Benevento is an Italian town of 58.853 inhabitants, capital of the homonymous province in Campania.
City of mysteries, myths, legends and history, it represents a meeting between reality and fantasy. Among the legends linked to Benevento, the most famous is that of the witches or in the local dialect “janare” who gathered under a walnut tree near the river Sabato. Witches hover over the city, also giving its name to a famous liqueur “Strega”.
The city boasts a conspicuous historical-artistic and archaeological heritage, the result of the various dominations and affiliations that followed during its history. Since June 2011, the church of Santa Sofia, built in 760 by the Lombard Duke Arechi II, became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site within the Longobardi serial site in Italy: the places of power.
The symbol of the city is the Arch of Trajan which turns out to be one of the triumphal Roman arches with better preserved reliefs. It is the seat of the archdiocese of Benevento.
Let’s start our journey into mysterious and full of surprises Benevento!
Church of Santa Sofia
The church of Santa Sofia represents one of the most fascinating symbols of the past of Benevento.
It is a religious complex which is the symbol of the Lombard presence, both in Sannio and throughout Italy. The church and what was once the annexed abbey represent one of the most beautiful and important gems of the Longobardia minor and, with full rights, have been part of the Unesco heritage since June 2011 together with the other six sites from the North to the South of Italy (Brescia, Cividale of Friuli, Castelseprio, Spoleto, Campello sul Clitunno and Monte Sant’Angelo) which together make up the path of “The Lombards in Italy, the places of power”.
The church of Santa Sofia was built in 760 after Christ and consecrated fourteen years later, in 774. Over the centuries, it has changed its face due to the restorations that have altered the original design.
The first restoration took place in medieval times, the original plan was not touched, but the bell tower was added and a bas-relief was added depicting Christ enthroned with the Virgin on the right, San Mercurio martyr on the left and a kneeling monk.
The second restoration was carried out in the Baroque period, when after the 1688 earthquake the church was seriously damaged. The reconstruction was done following the Baroque style.
The last restoration was carried out in 1957 and attempted to restore the original design of the church. Since 2011, the church has been included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Arch of Trajan
The symbol par excellence of the Campanian city of Benevento is definitely the Arch of Trajan, a Roman period relic dedicated to the Emperor Trajan, also known as “Optimus Princeps”, and built on the occasion of the opening of Via Traiana, a road Roman built between 108 and 110 AD which connected Beneventum – Benevento – and Brundisium – Brindisi faster than the long via Appia.
The triumphal arch was built between 115 and 117 AD and during the Lombard period it was incorporated into the walls and took the name of Porta Aurea. Although throughout its history it has undergone several restorations – the last as well as the most recent between 2001 and 2002 – due to normal deterioration and different seismic shocks, it is the best preserved of the triumphal arches.
The Roman arch, built in limestone covered with blocks of Parian marble, looks like a monument to a single arch, that is, to a single arched construction, 15.60 meters high and 8.60 meters wide.
In recent past, the arch was surrounded by houses, but in 1850 the houses were demolished to allow the monument to stand in all its splendour.
Rocca dei Rettori
The Rocca dominates for its size Piazza 4 Novembre, in the historic center of Benevento.
The imposing building was built, at the behest of Pope John XXII in 1321. Its construction took as a model the large military buildings of Avignon and Carcassone in France. However, the Castle was built on the already existing remains of a Lombard fortress, built by Arechi II around 875, on top of an ancient Roman arch that dominated the road towards Avellino.
The Rocca received its current name in the Middle Ages, when it became the seat of the papal governors.
From 1586 the fortress was transformed into a prison, which remained active until 1865. A part of the building was rebuilt in the 18th century, following the destruction caused by the 1702 earthquake.
The Rocca dei Rettori houses the historical section of the Museo del Sannio with material pertinent to the history of the city and the Sannio region, as well as documentation of the art and popular traditions of the province.
The gardens of the Castle host a lapidary dedicated to the soldiers of the Via Traiana. Interesting to visit, the latter collects several architectural fragments that belonged to the fortress over the centuries.
Today it is the seat of the province of Benevento, and houses a permanent exhibition inside, “Excellent men, traces of the Beneventano Risorgimento”.
Mimmo Paladino’s “Hortus Conclusus”, in Benevento, Campania, is a permanent installation that the important exponent of the Transavanguardia movement has created in 1992 in the garden of the former Convent of San Domenico.
In the garden of the Benevento monastery there are works designed as a harmonious whole that traces the history of the city with references to the passage of the Samnites, the Romans and the Lombards. They marry with the remains of broken columns, capitals and pediments, generating a successful stylistic contrast. The “Bronze Horse” dominates the “Hortus” from the top of the wall; the “Disco”, placed in the center of the space, looks like a shield fallen from the sky from which the water gushes; and then the “Conchiglia”, a “Bell”, an “Equine Head”, the “Ox Skull”, the “Helmets”: each symbol reinterprets the tradition of Benevento in a modern key.
All you admire when entering the Hortus is of a beauty that words struggle to describe, where only visual experience can help you understand the charm.
The Cathedral of Benevento
The metropolitan cathedral of Santa Maria de Episcopio is the main place of worship in Benevento, the episcopal seat of the metropolitan archdiocese of the same name. It wad the first Christian temple erected in the city, in a humble and primitive form, when the new religion arrived through the Roman consular roads in the ancient capital of Sannio and the first ecclesiastical organization was established there.
Existing since the origins of the Benevento church, it was almost totally destroyed by the bombings of the Allies in the Second World War, and subsequently rebuilt.
The cathedral, dedicated to Sancta Maria de Episcopio, overlooks the homonymous square; behind it is the archiepiscopal palace.
One of the most evocative places found inside the Cathedral is the crypt, the only surviving building after the bombing, which preserves pictorial cycles dating back to the 9th century. In the atrium of the Cathedral it is possible to admire, after a meticulous and careful restoration, the main bronze door also known as the janua major. The door shows us all the skill of 12th century Roman sculpture.
In the Cathedral of Benevento, on 10 August 1910, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina was ordained a priest.
Palazzo Paolo V
Designed by architect Giovanni Fontana in 1598, Palazzo Paolo V was completed in 1607 (hence the name, in homage to Pope Camillo Borghese, who became pope the previous year). Its facade is of classical Mannerist architecture with severe and imposing lines.
Inside there are epigraphs, commemorative steles, statues, as well as frescoes and fine decorations that have come to light or recovered in recent years.
In the small square opposite stands one of the two Egyptian obelisks erected in Benevento in the year 88 AD. under the emperor Domitian.
The courtyard is rich in history and features numerous tombstones of important figures. In 1774 it was the first building in Benevento to have artificial lighting. Today there are numerous artistic exhibitions and cultural events it hosts.
Recently restored, it hosts exhibitions, conferences as well as musical and cultural events.
Museo del Sannio
UNESCO World Heritage Site since June 2011, Museo del Sannio in Benevento is a museum that collects historical evidence from all eras concerning the Benevento area.
The first nucleus of the current Museo del Sannio was a municipal archaeological museum founded in 1806 by Talleyrand, then prince of Benevento, in the former Jesuit house.
After the Restoration, the building was returned to the Compagnia del Gesù, which reopened its college there, without however dispersing the archaeological material that had been collected there.
It is divided into 4 departments: Archeology, Medievalistic, Art and History. The first three find their place in the cloister of the church of Santa Sofia, the last in the keep of the Rocca dei Rettori.
In addition, since 1981 the museum has also been entrusted with the church of Sant’Ilario in Port’Aurea, which acts as a video museum for the Arco di Traiano.
Inside the museum, it is possible to see collections of weapons, prints, coins and a picture gallery that collects paintings dating from the Roman era to the 1800s. This collection is unique because Benevento is the place in the West with the highest concentration of original Egyptian artifacts, that is, found on the spot and not brought from Egypt.
The museum includes a specialized library and a laboratory for analysis and restoration.