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main index   © Jeff Matthews    entry Aug 2012
                                                                          
                                                                 
Towns of the Alburni


Postiglione (1-directly below)

Controne (2)
Castelcivita (3)

Ottati (4)

Sant'Angelo a Fasanella (5)
Corleto Monforte (6)
Sicignano degli Alburni (7)
Petina(8)
Polla (9)
Roscigno (10)
Aquara (11)


Other towns on the map that have separate entries:
 Atena Lucana, Padula, Agropoli, Paestum, Campagna, Capaccio, Teggiano, Salerno.


Postiglione (1)

T
he Alburni massif
(labelled "Monti Alburni" in the center of the map) is a relatively small part of the entire Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park in the province of Salerno. The massif (or table land, or plateau) rises like a rectangular loaf of bread 10 km wide by 21 km long. The long axis runs SE to NW; the NW flank is a wall of dolomite peaks of up to 1800 meters in elevation (photo, below) and faces across the plain of Paestum to the city of Salerno, 40 km distant. The loaf slopes slightly down as it runs back to the SE and then drops off suddenly onto the plain of the Vallo di Diano. The Tanagro river runs along the NE side and the Calore Salernitano (alias Calore Lucano and Calore Cilentano) river along the SW side of the loaf. They flow NW past the massif and then into the Sele river coming from the NE, which then flows into the sea near Paestum. (The lines on the map are roads, not rivers.) The entire Alburni massif is interesting in terms of history and natural beauty (see this item on the Castelcivita cave).


            A portion of the NW flank of the Alburni massif
There are about a dozen small towns that ring the Alburni massif; they are all on the slopes and range in elevation from about 300 meters to 700. That range of elevation may also occur within the individual towns, themselves, since some of them really do seem to be clinging precariously to the hillside. When you set out to walk "down" the street, that's not just a figure of speech. Postiglione (pop. 2300) is one of these towns. (It is marked by the number 1 on the map.) The town perches at 650 meters on the NW slope of the Alburni massif. It is part of the nature preserve of the Sele and Tanagro rivers.

The origins of the name "Postiglione" are uncertain. We only know that it was a refuge for coastal inhabitants of Paestum during the centuries of Arab incursions along the coast, beginning as early as the 9th century. The town center is medieval, having developed around the Norman castle built in the 11-th century. Postiglione has typically attracted holiday tourists thanks to the traditional cuisine and scenic location on the slopes of the "Campanian Dolomites"; it serves as a point of departure for excursions up to the flatland of the massif as well as to the many higher peaks. The excursions range from Pleasant Stroll to Strenuous Hike to Don't Do This Unless You Are a Skilled Climber (as in any of those three peaks in the above photo). In the valleys below, the local rivers, Calore, Sele, and Tanagro offer rafting; depending on the time of year, you get anything from leisurely Tom & Huck stuff to white-water.

photo: on left is the church of S. Giorgio; at center
background is the Norman castle. The mountains
in the distance are the Picentines, the space
in the middle is the Paestum plain.

Local landmarks in Postiglione are the church of San Giorgio, the belfry of San Nicola, the Norman castle, and the monument fountains in the center of town. There are a number of noteworthy religious festivals, including the celebration of the feast day in May of St. Elias during which a statue of the saint is transported into a cave at 900 meters in the woods right above the town.

I was present for a celebration for St. Giacinto (Hyacinth), one of those festivals in which the townspeople dress in medieval garb, play trumpets and toss flags. (Tossing trumpets and playing flags has been tried, as well, but has met with little success.) I was confused since I knew (after a little homework) that St. Hyacinth is not the patron saint of Postiglione. More homework. The festival was really in honor of the Monte dei Maritaggi di San Giacinto. I asked, "Do you mean that you are celebrating a local mountain named for the saint?—Wait...maritaggi is a medieval word for "dowries"—(more homework). "Do you mean that you are celebrating a local mountain named for the dowries of a saint? Are you crazy? That makes no sense." Oh...monte is also a financial or credit institution. (In Naples, we have the well-known Monte e Banco dei Poveri.) Ah, you are celebrating the foundation of a medieval banking institution named for a saint. Are you crazy? That makes no sense.

Still a sweet little town, though.

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Controne (2)

The town of Controne (#2 on the map) is a few km from Postiglione (above), just at the SW corner of the rectangular Alburni massif. Controne has about 1000 inhabitants and is partially within the boundaries of the Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park. The town is at a mere 204 meters a.s.l. Unlike other towns on the slopes, almost none of it extends above the road that circles most of the massif. The first traces of the history of Controne are actually in a small nearby village, Pezza, where archaeologists have excavated a Greek temple with mosaic floors and numerous coins with the effigy of the sea-god Neptune. The original inhabitants apparently moved further up the hill to avoid the neighbors from nearby Greek Poseidonia (Paestum) who were becoming a bit too expansive. Even well after that period, the history of the town is linked to getting away from invaders, such as Saracen pirates, whose raids, beginning in the 9th century, put constant pressure on coastal inhabitants to move to the hills. The name "Controne," itself, comes from contra elion—"against the sun" in Greek. With the Alburni Mountains at its back, the town was a land "set against the sun".

In the Middle Ages, like many other towns in the area (notably Capaccio to the west), Controne was one of those sites destroyed by the all-mighty Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick II, in 1246-8 when he became convinced that the local feudal barons were conspiring against him. (They were!) Later history shows the town being rebuilt near the Benedictine church of San Nicola of Bari, then becoming a feudal estate and then, under the Bourbons, state property, a sito reale in 1768. Although the original Benedictine monastery has not survived, much of the art work contained therein was moved to the Palazzo Baronale, a former feudal mansion and now the town hall (photo, below). Also, significant art work is contained on the premises of the church of Santa Maria from 1599.

The town is close to the Calore river, and the old aqueduct that used to channel water from the river and local springs to the mills of the area is still visible. Delightfully, Controne is most known for the fagiolo, the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris! The townspeople celebrate it with a yearly festival, put on period costumes, open the old taverns and enter bean heaven for a short time.

As I note in the entry on the nearby Castelcivita cave, I was most taken with one of the plaques in the main square of Controne. It wasn't one of those sadly ubiquitous tributes to those who died in WW's I & II (almost always inscribed with the [insert the adjective of your choice] Latin phrase, Dulcis est pro patria mori (It is sweet to die for one's country), but something a little different: it was a tribute to the three young scuba divers who died in 1973 trying to explore an underground lake beneath the Castelcivita cave. They were from Naples, so I asked why there would be a plaque here in Controne. "I remember them," said an old-timer. "They were always here, always helping out. Their deaths hit us very hard here. They were good kids."

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Castelcivita (3)

Castelcivita is at 526 meters on the southern slope of the Alburni massif (#3 on the map); the population is about 2,000. The area directly below the town has easy access to the banks of the Calore river in the valley below. The present name was given to the town in 1863 shortly after the unification of Italy. Centuries earlier, during the reign of the Angevin dynasty (1266-1442), the town was known as Civita Pantuliano, and then under the Aragonese (1443-1501) as Castelluccio (Little Castle), probably in reference to the beautiful tower and walls that had been built earlier by the Angevins. The medieval structures are still visible. The narrow alleys and the coats of arms of many noble families carved over the ancient portals have preserved the medieval charm of the town.

Looking up at Castelcivita from the banks of the
Calore river.

Stacked up the hillside as it is, this is one of the towns on the Alburni slopes that really does look as if it is hanging on by a single precarious domino. For that reason—and this is some consolation—there are a great many places that offer splendid views west over the Calore valley to the hills on the other side. Castelcivita has given its name to the nearby Grotta di Castelcivita—the Castelcivita Grotto or Cave, the longest karst cave in southern Italy. (See that separate link.) It is located directly beneath the town.
            
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Ottati (4)

Ottati (#4 on the map) is at 530 meters on the southern slope of the Alburni massif.The population is about 800. It was founded in the Middle Ages by citizens of the destroyed town of nearby Fasanella. (In 1246-8 Frederick II went through this area and razed a number of towns, all feudal fiefs of barons in revolt against him. See Capaccio.)

The origin of the name "Ottati" is up for grabs. It may come:
(1) from  the Latin word "optatus", meaning desired;
(2) from the abundance of figs, called "ottati";
(3) from the devotion to St. Ottato, bishop of Milevi, once venerated in this area.
(It seems to me if you go with "a Bishop who once desired figs," you've got a winner).


The best known attractions are the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Cordoneto, established just below the town in the 15th century and then expanded in the 18th, and the monastery of San Domenico built in the year 1480. It is built around a beautiful cloister (photo, left) with a two-level colonnade.

Ottati is also home to a rather unusual and permanent display of open-air street art (photo, below); there are around 80 such separate murals spread around the town, adorning walls and the façades of buildings, including the town hall. The murals are by local artists. Ottati is also known for being the point of departure to drive up to the Rifugio Panormo. I do so get a kick out of blurbs like this from anonymous travel literature on the internet:


Do not miss "Rifugio Panormo" the highest peak of the Alburni Mounts; it will surprise you with incredible green scenarios and the huge variety of plants and  flowers colouring the valley. It is ideal to spend some time relaxing in harmony with an uncontaminated nature!
Actually, the thing I read said (in its quaint almost-English fashion) "in harness with," not "in harmony with", but you never know. That Rifugio bills itself as a hotel/restaurant, and it is indeed in a beautiful setting. If you can get up there to enjoy it, you really should. It is one of the two large obviously manmade structures on the Alburni plateau (the other is the astronomical observatory, accessible from Sant'Angelo a Fasanella) but "Don't miss" makes it sound as if it's right across the street. It's not. It is dead up-hill to 1700 meters for about 4 miles and over a road that should blush to call itself paved. Drive south out of Ottato to the cemetery (that's right, the cemetery!), turn up, put your mule in low gear and go for it. The so-called road is unlighted, has no reflectors on the sides and passes through thick woods at times; thus, do NOT drive up at night. Also be prepared to argue with livestock over the right of way. Be nice to them; you may need them and that harness I mentioned in order to get back.

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Sant'Angelo a Fasanella (5)

Sant'Angelo a Fasanella (#5 on the map) is at 650 meters on the southern slope of the Alburni massif in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. The town has a population of about 800. The name of Sant'Angelo a Fasanella is the result of the union of the name of Fasanella, an ancient city destroyed by the troops of the emperor Frederick II in 1247 (see Ottati, above) and the farmhouse of Sant'Angelo. The name Fasanella, itself, derives from the name of an even more ancient Greek city, Phasis, that lay in the Caucasus on the border between Asia Minor and the Colchis region (the modern nation of Georgia). Today, Sant'Angelo a Fasanella is divided into two districts, Sopralattera and Bassolattera. The old town center is rich with religious monuments such as the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, Madonna della Pietà, Il Nome di Dio, and the ex-monastery of San Francesco, which once housed a Carmelite order and now belongs to the town administration. In the valley at the foot of the Alburni mountains, you can wander among the ruins of Fasanella and see the ruins of ancient dwellings and the remains of a Roman bridge at Sorgente Auso. The crest of the town bears the image of a pheasant. 

Sant'Angelo a Fasanella is also the easiest point of departure for an item of extreme historical interest—the stone sculpture of the Antece (the "Old One"—see this link). It is hewn to life-size, and is at 1125 meters. You have to be in pretty good shape to get up there. (In spite of what some local literature says, it is probably not an "ancient god" but a version of a guardian warrior. It is of uncertain age, but is probably at least 2,000 years old.) The whole area is a gigantic karst area (see this link) and offers a great number of caves. Sant'Angelo a Fasanella, specifically, has the Grotta del Auso, the Grotta del Fumo and the Grotta of San Michele Arcangelo, seat of an ancient Benedictine community from the IX century. There are religious festivals such as the procession of the Madonna of the Mountains. In the summer there are gastronomic and environmental exhibits.

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Corleto Monforte (6)

Corleto Monforte (#6 0n the map) is at 678 meters on the southeastern slope of the Alburni plateau. The town has about 700 inhabitants. Corleto was probably founded by the ancient Lucanians in the 5th century BC in an area previously inhabited by Greek settlers. Evidence of this historical interaction is the presence of numerous artifacts found in the area. It is in an area where Greek, Lucanian, and then Roman spheres of influence overlapped. The name of the town derives from coryletum, referring to corylus avella, the hazelnut tree. (It is not the only town in Campania named for the hazelnut; see Avella.)



The growth of Corleto Monforte was influenced by the presence of the hospital of San Zaccaria, which had direct links with the hospital of the Santo Spirito in Rome, itself founded by Pope Innocent III in 1200. The medieval structures and walls left standing and the small streets combine to make Corleto a tiny medieval jewel. The historical center is full of interesting architecture, the imposing tower (photo, left) and the church of Saints Filippo and Giacomo (Phillip and James), where, legend has it, a book of prayers was left here by Saint Peter in his travels.

The town is the site of an important museum, the Museo Naturalistico degli Alburni,  (the Museum of Natural History of the Alburni). It is another example of the splendid small museums that are such a pleasure to find around here. (See the items on Roccagloriosa and Padula.) The museum has been open for about 15 years; the premises are relatively small but they are jam-packed in sections dedicated to entymology, mammals, ornithology, amphibians, reptiles and crustaceans. There is a lecture and conference hall.

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Sicignano degli Alburni (7)

Sicignano degli Alburni (#7 on map)  is at 610 meters on the NE slope of the Alburni massif. With a population of about 3500, it is a bit larger than the other towns mentioned above. Just outside the town there is an archaeological site where visitors can find a Roman necropolis. The town looks down over the Tanagro river and the beginning of the Vallo di Diano plain; the necropolis is consistent with a number of other such important finds in this part of what used to be ancient Lucania. (Also see the entry on the Archaeological Museum of Western Lucania.) Until 1923 the town was named simply Sicignano; why they decided to to add the obvious "of the Alburni" is anyone's guess. Mine was that it avoided confusion with other towns named Sicignano in Italy, but it turns out that there are no others.

During the Middle Ages the town was fortified with walls and a polygonal castle, Castello Giusso (photo, right), named for the powerful feudal family that held the town in fief. The Capuchin monastery and the church of St. Matthew with its beautiful baroque bell tower are also of interest. The church contains precious sculptures dating back to the 1600s as well as some Renaissance paintings. The town has a yearly chestnut festival in October.


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Petina   (8)

Petina (#8 on the map) is at 642 meters on the NE slope of the Alburni massif. Like Sicignano (above) the town overlooks the Tanagro river and the beginning of the Vallo di Diano plain. The town has about 1200 inhabitants. It is joined to the other towns mentioned above by the road that circles that massif, but less obviously is also joined directly to Sant' Angelo a Fasanella (#5 on map) on the other side pf the massif by a steep road up and over the top, passing across the plateau and the astronomical observatory (photo, below). The road is paved but unlighted with no barriers on the sides. You should not drive it at night. It's a strange irony when the best place to view the heavens is an observatory that is difficult to get to at night! What can I say? Go early and camp over until the next day. (Actually the best road up to and down from the observatory is from the other side at Sant' Angelo a Fasanella. That way, you have a chance, even in the dark. A convoy with blazing headlights is even better.)

Pliny mentioned this area in his writings, describing the thick forests of Silver Fir that have given Petina its name (abies pectinata). The oldest monument in Petina is the monastery of Sant' Onofrio, patron saint of the town. There is another monastery, Cava de' Tirreni, dating from 1174 as well as the Abbey of Montevergine (from 1192) (not to be confused with the site of the same name in the Campanian province of Avellino). Other sites in Petina worth visiting are the church of San Nicola di Bari, the Old Fountain, and the Chapel of the Corpus Domini. Favorite foodstuffs of Petina include wild strawberries and local caciocavallo cheese, sausages and bread.

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Polla (9)

Polla is at 468 meters on the SE perimeter of the Alburni massif (#9 on the map). It completes the "ring" of towns around the plateau, the premise of this page. The town actually straddles the Tanagro river and is in the valley between the Alburni plateau and that part of the southern Appenines called the Maddalena mountains. Polla is the point at which ancient Lucanian shepherds drove their flocks across the river and up onto the plateau during the seasonal migrations know as the transumanza. Polla borders on the Italian region of Basilicata. The word Polla, itself, means a spring; the immediate area has an abundance of springs and small water-courses that all flow into the Tanagro river. That is the likely etymology of the name of the town. More fanciful etymologies claim that it is from the name Insteia Polla, who, at the time of Nero, dedicated a mausoleum to her husband, Gaio Uziano Rufo. The mausoleum was found nearby and she, indeed, had her name chiseled on it, so I guess you can believe what you want.

There are also a number of small caves that are geologically part of the same general karst system as the nearby Pertosa Grotto. Inhabited since ancient times, Polla became a town when the Romans, taking advantage of the town's proximity to their nearby Via Popilia, built a forum here. The Via Popilia led from Capua south along the Vallo di Diano plain and down to Rhegium on the Straits of Messina. Recent archaeology has uncovered the so-called "Polla Tablet," a partially intact stone tablet engraved with the "itinerary"—a list of stops along the route. Roman archaeological finds in the area also include a bridge over the Tanagro; it is certainly the most obvious bit of Roman construction in the town since it is still in use! (photo, right)

Polla was drastically reduced in size in the Middle Ages, when it was occupied by the Normans. Today Polla is one of the most important towns of the area, with a population of over 5,000. There are also more recent aristocratic villas in the town center and a sanctuary and monastery dedicated to Sant' Antonio built at the behest of Tommaso Sanseverino, founder of the Padula Charterhouse a few miles to the south. The sanctuary in Polla contains a remarkable array of forty paintings by Sicilian painter, Michele Ragolìa (c.1625-1686), finished in 1666. They are displayed in three parallel rows on the nave.
photo: Roman bridge-Maxdan
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Roscigno (10)

Roscigno is at 574 meters on the slopes of Mount Pruno (#10 on map) just to the SW of the Alburni massif, as that plateau starts to descend into the Vallo di Diano and the hills farther to the south in the Cilento. The town has about 900 inhabitants. Mt. Pruno is also known locally as the balcone (balcony) of the Alburni, jutting out as it does and, indeed, providing a strategic look-out point for ancient peoples; they could watch the approaches from the Vallo di Diano and the Tanagro river valley to the east as well as check traffic in and out of the great Greek center of Paestum and coastal areas to the west.

The town, itself, is mentioned as "Russino" in documents from 1086; the town formed around a Benedictine monastery from that period. The name comes either from russignuolo, the local dialect word for "nightingale" or from the Latin, ruscidus, meaning a fountain or spring. Today, there is a new town and an old town; the old town was abandoned in the early 1900s because of incessant landslides.

      
Mount Pruno, the height above the town is at 879 meters and boasts an interesting archaeological site, that of the pre-Roman ancient Lucanians. The Lucanians are thought to have been an offshoot of the fierce Samnites, from farther to the north and mortal enemies of the Romans. By the mid-500s BC, these Lucanian descendants had already settled in "Lucania" (in modern Italy, that covers roughly the province of Basilicata and parts of modern-day Campania) and had interrupted the lives of the Greek colonies on the coast at Paestum and Velia. The nucleus of the original Lucanian settlement is likely to have been as early as the mid-600s BC, which means that they were probably watching from the hills when the first Greek colonists showed up. "There goes the neighborhood," some old Lucanian is sure to have grumbled in Oscan. "No doubt," said a couple of early Romans in Latin much farther to the north. "But you ain't seen nothin' yet."

(See also the entries on Roccagloriosa and Pastoralism & the Lucanians.)

Archaeological research on Mt. Pruno started in 1938. The site was fortified by a substantial double wall, about 70 meters of which have been excavated thus far. As well, traces of the town streets may still be seen, as can remnants of dwellings (including some with many rooms, indicating perhaps the social status of those who lived in them. Also, jewelry, pottery and weapons have been recovered from tombs. One of the tombs (called "The Tomb of the Prince") was particularly rich in artifacts, some of which are of Greek and even Etruscan manufacture. The site is still under active research by teams from the universities of Naples and Salerno; as well, major museums in both of those cities hold artifacts from Mt. Pruno. The town of Rosigno, itself, maintains a tiny museum that documents local archaeology (photo, above). The Lucanian town seems to have been abandoned abruptly around 200 BC, which is consistent with Lucanian history in general; that is when the Romans finally put their wars with Carthage to rest and started solidifying their grasp on the entire peninsula.

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Aquara (11)

Aquara (#11 on map) is at 500 meters overlooking the Calore river valley just to the west of the Alburni massif in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park. An ancient Roman settlement has been uncovered in nearby Madonna del Piano, and some sources say that the site was originally settled by the Greeks. That would certainly not be unusual since major centers of Magna Grecia, the Greek colonies at Poseidonia (Paestum) and Elea (Velia), are but a few miles distant. The Greeks moved in around 600 BC, ran off the proto-Lucanian natives and built their fine cities. Then, around 200 years later, the Lucanians returned (presumably a lot less "proto-" and much better armed!) and displaced the Greeks, who then took to the hills and founded a number of centers that make up the community of small hill towns in the Cilento. So Aquara may have been Greek, although I don't know of any solid archaeology to back that up.

        Aquara. The view is to the west.
In any event, the juiciest history is from the Middle Ages. After the Romans, the area was subject to the usual parade of rulers: the Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, and Normans (see Easy Steps to the Dark Ages). The Aquara castle, itself, was originally built by Saracen (Arab) invaders. That would have been sometime in the 1100s when the Arabs had still not given up entirely on establishing a colonial foothold on the mainland of Italy even though they had just been ousted from Sicily by the Normans. (The hit-and-run plunder/kidnapping tactics of Saracen pirates along the coasts of the mainland are more associated with Ottoman Turkish pirates of later centuries (1400s-1600s) well after Arab-Muslim power had faded.) The Normans, however, eventually moved into the area to incorporate it into the fledgling "Kingdom of Sicily" (the future Kingdom of Naples).

The period of the Normans and their successors, the Hohenstaufens (foremost of whom was Holy Roman emperor, Frederick II) was one in which feudalism was the defining social and economic system in the south. Aquara and virtually all other places in the area were at one time or another the fiefs of prominent lords, including Mr. Norman, himself, Robert of Hauteville (known as Robert "Guiscard"—the resourceful), as well as later and prominent names such as Guglielmo Sanseverino, perhaps the best known of all southern Italian feudal lords of the Middle Ages. It was he who was at the heart of the large-scale revolt of barons against the imperial rule of Frederick. Fred pretty much mopped up most of the rebels (see Capaccio) in 1246-49, which is why the descriptions of so many towns in the Cilento refer to the places as having been "destroyed by Frederick II."

Yet, Fredrick died in 1250 and they rebuilt the Aquara castle in 1251 (Feudalism dies hard!). Then, in the 14th century the decaying medieval Benedictine monastery was rebuilt and given a century later (in 1503), together with the castle, to Ettore Fieramosca as a prize for defeating the French in the so-called "Challenge of Barletta," a rather bizarre episode in a pivotal event in the history of southern Italy. That requires some explanation.

You can read in the entries on Aragonese rule in Naples and the one on the "Italian Wars" of the early 1500s that the entire peninsula (at least the parts that didn't belong to the Pope) was up for grabs. The conflict was between France and Spain over who would get what part of Italy, a place that was obviously paying a heavy price for not developing into a single, viable nation state. In 1500 the French and newly united Spain (through dynastic union—the marriage in 1469 of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon)* concluded the Pact of Granada, which sliced up southern Italy into four provinces: Campania, Abruzzo, Puglia e Calabria, the first two (containing the city of Naples—in Campania) going to France and the latter two going to Spain.

*note: Technically, the formidable Crown of Aragon and the House of Castile retained their respective laws and institutions until 1516 when emperor Charles V created a modern united Spain.

Somehow the pact-drawer-uppers left out of the equation the fact that Alfonso of Aragon had previously created two additional southern provinces, now in geopolitical limbo. The treaty was thus never enforced; it was a mess. What to do, what to do. The French and Spanish thought it over at great length and did the next best thing to negotiating—they fought it out on the battlefield. The Battle of Cerignola (in Apulia, near Foggia) took place on April 28, 1503. The French forces relied on cavalry, artillery and infantry—the famed Swiss Landesknechte, the pikemen. The Spanish employed the arquebus (alias harkbus or hackbut, a muzzle-loaded, early version of the musket and rifle); it was the first use of personal firearms in warfare. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Spanish. Cerignola marked the beginning of united-Spanish military power in Europe and was the first battle in the western world decided largely through the use of gunpowder and small arms. It also settled the future of southern Italy for the next 200 years. It was to be Spanish.

2003 Italian postage stamp
commemorating the 500th
anniversary of the Challenge.


The bizarre "Challege of Barletta" occurred on 15 February 1503. It  was somewhat of a run-up to the main event, the battle of Cerignola, itself. It was not the only prelim on the card, but it is the most famous, rendered so in literature by Massimo d'Azeglio  (1798-1866), Italian patriot, politician, son-in-law of Alessandro Manzoni, and coiner of arguably the most famous phrase of the Risorgimento (the movement to unify Italy), "We have created Italy; now we have to create Italians." In 1833 he published Ettore Fieramosca, o la disfida di Barletta [Ettore Fieramosca, or the Challenge of Barletta]. The first few months of 1503 were taken up by preening, posturing and sabre-rattling on all sides, but especially by French knights trash-talking Spanish knights (mostly Italians), probably on the order of "Well, sure, if you're going to use new-fangled weapons of mass destruction! Oooohhh! Arquebusses! Bang-bang, you're dead! I'm soooo scared! But if you had any cojones—hey, that's Spanish, so you should understand that, you lackies—we'd fight like real men!" So on 13 February, 1503, 13 French knights and 13 Italian knights did, indeed, take it outside: the knights met on the field of honor in a real-life, last-one-in-history, knock-down-drag-out, glorious jousting and sword-fighting tournament at Barletta near Trani on the Adriatic. The Italians, led by Ettore Fieramosca, won. (OK, it wasn't really that bloodthirsty. They jousted like gentlemen and when they got knocked off their horses and onto their asses, they went at it with swords and battle-axes. No one was killed, but there were a few wounded. The French losers were taken prisoners and held for ransom, as per agreement. The French had been so sure of victory that they had brought no coin of the realm with them. Not even a credit card of the realm. Never leave home without one.) Anyway, that's how Ettore wound up with the swell castle in Aquara.


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