The region of Campania lies in Southern Italy, and has beautiful historic sites which showcase the Greco-Roman culture of the area. Campania’s capital, Naples, is situated in the Bay of Naples and meets the Mediterranean Sea. The archaeological and heritage sites in the Bay of Naples are a popular tourist attraction, where you can visit the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum or climb the very volcano that covered these towns. While many tourists explore the Bay of Naples, and maybe stretch further down into the Amalfi Coast, the majority neglect the historic towns which lie further inland, away from the Mediterranean. The city of Benevento has the typical Italian feel while not being crowded with tourists.
The History of Benevento
The city of Benevento, which is the capital of the province of Benevento, is approximately an hours drive inland from Naples, and is a perfectly small town that you can explore in a day or weekend. The name Benevento, which can be traced in the earlier Latin name Maleventum, means ‘good wind’. The site I’ve dug at for the past 3 summers (Aeclanum – which I’m writing a post all about now) is situated close by to Benevento, giving us a perfect opportunity to visit on a day trip and understand some of the links and similarities to Aeclanum.
The city is important due to its location on the Via Appia – a Roman road connecting Rome to southern Italy. While Pliny the Elder says that Benevento belonged to the Hirpini, Livy and Ptolemy attribute it to the Samnites. While many ancient scholars trace its history to ancient times, it first appears in historical sources as a powerful Samnite city, before being sacked in the Third Samnite War. While a Roman colony, Benevento was developed and strengthened, and it became the chief city of the Hirpini.
Things to see in Benevento
Well, some of the Roman architecture is still visible in Benevento, framed with modern developments and houses. The first year that I visited Benevento, a group of us booked into an air b’n’b on the Main Street and stayed a couple of nights – giving us plenty of time to explore the city at a slow pace (baring in mind much of the city closes with the siesta), as well as an opportunity to sample the night life (aka, drinking much too much sangria and dancing in the streets). Last summer, we had the luxury of a car, and were able to make the drive to and from Aeclanum for a day trip.
Must see sights in Benevento
The historic centre of Benevento
Benevento has an interesting mosaic of developments through the ages. The city is fairly compact, and while walking down the Main Street, you’ll find many of the attractions mentioned in this list. There are lots of shops and cafes to stop in by, dotted amongst the historic attractions.
The Arch of Trajan
The triumphal arch of Trajan stands amongst modern buildings right in the city centre. This arch was constructed in honour of Trajan, in AD114, marking the point which the Via Appia leads into the city. Each panel features reliefs of civil and military deeds of Trajan, including a frieze on the entablature showing Trajan’s triumphal procession after victory in Dacia, and panels showing Victories offering sacrifices. On the internal facade of the archway, Trajan is depicted in Benevento, with the left panel showing the sacrifice for the opening of the Via Traiana, while the right portrays the alimentaria.
The Roman Theatre
The Roman theatre of Benevento was built in the 2nd Century AD by the Emperor Hadrian. The theatre could hold 10-15,000 spectators, but it was later abandoned in the Lombard times. However, the theatre is still used today for some concerts and plays – testament to the incredible acoustics. A lot of the structure has been reconstructed, or rebuilt in some areas, the need to reinforce areas for modern use. However, some of the original construction still survives, including the cavea and parody. Walking around the theatre, you have access to all areas, including the entrances and orchestra. Upon your entrance and exit, the walkway is lined with statues and artefacts.
Entrance to the theatre is €2 per person.
Chiesa di Santa Sofia
As mentioned before, you’ll be stumbling on historic buildings in the historic centre without much effort. One building to look out for is the church of Santa Sofia, which is part of the Unesco World Heritage Site ‘Longobards in Italy, Places of Power (568-774AD). The church dates to around 760AD. It’s interesting due to the architecture of the church – it has a central hexagon which has column from the Temple of Isis positioned at each point.
Museo del Sannio
Utilising the cloister of the Chiesa di Santa Sofia, the Museo consists of a collection of artefacts dating from the Samnites to the 20th Century. The museum holds over 500 artefacts, ranging from sculptures and sarcophagi.
Rocca dei Rettori
The Castle of Manfredi is situated at the highest point of the historic centre of the city. The castle has been reconstructed and had additions to it over the years – it was utilised as a castle by Duke Arechis II of Benevento in 771 Ad, and developed and fortified since, however the site shows use since the Samnite period and was utilised by the Romans for an aqueduct. The Big Tower is the only original feature of the Lombard building.
Benevento has been one of my favourite spots to visit in Italy – there’s not the same rush of tourists that you will find at sites in coastal Campania, nor the bigger cities. The city is a good size to explore daily in a weekend, or as I did in 24 hrs. and therefore a perfect trip for those with a car to access from Naples, or a hop on a train.