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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Aug 2011 add: Oct 2015
1. Mt. Taburno & Montesárchio
2. Taburno Regional Park
Burial sites containing metal funerary objects on Mt. Taburno and the area of modern Montesárchio attest to settlements dating back to the end of the first Iron Age (c. 900 BC). Later, beginning around 700 BC, more ornate artifacts, pottery, coins, and other evidence indicate influences from and exchanges with the new Greek enclaves along the Italian coast, i.e. Magna Grecia. The inhabitants of Taburno were identifiably what we now call the Caudine Samnites, part of the larger Samnite group.
Mt. Taburno (elev. 1400 m.) is at the west side of
the massif. Montesárchio is the town visible in the
lower-right quadrant just at the beginning of the
slopes. The Caudine Valley runs just below the town.
(Also see photo, below.)
The site on the slopes of Mt. Taburno has been fortified from ancient times, and the modern town is still characterized by a large castle and an adjacent cylindrical tower (photo, below). They are positioned strategically on the slopes of the mountain such that they dominate the approaches to the Caudine Valley (site of a famous military encounter between the Romans and the Samnites). (The Samnite name for their settlement on the slopes was "Caudium"; the Romans later changed the name to "Mons Arcis"—thus, "Montesárchio".)
The larger castle is the last in a series of fortifications that for many centuries guarded the strategic connection between the Campanian plain and the Appenine interior. The cylindrical tower on the west side of the castle and separated from it was obviously built to be a watch tower of some sort. It is much the older of the two structures and is probably Samnite in origin. After the fall of Rome, the Longobards in the 8th century strengthened the position in order to better withstand the forces of Charlemagne, and that was what developed into the large fortress/castle that one sees today. (Such Longobard defensive measures proved effective since Charlemagne eventually gave up in his attempts to unite the entire peninsula.)
After the Longobards, Montesárchio was then occupied by the Normans (Roger II, founder of the Kingdom of Sicily) in 1137 and then by Frederick II (early 1200s). Under the Angevins, Montesárchio was part of the Della Leonessa fief (1268); in 1460, under the Aragonese, it passed to the counts of Carafa and then in 1540 to the princes of d'Avalos. It was under the Aragonese that the cylindrical tower was restructured into the form evident today; thus, the term still used today—the "Aragonese Tower". By the 12th century Montesárchio was a typical medieval hill-town protected by the older tower, the newer castle, and a defensive wall. It wasn't until much later that the populace started to creep down the slopes to where the modern town of Montesárchio lies.
The Spanish refortified some of the site in the 1500s, although the major emphasis of the Spanish viceroys such as Toledo was on coastal defenses to protect the Bay of Naples, itself. During the Bourbon rule of Naples in the mid-1700s, the tower was a prison, and during the Risorgimento held illustrious "patriot" prisoners such as Carlo Poerio, Nicola Nisco, and Michele Pironte. During the early years of the 20th century, the premises were a penitentiary and, later, even an orphanage. In 1994, the complex was expropriated by the Ministry of Culture and converted into the National Archaeological Museum of Caudine Samnium.
Not far from Montesárchio—out of the Caudine Valley, right around the corner of the mountain to the north—is a town called Sant' Agata de' Goti. It blocks entrance from the Volturno Valley to the Caudine Valley and the highlands in the interior, which is what it was supposed to do when it was still a pre-Roman Samnite town called Saticula. It was the "other" Caudine Samnite fortress town in the area. Samnite tombs from around 700 BC have been identified. The entire area, of course, is overlaid with later Roman fragments; in this area, at least, such remains tend not to be massive and monumental Roman masonry, but Roman roadbeds, some tombs and a few rustic farmhouses.
The strange name, Sant' Agata de' Goti, ("of the Goths") does not derive from the Gothic presence in Italy in the 6th century, but rather from De Goth, the name of the French family that received it in fief from Robert of Anjou in the 1300s.
add. Oct 2015The Taburno massif evident above Montesarchio in the photo at the top of this page has since 2002 formed the Regional Nature Park of Taburno-Camposauro. It extends for about 12,000+ hectares (30,000 acres/47 sq. miles) over most of the massif to include the other principle peaks, Camposauro (1388 m), Alto Rotondi (1305 m), Sant'Angelo (1189 m) and Pentime (1170 m). The total population of the 14 inhabited centers within the park premises is 25,000. The area is of considerable interest from the point of view of flora and fauna; historical interest (it was an Oscan-Samnite stronghold in the days when Rome was still warring with competing tribes for the control of Italy; and geological interest—the massif is limestone and hosts a number of grottoes such as San Simeone and San Mauro, both of which have served as "cave churches" as well as emergency shelters for shepherds throughout the centuries and even bomb shelters in WWII.
It is a marvelous place to go hiking. The park publishes an extensive list of available hiking trails, all with names such as Trail of the Mills, the Bandits, Wine, etc. The lists carry (in Italian) descriptions of the trails and downloadable handy maps. That list off-site at this link.
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