A Hike in the Partenio Mountains
As noted in the entry on the Partenio National Park, the park is the dark green patch in the image on the right and is...
...in the part of the Apennine chain called the Avella Mounts; that is, the hills north-west and above the town of Avellino, about 50 km inland from Naples. The park is about 15,000 hectares (c. 58 sq. miles) in area, entirely within the national region of Campania. There are 22 separate towns in the Partenio park, separated one from the next by not more than a mile or two...
The park is quite close to one of the best-known attractions in Italy, the sanctuary of Monte Vergine. Most visitors to the area, if they have but little time at their disposal, will no doubt choose to see that sanctuary, well worth the effort. Those with more time, however, might choose to wander off and take advantage of what else these mountains have to offer, such as a chance to hike up and see a little church dedicated to one of the early fathers of the Christian faith, Saint Sylvester, pope from 314 to 335. Not too much is known about him, but in much of the world, they celebrate his feast day, San Silvestro —New Year's Eve, coming up in just a few days (as I write this on December 26).
Arriving from Naples, the first turn into the park is the Avellino-West exit from the A-16 autostrada; then you start up on state road SS 374 toward the Montevergine monastery (but avoid that tun-off) and run along the 374 with the mountains on your left, to pass through Mercogliano and Ospedaletto d'Alpinolo to Summonte, a small town of just over 1500 persons. The town is conspicuous for the presence of a large tower (pictured, left), once part of a fortress built in the 11th century and now the site of a museum displaying medieval weapons. The town is the administrative headquarters of the national park.
Fulvio Salvi, head of Napoli Underground, took it upon himself to follow the hiking trail that leads from Summonte up to the rock church of San Silvestro. A complete account of his hike (including additional photos) is on his Napoli Underground website. (His article includes GPS coordinates. He followed a 10 km/6 mile ring route, up and back. It can be tough in places, but not overly strenuous. He started at the Urupetra shelter (pictured, right - 742 meters/c.2300 feet a.s.l.) just in from the west (left) side of the road as you pass through Summonte on the way to the next small town. If you start up from the shelter, you are in a potentially confusing situation; the Partenio National Park has about 30 hiking trails, one of which, for example, as you start up the San Silvestro trail will swing up and back to the Monte Vergine sanctuary, 2 km behind you. There are other detours, as well, so you have to keep your eyes on the signs put up by the CAI (Italian Alpine Club); they are red and white with arrows and indications of distance. Fortunately, there are a number of them in the immediate area, and, indeed, larger maps posted on display boards. The CAI trail to the church is number 24. You can't get lost (he said...). Fulvio writes:
...The most interesting surprise of the day came almost at the end. Around 1.5 km from the end there was a stone gateway mounted by a papal coat of arms that opened onto a small square where there was a small stone church. It goes back to the 11th century and was dedicated to Pope (and saint) Silvester. The structure, itself, consists of just a single facade fronting two levels: at the lower level the church is the entrance to the grotto and fount of miracles and a basin for the faithful (the waters were reputed to have curative properties); on the second level there must have been the bronze bell traditionally rung by pilgrims to tell the townsfolk in nearby Summonte, below, of their presence...First, you see the stone gateway (image, above) then the arch, close-up, and then the church, itself. Depending on the time of the year, the town of Summonte sponsors group hikes up to the church, where it serves as a venue not just for religious services but concerts and folk-lore events, as well. Also, the whole area is one of the chestnut capitals of Italy. The hike passes through a large orchard of chestnut trees. The nut is so highly prized that there is an Italian expression that translates as "to catch someone with his hands in the chestnuts," meaning roughly "to catch someone red-handed." Sylvester lived in interesting times for early Christians; he witnessed the abdication of Diocletian, saw the triumph of Constantine and was pope during the council of Nicaea in 325. The First Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council of the Christian church, resulting in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed. And, no, Nicaea is not Latin for Nice, so the Nicene Creed was not formulated on the French riviera, and that's a relief. It's in Turkey.
photos - bottom 4: Napoli Underground