only a pedestrian area. Its name comes from a medieval hospital perhaps destined to lepers. Nothing of it remains but only the memory in the naming of the church dedicated to the Saints Cosmas and Damian . This church almost adiacent to the bridge, has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and other disasters, Today it has simple structures, after the last post-war restoration. From Leproso Bridge back toward the town, and after having walked along Via Appio Claudio, you arrive in front of Port’Arsa, the only surviving gate of Lombard walls . The structure of this port consists of stone material and reused ones, all from the nearby Roman Theatre or by the late amphitheatre which stood in the area afore visited. Entering the old town by Port ‘Arsa and walking down the homonymous street , you arrive at Ponzio Telesino square, where you find also the entrance for the Roman Theatre.
The Roman Theater
The structure was built in the time of Commodus in the late second century AD , replacing a probable previous theatre, built in a wooden structure since there are testimonies of performances also in previous centuries. It has been unearthed in the twentieth century , demolishing houses and other structures that have superimposed to it. The monument that has a diameter of about 98 meters has been built in cement work and limestone blocks. The steps are the result of a modern restoration and develop only for a part, as it lacks of the upper ring. The semicircular original auditorium was built in imitation of the Colosseum with three different architectural orders: the Tuscan at the lower order, of which there are 25 arches, the Ionic and the Corinthian. The scene was fixed and consisted of a monumental structure of which now only two great pylons without any marble decoration survive. Many of the barren materials from the theatre were reused in several buildings in the historical city centre as some masks walled in street Capitano Rampone or in the square Piano di Corte. Many other various stone materials are kept in the Antiquarium located in the avenue of the current theatre entrance , just behind the scene. The theatre is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to one hour before the sunset . The entrance is from Square Ponzio Telesino. The entrance fee is of 2 euros, reduced 1 euro. Leaving the theatre we continue eastbound on the left, proceeding along Street Port’Arsa, then we turn left into Street Carlo Torre. This way we cross one of the most historically popular district of the city, called Triggio. Continuing on Street Carlo Torre we reach a Roman Arch called the arch of Sacrament.
The Arch of Sacrament
The Arch of Sacrament, whose name probably is due to its contiguity to the complex of the archibishop’s palace , it is an honorary arch left without any plastic decoration, and it is impossible to assume the origin and the naming. According to some theories , you could reach the Roman Forum through the Arch, since the street Carlo Torre corresponds, in the topography of the Roman city, to the cardo maximo. The area was devastated by bombing in 1943. After some not happy urban interventions, the area has a main destination in the archaeological park. In it you can see some ruins and walls pieces from different eras. The park is open for free every day. After completing the visit we continue along the Street Carlo Torre and arrive out at Corso Garibaldi (the main street) , we exceed the Cathedral on the left and continue walking along the route that becomes pedestrian area. Corso Garibaldi corresponds in part to the ancient decumanus of the Roman city . In the end of the nineteenth century it was enlarged by demolishing the buildings on the left side going up. In the way , on the left, you find the sixteenth century palace Paolo V, once the municipal site and opposite the former Archibishop’s seminary, today site of the state Archive. Right after there is the Square Papiniano, in the centre is located the neo-Egyptian obelisk from the Temple of Isis.
The Obelisk of Isis
The Obelisk was found in the sixteenth century and located in a fenced area in front of the Cathedral . With the refurbishment of the post-unification period, the area was demolished and the obelisk, in 1872, was placed where we could admire it nowadays. It comes from the Temple of Isis , built by Domitian in 88 A.D. It is the obelisk itself to provide us with valuable information about its origin , thanks to the inscriptions on it , whose translation is as it follows: Horus the strong young man, who gained power, Horus the rich gold of years, strong of victories, sovereign of Upper and Lower Egyot Autokrator Kaisaros , king Domitian’s son, could he live eternally. The great Isis, mother of God, Sothis, lady of stars, lady of the sky, of the Earth, and the underworld. He built a granite obelisk for her and for the gods of his city of Benevento, for the Salvation and the return home of the Lord of the two lands, Domitian could he live eternally. His name is Rutilio Lupo, could he have long life and joy. The obelisk, together with the other one preserved in Museum Arcos, was then erected in front of the Temple of Isis by the citizen of Benevento Rutilio Lupo in honour of Emperor Domitian. After having admiring the obelisk, continuing into the Avenue Garibaldi , a little further, you come to the crossroads where on the left you are in the street Traiano. This road is the result of an urban demolition during the years immediately following the end of the second world war , just to create an optical telescope to frame the Arch of Trajan in the background.
The Arch of Trajan
The Arch was built between 114 and 117 A.D. to celebrate the opening of the street Traiana. Since then it has become one of the most important artefacts of Benevento. It was transformed in a sort of city gate during the Lombard period taking the name of “Porta Aurea”, on the basis of a clear Byzantine derivation terminology. In fact, for over one thousand years, the arch was incorporated in the city walls and only during the nineteenth century there were the first steps to isolate it from the leaning structures, this isolation was completed only after the second world war. Today, thanks to several restorations, the arch is in perfect condition and with the sculptural decoration quite complete. It may well be considered as the best preserved Roman Arch of all those that still exist. The arch 15,45 m high , 8,60 m . wide is composed of a single fornix. The rich sculptural frame tells about the life and the deeds of the Emperor Trajan. On the façade overlooking the city are recalled various aspects of its civilian government, while on the side towards the country are narrated some of his military deeds performed to enlarge the Empire. There are two large panels on the arch, they recall the presence of Trajan in Benevento: once for the enactment of a law the Istitutio Alimentaria ( a law imposing taxes to the landowners to help the needy children to find a job) and another for the opening of the street Trajan in the year 109. In late 2004, in the nearby deconsecrated church of St.Hilary, dating from the Lombard period, was inaugurated the museum showcase “ I racconti dell’arco” ( the stories of the Arch). In the scenic surroundings a multimedia course was created to tell the story of the Arch , as it is told trough the relieves of the Arch itself, as well as the different aspects of the history of the monument and the life at ancient Romans time. The Museum in St Hilary opens everyday , from Monday to Sunday, holidays included, from 10:00 to 13:00 and from 16:00 to 19:00. the cost of the ticket is 2 €, reduced 1 €. You can buy for 6 €, reduced 4 €, the combined ticket, valid two days, to visit apart from St Hilary, the Samnium Museum and the collection of Isis at the Museum of Arcos too. After having completed the visit of the Arch and St. Hilary , you can come back to the Avenue Garibaldi along the street Trajan. Turning on the left you can go on up to the square Santa Sofia , along the way you can see on the right the baroque palace Collenea with the large and airy courtyard and immediately after the Basilica of St. Bartholomew , built by the project of Philip Raguzzini in the early eighteenth century at the behest of Pope Benedict XIII . the Basilica contains the apostle’s bones considered relics , brought to Benevento from Lipari in 838 by the Lombard prince Sicardo. A little further , always on the left, you find the eighteenth-century building “palazzo Terragnoli”, whose façade is also attributed to Philip Raguzzini. Nowadays it houses the Municipal Library Antonio Mellusi. Continuing, before reaching the Square Santa Sofia, on the left, there is the Teathre Vittorio Emanuele built in the mid nineteenth century by the Neapolitan architect Pasquale Francesconi. Right after you find the harmonious square that frames the façade of the Lombard church of Santa Sophia. Behind the church there is on the right , the homonym monastery that now houses the Museum of Samnium.
Museum of Samnio
The monastery of St. Sophia became a museum in 1928. Before this date the monastery had a very long and varied life. After the decline of the Benedectine presence, occurred in the sixteenth century, the convent was given to the Canons Lateran, who kept it until the abolition of the religious orders in 1806. In 1834 the monastery was entrusted to the brothers of the Christian School Lasallians who held their schools until 1907, when then they moved to the nearby Palazzo de Simone. The monastery became then a male orphanage also hosting craft activities including a carpentry and a printing shop set up to teach a job to young orphans. In 1928 after the transition of the orphanages to the provincial authorities, the monastery became property of the Province of Benevento, and it was decided to settle there the Provincial Museum which until then had been housed in the Fortress of the Rectors. (Rocca dei Rettori). Thanks to the arrangement of the then Director Alfredo Zazo, the Museum of Samnio was created. It represents today the largest local cultural institution. The museum collection focuses mainly on the archaeological finds of the classical era which are present in large quantities in the urban fabric of the city. In fact, its first organization took place in 1873, after the suggestion of the German archaeologist Mommsen , and according to the cultural horizons of that time, the classical archaeology was the greatest historical interest of that moment. Collecting this way tombstones, relieves and inscriptions from roman period, the museum enriched progressively with further discoveries and acquisitions including the most important of all, the Egyptian exhibits from the Iseo of Benevento, founded in an accidental excavation of 1903. Today the latter exhibits have been moved to the new museum Arcos built a few meters away in the basements of the government building. In addition to the traditional exhibits the museum has also been progressively enriched with pre and proto-historic finds from the province and the neighbouring areas as well as a rich collection of paintings and sculptures, graphic works illustrating the cultural evolution of the town since the Middle Age up to today. A moment of the visit is to be dedicated to the Romanesque Cloister, one of the best among the whole southern Italy. The current cloister was built between 1142 and 1176 by Abbot Giovanni IV, in parts with the fragments of the previous eighth century which had been destroyed by the earthquakes that hit the city in the twelfth century. It has a rectangular plan but with an angle covered by the presence of the Church and is composed of 15 four-light and one three-light. The architectural style shows an obvious Moorish taste due to the presence in the city in that 12th century of Arabian workers. On slender and elegant columns and pulvinus have been put the capitals with iconographic greatness which range from phitozoomorphic elements to allegories , human representations, animals but also fairy beings, according to the aesthetic of the Roman period , all representing a very dynamic and lively taste . In the southwest corner of the cloister on a pulvinus, one of the oldest representation of the Nativity is displayed anticipating the classic crib iconography. The Museum is open everyday apart from Monday, from 09.00 to 19.00. The ticket costs 4 € , reduced 2 €. It is possible to buy a combined ticket for 6 €, reduced 4 €, valid for two days, to visit in addition to the Museum, also the collection of Isis at the Museum Arcos and the “Racconti dell’Arco” ( the stories of the Arch) in St. Hilary Church. Leaving the Museum through the bookshop you come back to the square, whose centre is dominated by the round neoclassical fountain with the obelisk supported by lions , made at the beginning of the nineteenth century, during the French domination ( 1806-1815)- in fact, it was exactly at this time, in 1810, when the square took a shape expropriating and breaking down the fence in front of St Sophia. Although irregularly shaped, the square has a measure really harmonious. In the north-eastern corner of the square there is the bell tower of St. Sophia rebuilt here in 1703, after the collapse of the former one during the earthquake of 1688. The considerable distance of the church was not random in order to avoid , that in case of future collapse, it ruined again the Church. Observing the western side you can still read the inscriptions in Lombard characters, reminiscent of the primitive foundation of the tower between 1038 and 1056 at the time of Abbot Gregory II. Beside the inscription there are five modern emblems reminding the major periods of history of Benevento. The first, on the top, on the left, reminds the samniticum period ( VIII-IV B.C), the second that of roman period ( IV B.C.- IV A.D.) and the third one the period of Lombard domination (VI-XI ). On the bottom row the papal emblem reminds the period of membership to the Papal States (XI-XIX centuries) and finally the last one with the municipal symbol SPQB, referring the post unification (from 1860 on) when the city regains its autonomy by the Church as part of the new kingdom of Savoy. On other two sides of the bell tower are placed two marble panels made in 1936 by Michelangelo Parlato with the drawing of the historian Alfredo Zazo, which represents the periods of greatest importance of the city during the Samnite period and when it became capital of a Lombard duchy extended over much of the Southern Italy.
The Museum Arcos is located in the basement of the Government Palace of Benevento. Restored and turned into museum function in 2005, in origin it hosted exhibitions of contemporary art and it continues to do it. Since 2014 , the left wing is used to exhibit the sculpture of the Temple of Isis discovered in Benevento in 1903 , and belonging to the Museum of Samnio. In that 1903 a remarkable collection was brought to light. It was a collection of sculptures belonging to the Iseo and was considered the greatest discovery of Egyptian art out of Egypt. The archaeological finds come from a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess, erected by Emperor Domitian in the year 88 A.D. Its shape and location is still unknown. Among the exhibits there is also an obelisk of neoegyptian art , whose twin is located in the square Papiniano, along the avenue Garibaldi. From the same temple comes also the Bue Apis that , in the XVII century, was placed at the beginning of Avenue San Lorenzo. The Museum Arcos is open every day , apart from Monday, the opening time are: form Tuesday to Friday from 09.00 to 18:00, on Saturday and Sunday from 09:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 18:00. The ticket costs 2 € , reduced 1 €. It is also possible to buy a combined ticket for 6 €, reduced 4 €, valid for two days, to visit the Museum Arcos and the Museum of Samnio as well as the Stories of the Arch ( I racconti dell’arco) in St Hilary. After the visit of the Museum Arcos, we head towards the last part of this journey: the headquarters of the Superintendence of Benevento. Exit the museum, turn on the right and continue towards east. You pass on the left, the imposing mass of Rocca dei Rettori ( The Fortress of Rectors) built in 1322 by providing a secure residence to the representatives of the papal government in Benevento. Past the Rocca , you cross the square Castello with the memorial monument built in 1929 by the sculptor Publio Morbiducci and the architect Italo Mancini. Remarkable is the bronze winged victory placed on the top of the monument . Immediately after begins the Avenue Atlantici, flanked on the right by the precious and pleasant urban gardens designed with the typical English style. It was implanted in 1879 by the famous Neapolitan botanist Alfredo Denhardt. Past the urban park, shortly after, you arrive in the area of San Felice which currently houses the headquarters of the Superintendence.
The Superintendence and Scipionyx Samniticus
The area of St Felice was built at the beginning of XVII century as a Capuchin Monastery. It was later abandoned and after the unification of Italy, it was transformed into a prison , carrying out this function until the eighties of ‘900. It was then used for the offices of the Operational Centre of the Superintendence. Here are currently placed some of the Roman Era plaques recently discovered in Benevento and, in particular, it is exhibited the fossil of a dinosaur found in Pietraroja ( a mountain village in the province of Benevento at the borders with Molise) in 1980. The finding is of great scientific interest as it shows the fossil skeleton of a young specimen of the ropod dinosaur in excellent condition with the presence of soft tissues and internal organs, the scientific name for this specimen was Scipionix Samniticus, to give honour to the place of the discovery, even if it is popularly known by the nickname of “Ciro”. Ciro fossil is open every day from 09:00 a.m. to one hour before sunset. Admission is free.