Inserted in the guide of “The most beautiful villages in Italy 2016. The charm of hidden Italy” , Montesarchio , in the province of Benevento , stands on a dominant and suggestive hill. Walking through the village, you can free your mind and relive a medieval history, all to be admired and you will discover a fortification that dominates the landscape.
Montesarchio is the ancient Samnite “Caudium” , which took part in the struggle against Rome and which took part in the well-known event of the Caudine Forks , year 321 BC.
The village is fortified and above all characterized by numerous modifications of both the inhabited area and the Castle and the Tower. The last major renovation is attributed to the architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini in the 15th century.
Montesarchio was the feudal center of important families: the D’Angiò , the Della Leonessa , the Carafa and the D’Avalos .
The Tower and the Castle, which you can visit from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9.00 to 14.00, were transformed into state prisons by Frederick II of Bourbon , and among the prisoners, you can also admire the cell that housed Carlo Poerio , patriot for ten years . and Italian politician. The prison was then closed in 1950.
Among the various characters who have walked the streets of Montesarchio, stands out among all San Francesco , who passed through the village twice, who is credited with the desire to build the ancient Franciscan convent which today is the municipal seat. The small village is also a destination for the faithful and testimony of its religious history and the fact that it is crossed by the Via Francigena .
The Church and the Convent of San Francesco date back to 1339, renovated in the 18th century. The facade, which you will find yourself admiring, is the work of the well-known Luigi Vanvitelli , has three entrances, three naves and the central wooden door reproduces scenes from life of San Francesco.
Walking through the narrow but rich in history of Montesarchio, you will come across the majestic and symbolic fountain of Hercules alexicacos , dating back to the mid-19th century, which stands in Piazza Umberto I.
The statue of Hercules, placed at the top of a cup, at whose feet are four lions, will captivate you for its power and majesty.
The historic buildings of Montesarchio rise right in Piazza Umberto I; among these you will have the opportunity to visit Palazzo d’Avalos , enriched by the noble chapel, called the Church of the Purity (17th century), which is embellished with important works of art; the Church of the Annunzia , in which the Annunciation with San Giovanni Battista, San Severino, San Filippo Neri and San Domenico is depicted behind the main altar , the Clock Tower .
At the foot of the Montesarchio Castle, in the upper part of the Latovere district , you will find yourself in front of the Abbey of San Nicola, dating back to the twelfth century. Entering, on the main altar, there is a wonderful painting, depicting the “Deposition of Christ” by Giovanni Bernardo Lama.
National Archaeological Museum of Sannio Caudino
Montesarchio is dominated by a tower, also present in Roman times, and by the castle, of Lombard origin. The medieval castle is today the National Archaeological Museum of Sannio Caudino .
The museum is dedicated to the history of the Caudina Valley and to the archaeological remains of the most important centers: Caudium (Montesarchio), Saticula (Sant’Agata de ‘Goti), Telesia (San Salvatore Telesino). Of particular interest are the numerous figured vases of Attic and Italiot production – especially craters – found in tombs dating back to the V-IV century BC, among the most important works is the splendid Crater of Assteas.
The crater of the ceramographer Assteas , depicting the ” Rape of Europa “ by Zeus transformed into a bull, from the 4th century BC. This crater has been called ” the most beautiful vase in the world “.
The Tower, on the other hand, is the strong point of the walls that surround Montesarchio; originally it had the function of a lookout tower.
Both, both the Tower and the Castle, were part of a complex of structures that protected the valley from above. The modifications of the Normans gave them the appearance that you can still admire today.
Bizarre story of the Assteas Crater
The crater was found in the early 70s of the twentieth century in Sant’Agata de ‘Goti (in the province of Benevento), a city built on the ruins of the ancient Saticula , by a construction worker, during excavation works for the sewer system. The carpenter first illegally appropriated the find, then took it home, took some self-portraits with a color Polaroid and finally sold it on the black market for a million lire and a pig .
The crater then followed the chain of a criminal organization dedicated to the international trafficking of historical artifacts, being deposited in Switzerland awaiting a buyer. From here, “the Rape of Europa” was sold to the Getty Museum (Malibu, California). Here it was exhibited from 1981 to 2005.
Following long and complex investigations by the Carabinieri (Cultural Heritage Protection Command) it was possible to bring the crater back to Italy, thanks to the overwhelming evidence of a Polaroid snapshot portraying the crater and the worker who had found it years ago.
Since 2007 the vase has been exhibited in various European cities: Rome, Montesarchio, Naples, Paestum, Paris, Sant’Agata de ‘Goti, Milan.
Currently the crater is on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Sannio Caudino.
Local gastronomy not to be missed
However, along with history you can also enjoy the gastronomic excellence of the area, you can discover the vineyards of the famous Aglianico and Falanghina , some of the best wines in Italy both with DOC brands , produced by one of the most important Italian wineries. You can taste the cold cuts and honey of the various and numerous farms in the area.
There are various reasons that will make you appreciate Montesarchio. They are characterized by a strong sense of hospitality, cultural stature and a profound sense of charity and solidarity that have adorned this wonderful village for centuries.
In Montesarchio you can taste famous Samnite recipes such as fusilli with ricotta and pasta and beans with pork rinds .
You will fall in love with Montesarchio, appreciating its history and discovering its flavors; however, finding yourself in front of the Clock Tower , moving to one side, you will see a Latin inscription, which reads: “Wanderer stop a moment, certainly once this hero was propitious to the inhabitants of the place Ercole alexicacos, now he is propitious to you Almighty God, go on happy if you don’t want to stop in a hospitable land, hello ” .