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1. Caiazzo, The Royal Pheasant Grounds
2. Roman cistern & Cyclopean walls
The modern city of Caiazzo is about 20 km north of the city of Caserta on the right (north) bank of the Volturno river. The area came into the hands of the Romans for the first time in 300 B.C. Like much of the surrounding territory, it remained contested among various local powers, primarily the Romans and Samnites, before the consolidation of Roman power. In the Social War (100 BC) it rebelled against Rome, lost, and its territory was added to that of Capua by Sulla. In the imperial period, however, we find it once more a separate municipium of Rome.
Caiazzo has a much older history, however; one of the points of historical interest is the section of so-called “Cyclopean wall,” (meaning 'gigantic') put in place in the 7th or 8th century BC by Oscan ancestors of the later Samnites. The wall surrounded an early acropolis of the pre-Roman civilization. (The walls may still be seen, as can the later Roman cistern [see separate section below].) After the fall of Rome, Caiazzo has more or less a parallel history to other places in the area in that it went through centuries of being owned by one or the other feudal lord as the Kingdom of Naples, itself, passed through numerous changes of ruling dynasty.
Caiazzo is on the Volturno plain. That plain is one mountain and one river to the north of Caserta and the Campanian plain; that is a bit north of the main target area of Charles III’s ambitions to remake the entire area around the city of Naples beginning in 1734, the year in which he came to the throne of Naples. Nevertheless, the Rizzi Zannoni map from 1784, besides showing the obvious new features such as the palace at Caserta, the adjacent farming collective of San Leucio, and various large Royal Hunting Reserves also shows a Royal Fagianeria (pheasant breeding and hunting ground) at Caiazzo, precisely on the plain at the base of Mt. Verna (the area in the photo, above). The hunting site may be traced back to 1753 when Charles III took the tireless architect and planner, Luigi Vanvitelli, to visit a similar hunting ground on the premises of the Capodimonte Palace to get an idea of what to do at Caiazzo. Vanvitelli came through, as usual, although he did write his brother in 1753 that “…this pheasant farm is a lot different than I had planned on….”
The entire area has always been the focus of intense warfare, from the times of Hannibal up through the republican revolution of 1799 (when the town was one of the centers of anti-royalist sentiment) and Garibaldi’s invasion of 1860 (when it was pro-royalist, resisting the forces of Italian unification). In WWII the Volturno plain was part of the formidable German defenses blocking the Allied advance up towards Mt. Cassino and Rome. As well, there was a devastating flood of the Volturno river in 1966. There is no hope now of finding in decent condition a delicate Vanvitellian structure from the 1750s unless it has been restored for tourists, as is the case with some other buildings closer to or in Naples, itself--at Fusaro, for example (see link in box, above). Caiazzo has not been so restored. The building sat on the plain near Caiazzo in what is now administratively a separate community called, in fact, Piana di Monte Verna (Mt. Verna Plain). Until quite recently, the 334 acre (135 hectare) tract of the ex-Royal Pheasant Grounds was a private agricultural concern. It was called, indeed, La Fagianeria (the Pheasant Grounds). It is still called that and is listed as such in indices of the area. The private facility was auctioned off in 2003 and acquired by a multinational firm specializing in dairy products; the agrofirm then got involved in the Parmalat-Cirio scandal, one of the worst in post-war Italian history (See the film, Il Gioellino. 2011. dir. Andrea Malaiolo.) They cooked books way beyond al dente, and there are still people in jail over the affair. I am reluctant to drive out there (about 25 miles) to investigate. Sure, maybe I'd get a free bottle of Parmelat milk (slurp, slurp!); maybe a free can of Cirio canned tomatoes (yummy-yummy!); maybe a free pet pheasant (whaddya mean, you're afraid of the neighbor's dog?!); but maybe a free busted kneecap (Ow!). I understand that there is still a small part of Vanvitelli's original building on the premises. It's called the Palazzina Borbonica. Or that's what it should be called if it's still there. Stay tuned.
Added March 2015
The Roman Cistern
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