The city of women

This is a tour which is linked more to suggestions and myth than to real places of historical memories or monumental emergencies. It is a journey , in a certain way, inclined to literature. The history of Benevento, as well as of other cities and historical places made up of myths and legends, stories and fairy tales. In Benevento , an important role is played by witches, female figures, about which a particular mythological topos has been made up also with an uncertain historical value, but with an important popular diffusion too. To the image of witch is also connected the most popular product of the town, the homonym liqueur, produced by the company Alberti. It would be impossible to look for witches in Benevento nowadays, but starting from myth, we offer a journey which is completely focused on femininity, on women, both real and mythical, who are still providing important details to enter the poetic sense of this city.

Museum of Strega

Just opposite the central station , we find the establishment of the company Alberti, which since 1860 has been producing the famous liqueur Strega. The fame of this liqueur has given a great contribution to the popularity of the myth of Benevento, the city of witches , all over the world, since here was the walnut around which the witches performed their typical dance with the devil. It is still a mystery the origin of this myth whose first trace is found in a trial held in Todi against an alleged witch, Matteuccia di Ripabianca, which was eventually burned at the stake. We were in 1428. Since then the myth of Sabbath and of the witch around the walnut has a colour and a unique aroma. Since its inception , it has experienced a considerable success and today, it is the most well-known brand which the city is linked to. In the establishment a corporate museum has been recently set up to display stories and curiosities about the liqueur and even about the legend of witches. There is also a section dedicated to the history of the Prize Strega that as everybody knows, is considered the greatest Italian literary prize. The prize was established in Rome in 1947, is due to the fact that Alberti is for now the only sponsor of the most prestigious award of Italian Literature. The museum could be visited only upon request. For any contact please visit the company’s website. After having visited this fascinating Museum, the second stop of the tour is the bridge Vanvitelli over the river Calore. To reach it, after having passed Square Vittoria Colonna on which the building of the Central Station is overlooking, we proceed on the large and airy avenue Principe di Napoli. Once it was an industrial district of the city, after the destruction of the second World War and the reconstruction , the Railway District took a predominantly residential character. On the left you find the hospital “Sacro Cuore”, property of the order of Fatebenefratelli, settled in Benevento from 1610. In the end of the avenue there is the bridge, named after the famous architect Luigi Vanvitelli, that cross the river Calore.

The sleeping

The Bridge over the Calore, was built around the middle of the eleventh century after the collapse of another Roman bridge in Cellarulo. It was restored by Vanvitelli around 1767 .Later it was damaged first by bombing in 1943 and by the flood in 1949. They decided to blow it down and build a new one. The current one, consists of three large arches diminished and has the name of the architect, popular also for having built the Royal Palace of Caserta. When you arrive at the bridge we suggest you to stand a moment on the right side and admire the view to the west where there are the mountains of Taburno. It is one of the many points, but not the only one, where you can admire these mountains form a profile of a woman lying , the famous Dormiente del Sannio ( The Sleeping of Sannio). It is an unmistakable profile known from unmemorable times. Even ten kilometres far away , especially coming from the East, it remains recognizable and indicates unambiguously this place like a giant signal. There is no doubt that the drawn figure is a human one. That it could be a woman is probably due to a cultural construction that has a deeper feature of myth , the myth which sinks mostly the ancestral unconscious and that leads our forefathers to recognize the Earth like the mother of all things. The presence of the Dormiente del Sannio is a fundamental reason to consider this city a female city. Maybe no other city can boast a recognition with such a marked gender. After having admired the Sleeping over the bridge , turn immediately on the right into the street Posillipo flanking the area still showing the signs of bombing of 1934 but impressive are also the remains of the Roman Thermal Baths. After the bend , at the crossroads, turn into right into avenue San Lorenzo , after which is cut the imposing façade of the Basilica delle Grazie.

Madonna delle Grazie

This place is characterized by the presence of a temple dedicated to the image of the Virgin to which the inhabitants of Benevento are particularly linked through the cult to: our Lady of Grace (Madonna delle Grazie). According to different assumptions, this kind of Marian worship could come from that most ancestral of mother goddess or of other similar female goddess. As in Benevento there was the cult of Isis, many historians suggest that the cult of Madonna delle Grazie developed in continuity with the pagan one for the apparent likeness of some anthropological traits such as the sacredness of the mother figure. However, without considering issues that dangerously mix mythology and theology, this place has a no less ancestral suggestion compared to that spread by the sleeping and which is always speaking about femininity. For sure, in pre-Christian times, there was in this place an Italic Sanctuary like that we can recognize in Palestrina, Terracina or similar places. Even the cryptoporticus called Santi Quaranta, was a functional structure of the sanctuary. It is hard to believe that it was the Iseo never founded in the city , also because it would be chronologically later, but it is not impossible to think that it was a temple dedicated to a goddess. Thanks to the tombstones and inscriptions found, we know that cults in the city were always for women, even in republican times. It has been confirmed the presence of the cult of Juno Curitis ( one of the many epithets of Juno), of Fortuna Publica, of Vesta and Minerva Berecyntia. The corpus of the inscription can tell us nothing about the location of these temples, but we can well believe that in this site the worshiped a goddess, even before the Birth of Christianity. Perhaps, considering Mario Torelli’s thesis it was Minerva Berecyntia. In Benevento six tombstones have been founded to attest the presence of the goddess and her cult. Particular case, even unique, is the Berecyntia attribute, which probably refers to Trajan cultural traits present in the magna Greece, which also derived the legend of the founding of the city of Diomede. However, even if all the traces of this pagan sanctuary disappeared, it is worth taking few minutes to visit the Basilica (della Madonna delle Grazie) of Our Lady of Grace. The present building was built for a vow made by the citizens during the cholera epidemic of 1837. The project was made by the architect Vincenzo Coppola according to a neo-Renaissance style. The first stone was laid on 20th May 1839 by the papal delegate Gioacchino Pecci, future Pope Leo XIII. The construction lasted for several decades so that the Basilica was consecrated only in 1901 although it still lacked of the façade with the portico, which was built in the twenties of the twentieth century. There were several restorations, both for the bombings in 1943 , that brought down the dome, and for the earthquake in 1980. The church houses the statue of polychrome wood of the Madonna delle Grazie col Bambino ( The lady of Grace with the son) , of the sixteenth century Neapolitan school. The cult of Our Lady of Graces in Benevento is very old. Traditionally it starts with a Byzantine icon brought to Benevento from Saint Artelaide in the sixth century. The church she wanted to be built, collapsed in the earthquake of 1456 and the board, then replaced with the current statue, was brought to the ancient Church of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), which at that time was outside the walls of the city. Here the cult continued until now. The ancient church of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence), which stood beside the current Basilica, where is now located the convent of Friars Minor, was destroyed by the bombing in 1943. The beautiful portico of Ionic façade ends with a terrace on which are placed six statues: from left, Saint Rocco, Saint Gennaro, Saint Bartolomeo, Saint Francesco, Saint Barbato and Saint Antonio. On the top of the gable there is the statue of the Madonna delle Grazie ( The Lady of Graces) , which incorporates the iconography of the wooden statue of the sixteenth century. Under the porch, beside the entrance, there are the statues of the two Pope Benedict XIII ( Pope Orsini, former Archbishop of Benevento and who had a great devotion to Our Lady of Graces and Leo XIII ( who laid the first stone for the new temple). Outside, on the left, there is the recent statue of Pope John Paul II to commemorate his coming in Benevento, and the visit to this Basilica on 2nd July 1990. The sculpture is by Andrea Martini, also author of the bronze relieves of the Stations of the Cross and of the two angels which are used as holy water at the entrance. After the visit of the Basilica, the next step is the Arcos Museum, where the remains of the Temple of Isis are preserved. To get there you can proceed on foot along almost the entire city from west to East along Avenue San Lorenzo, the Main Streets Dante and Garibaldi. Otherwise you can get there by car, proceeding on the allowed routes to reach Square Risorgimento and from there continuing on foot on the itinerary. If you are walking along the path, you can see two of the finds from the Temple of Isis, the Bue Apis, placed at the beginning of Avenue San Lorenzo, and the neo-Egyptian Obelisk in Square Papiniano, along the main Street Garibaldi.

Museum of Isis

The Museum Arcos is located in the basement of the Palace of Government of Benevento. It has been restored and turned into a Museum in 2005,originally hosted contemporary art exhibition and continues to do the same in part of it. From 2014 , the left wing is used to expose the sculptures of the temple of Isis found in Benevento in 1903, and belonging to the Museum of Samniu. In 1903 was discovered a remarkable collection of sculptures belonging to Iseo , so that it was considered the greatest Egyptian art discovery out of Egypt. The archaeological finds come from a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess erected by the Emperor Domitian in the year 88 AD. Its shape and location are still unknown. Among the exhibits there is also an obelisk of neo-Egyptian school, whose copy stood at Papiniano square along the main Street Garibaldi. Also the Bue Apis comes from the same temple, it was built in XVII century and placed at the beginning of the Avenue San Lorenzo. Arcos Museum is open every day , except from Monday. Opening time: from Tuesday to Friday from 09:00 to 18:00 , on Saturdays and Sundays from 09:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 18:00. 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 the Museum Arcos, the Museum of Samnium, and the stories of the Arc in Saint Ilario. Leaving the Museum Arcos, you can continue turning to the right to proceed to the town park, after passing the Fortress of the Rectors, medieval building currently owned by the provincial administration, which has its headquarters here , and Square Castello with the Monument to the Fallen in the middle, we get the entrance of the town park.

Villa Comunale (the Public Gardens)

The urban park was built immediately after the unification of Italy and opened in 1879. It was designed with an “English style”, that is to say, without schematic drawing boards and regular geometries but following the irregular morphology of the site. The setting up and the installation of the plants was made by the famous Neapolitan botanist Alfredo Dehnardt. But the park, especially for the winter mist or the water jets brings us back to show the female face of this city, dense of humidity which is the real symbol of that water , life’s element. Furthermore, here you can admire the beautiful valley of river Sabato, the place where the legend tells there was the witches’s Sabbath under the evil walnut in Benevento. Over the years the witches have been transformed in the collective imagination, changing from old into young sensual women. With the memory of the witches, beautiful and fascinating, this itinerary aimed to discover the city of women, made of goddesses, beautiful witches, mountains and mothers, water and fog, gets to the end.