The town of arms

The town of Benevento is well-known also for the battles bearing its name.The first battle of Benevento was that of 275B.C. between Romans and the invading army of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus. The second famous one dates back 1266, the 26th February between Manfred of Swabia and Charles d’Angiò to get the possession of the southern Italy. But during its so long multi-millenary history the town has been interested by other battles that culminated in the bombings of allied forces, suffered in the summer of 1943.


The battle happened in Benevento in 1266 between Manfred and Carlo d’Angio had a historical significance. The outcome of that battle that would have decided the destinies of Italy, particularly that of papacy for the centuries to come. Against the attempt of the Ghibelline party, leaded by Manfred of Swabia to give Italy a political unity, there was the opposition of papacy, to avoid to be absorbed by the new reign. The pope of that time, the French Clemente IV, asked Charles d’Angiò, younger brother of the French king Louis XI, to come to Italy and defeat the Swabian. The crucial battle happened in Benevento the 26th February 1266. As hoped by the Pope, Manfred was defeated losing his life during the battle. The episode is recalled by Dante Alighieri in his work, la Divina Commedia; the Swabiam is located in the purgatory . During their meeting Dante ,reminds that the bones of the unlucky king were dispersed as desired by the religious due to the fact he was excommunicated by the pope, not giving him the chance to rest ” in co del ponte di Benevento, sotto la guardia della grave mora”. These Dante’s words have been interpreted in different ways; the scholars do not agree on deciding what is the bridge where the Swabian was buried as well as some doubts remain on the real location of the battlefield, in the north of the duchy. In 1921 for the 6th centenary of Dante’s death, it was created in Benevento a committee for the celebrations and, in that occasion, it was decided to build a monument remembering Manfred. It was chosen as collocation the Vanvitelli bridge on the side facing the countryside that, for several scholars could coincide with the burial place of the Swabian king. The monument has been designed by Nicola Silvestri, artist from Benevento who at that time, was teaching at industrial high school. On a marble stele it was located a bronze bas relief, with the image of the encounter in the purgatory between Manfred and Dante. It was located on the Calore bridge on the side toward the city outside. It did not get enthusiastic approvals, so after less than 20 years it was removed for building the new street along the Calore river. After the second world war, it was decided to restore the monument created, from the beginning. The architectonic design was conceived by the architect Renato Bardoni, whereas the bas relief, representing the encounter between Dante and Manfredi, was realized by the sculptor Bruno Mistrangelo. It was inaugurated in 1947. After visiting the monument we move to the dome crossing the bridge on the Calore river and proceeding straight along Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Immediately after on the left it appears the towering Romanesque facade of the dome of Benevento.


The bell tower was erected in 1279 under the archbishop Romano Capodiferro, Manfred’s friend, who took part in the ceremony of his coronation as king of Sicily in Palermo in 1258. The erection of the bell tower is recalled on a commemorative plaque situated on the eastern side, immediately under a famous reputed roman bas-relief: the one of the boar wearing a stole that has become the symbol of Benevento. Based on ancient and outdated traditions, the boar should be the Calydonian, killed by Meleagro, Diomede’s uncle, who would donate the tusks to his nephew. The nephew would bring them with him when, after the Trojan war, he arrived in Italy and founded many cities, including Benevento. The bell tower is a little museum of roman bas-relief walled in all its sides. Among them there is a very visible one, placed high on the south side. It represents a Sannita gladiator. The representation reminds that in the city of Benevento there was a gladiator school that gave some of the best even fighters in playful games held in the capital. The root itself of the word gladiator had a Samnitic origin: indeed it derived from the “gladio”, a short and lethal sword that samnite used in hand to hand combats. After admiring the bell tower we move forward square Orsini, where, under Orsini’s fountain, there is a commemorative plaque to remind the martyrs of Campizze, village that was plunged into a bloody battle during the French occupation in 1799. The French army, led by general Broussier, had arrived in Benevento to plunder the city of its dome treasure, its money and other items owned by the pawnshop. It was the 19th January. Seven wagons were loaded by the French and then they moved towards the city of Naples. But the citizens of Benevento reacted trough a popular uprising. After being organized, they faced the French army in the plane of Campizze just beyond the village of Montesarchio. Unlucky they were defeated and at least 100 people from Benevento were killed. We continue our visit along street Gaetano Rummo and we take on the left street Annunziata (one way street accessible only on foot). Going up this street we pass over Mosti palace on the left, seat of Benevento municipality. Just immediately after, we get to a little square where it is located the church of Annunziata.


The church is in baroque style, being rebuilt after the 1688 earthquake , even this place is linked to Lombard memories and war episodes. In 663 the town was sieged by the byzantine army that, led by the emperor Constantine II, was trying to conquer again the southern Italy throwing the Lombard out. The citizens of Benevento managed to resist the siege and to defeat the byzantine because, according to the legend, the duke of Benevento Romualdo I staying there, while looking at the plan below where there was the byzantine army, he saw the Virgin Mary who forewarned him the victory if he had converted to Christianity. After the conversion and the victory he built the church dedicated to the Annunziata to actually remind the announcement received. At the same time in the place where the Virgin Mary had appeared he built the chapel dedicated to Saint Maria Della Libera, recently demolished. After the visit to the church of Annunziata we move along street Tenente Pellegrini to get Corso Garibaldi. There we turn right and proceed up to square Santa Sofia.


In the northeastern part of the square rises the bell tower of Santa Sofia rebuilt here in 1703 after the collapse of the former one during the 1688 earthquake. The considerable distance from the church was not just accidental, but precisely to avoid that a possible future collapse ruined again on the church. Observing the west side it is still possible to read the inscription in Lombard character that reminds the primitive foundation of the bell tower at the time of abbot Gregorio II, between 1038 and 1056. Lateral this inscription there are five modern coats of arms reminding the main periods of Benevento history. The first, top left, is about the Samnite period(VIII-IV century B.C.); the second the roman period (IV century B.C- VI A.D.) and the third the Lombard domination (VI-XI century). On the bottom row the papal coat reminds the period of affiliation to the state of the church and finally the last one with the Municipal SPQB acronym, that refers to the post-unification period from 1860 onwards, when the city regained its autonomy from the church in the new House of Savoy. Over this coats of arms, in the second row of the bell tower, it is walled another roman relief representing a gladiator similar to the gladiator of the dome bell tower. On the other two sides of Santa Sofia bell tower, there are two marble panels manufactured in 1936 by the sculptor Michelangelo Parlato after a drawing by the historian Alfredo Zazo: they represent the most important monuments of the town during the Samnite period and when it became the Lombard capital of a duchy extended over the majority of southern Italy. After visiting the bell tower our tour continues along Corso Garibaldi up to square IV Novembre where on the right there is Rocca dei Rettori.

Rocca dei rettori and war memorial

It is a tower built in 1322 by a fortified residence for the papal legate in Benevento. It was built during the period of the stay of the papacy in Avignon so the castle is similar to the French ones. With the nearby monastery of Porta Somma , attached to the Rocca it has been the heart of the political life during the papal domination. At the beginning of the fifteenth century ,during the battles between the different factions of the Angevin kingdom in Naples, in this castle it was imprisoned the mercenary leader Muzio Attendolo Sforza; Sforza after returning free conquered the city coming back to the Rocca as lord of the city. After his death the control of the control of Benevento passed to his son who remained there little time. He went to conquer the duchy of Milan, whereas Benevento returned to the pontifical rectors. After the Unification of Italy the prison was transferred to the former convent of San Felice, next stop of our tour. At the beginning they wanted the demolition of the Rocca, but the fortified tower was not demolished becoming in1894 e the first headquarters of the Provincial Museum which then in 1928 was transferred to Santa Sofia. in 1960 part of the fortress was turned into a museum: it hosts the Risorgimento section of the museum of Sannio. The Rocca dei Rettori is seat of Benevento province and for the visit it is necessary to contact the administration staff. To book the visit call 0824/774502. The garden can be visited without reservations. There you can admire some contemporary sculptures and it is possible to admire the gorgeous landscape overlooking the valley of the river Sabato. After the visit we move towards the last stop of this journey: Castello square, with its War Memorial erected in 1929 by the sculptor Publio Morbiducci and by the architect Italo Mancini. Important is the winged victory in bronze, on the top of the monument. on this monument there is an inscription to remember the victims of the Second World War. Benevento suffered several looting, destruction and massacres during the war episodes involving the city. among them the summer of 1943 bombings were the most catastrophic event: more than 2000 civilians died, and the city lost part of its important historic heritage. This monument is still today, the center of every celebration, to remind some of the most dramatic moments of the civil history for the city and the nation.