Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews       entry Dec  2015

Acerra is a town and comune (municipality - i.e. with its own city hall) of 60,000 persons in the Campania region about 15 km/9 miles northeast of Naples and about 9 km/5 m) northwest of Mt. Vesuvius. It lies in the Agro Acerrano plain, the eastern part of the large Campanian plain. Like many other towns in this part of Campania, it was originally an Oscan settlement. Oscans were an ancient Italic people from central Italy that spread to the south and were often at war with early Rome before they were finally stopped by the Romans in the 4th century B.C. (More at this link.) In the following centuries, Rome faced grave difficulties from the Carthaginian invasion (the Punic Wars) under Hannibal as well as later in 90 B.C. when the Social War threatened to splinter the integrity of the Roman state. In both cases, there were entire towns in Italy that sided with the anti-Roman factions (and were later severely punished by Rome). Acerra stayed loyal to Rome in both cases and was duly rewarded with full Roman citizenship. The town, however, then fell on hard times in 22 BC when emperor Augustus Caesar chose the site to implement his plan of "centurionization"—that is, dividing the territory into plots of land to give to returning veterans. Essentially, Acerra then became a military colony. Temples and other structures, including an amphitheater from the later Roman empire (that is, until 475 AD) have been discovered and are the subject of archaeological research.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Acerra suffered through the Gothic wars like everyone else in Italy, then was ruled by the Longobards (also Lombards) (not so bad, they say!) who built a castle there, then became part of a separate Duchy of Naples (who destroyed the castle!). Acerra was sacked by the Saracens (Arab raiders) in 881, then became part of the new Norman holdings in the south (they rebuilt the castle!), and then was a feudal fief ruled by a long string of the rich and infamous for centuries of southern Italian history, through one dynasty after another until feudalism was finally abolished in 1806.

The symbol of the city is the structure mentioned above, the Baronial Castle (pictured)built, destroyed, rebuilt and expanded over the centuries. It is a bit outside of the old Roman walls and is on top of an ancient Roman theater, pieces of which are visible from the grounds of the castle. Historical documents tell of the various episodes of modernization of the castle with the passage of time and, indeed, of the strategic role the structure played in various struggles between the central authority of the state and local feudal powers. An inventory from 1481 describes the structure as a "complete castle, large masonry moat full of water, fortified towers, various halls and chambers, storage cellars, stable, mill, chapel of 'S. Nicola'..." With the abolition of feudalism, the castle became the property and residence of the de Cardenas family. The town of Acerra acquired the castle as a city hall in 1920, and it remained such until the 1990s when it was opened to the public as part of the cultural heritage of the town.
Other noteworthy structures in Acerra include the Cathedral, originally built over an ancient temple of Hercules and remade in the 19th century; the Church of Corpus Domini (16th century), the Church of the Annunziata (15th century) and the Church of San Pietro (16th-17th centuries). Acerra is also near the archaeological site of Suessula. There are two cultural institutions that stand out: one is the City of Acerra Music School, not a conservatory nor even necessarily meant to prepare future professional musicians, but a civic organization that concentrates on involving citizens of the town in concert-band activities through music instruction and concerts. It was founded in 1862 and has maintained a solid reputation. The other is the Museum of Pulcinella, Folklore and Farming Culture (image, right), for Acerra claims to be the birthplace of the original Pulcinella, meaning of the first actor to play the role of the stereotypical Neapolitan masked figure in a scripted part (in the 1600s).

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