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Along State Highway 18

Itinerary: Along State Highway 18

It was the summer of 1850, when a young English noblewoman, with her mother and their servants, reached Nocera by train, this being at that time the last station of the newly built Borbonic railway, and continued by carriage towards the town of La Cava. Every year, up until 1859, she would pass the summer there, guest of the noble Orilia family.

In the opening passages of her diary, recently translated into Italian by Federico Guida, there are fleeting impressions of the towns and villages crossed by the railway line, from Naples to Nocera de’ Pagani, the very same as those of our brief itinerary, in the same direction: " ... Scafati, where extensive cotton manufactures and printing establishments are erected on the Sarno, producing excellent goods; Angri, the property of the wealthy Duca of that name, who has a fine chateau in the neighbourhood, and whose Duchessa, good as she was lovely, was one of the Neapolitan beauties celebrated in Lady Blessington's Idler in Italy, as Principessa di Centola, her daughters being the reigning belles of the present day. Next came Nocera dei Pagani, and five minutes later, Nocera proper, a [. . .] memento of the Pelasgi Sarrastes, who are said to have founded in when they settled at an early period on the Sarno".

Two thousand years previously, in Scafati itself; along the long street axis Nuceria-Pornpeios, the edili Marcus Antonius and Caius Cornelius Fuscus, had placed two milestones, which have been found beneath the foundation layers of the modern State Highway 18, dedicated to the eternal memory of the reconstruction, of the bridge over the river Sarno at their expense, and marking the distance of seven miles from the great Nuceria Alfaterna.

Thus our brief trip begins at Scafati: we may choose an archaeological itinerary with a visit to Villa Prete, a rustic surburban Roman villa, buried by the Vesuvian eruption of 79 AD, and belonging to Popidio Narcisse Maiore, or allow ourselves to be attracted by the interminable procession of windows and balconies of the Royal Borbonic Gunpowder Factory. The imposing building was constructed, between 1850 and 1858, on the desire of Ferdinando II.

In September 1858, the work was completed: a painting of the inauguration ceremony by Giovanni Serritelli has come down to us. He immortalised the deviation of the tumultuous waters of the Sarno into a new course. Majestic and severe in its measured architectural lines, at the time, perhaps, it stood out on the horizon of the Monti Lattari, which open towards the ager nucerinus. After decades of abandonment and decline, the building is now finally in restoration, thanks to the collaboration of various Civic Authorities and Institutions.

It will soon return to occupy a place in the foreground of the architectural panorama of the Agro Nocerino-Sarnese, with the new functional organisation of the space as the site of a museum and of Master's specialisation courses.

The Castello Doria, at Angri, which passed from owner to owner until the first half of the 17th century when it came to Marcantonio Doria, has also changed in its use. Ceded to the state by the Princes from which its name derives in 1910, today it is the site of the Town Hall. However, it still preserves the austere and solemn aspect of a grandiose Baroque building which it was given by the architect Antonio Francesconi at the end of the century of the Age of Enlightenment. Furnished with a turret and with a moat, it faces onto luxuriant gardens, located in a scenic frontal position. To the west, the exceptional Collegiata of San Giovanni, the magnificent Durazzesco-Catalan doorways and the double lancet windows which adorn some patrician residences of the streets in the historical centre dominate.

Sant'Egidio del Monte Albino, located on the high ground of on the spur of Monte Albino towards the east, has developed around the ancient Abbey of Santa Maria Maddalena in Armillis, starting, perhaps in the high medieval period, on possible remains of a late-Republican Roman domus. Inside, the church boasts works of the painters Francesco Solimena and Andrea da Salerno. In the adjacent piazzetta, from time immemorial there has been a marble Roman fountain, from the Augustian Age, showing the personification of the river Sarno, lying, among marsh reeds. The god holds an amphora in his left hand, from which flow copius quantities of water.

Thence one reaches Pagani where without any doubt the religious, architectural and anthropo-cultural scene is dominated by the complex of Sant'Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, including the Basilica, the house of the Redentoristi, and the annex of Museo Alfonsiano.

In the Basilica, which is an eighteenth century construction from a project of the architect Cimafonte, in 1756, the reliquaries-of the founder are preserved.

The Festa della Madonna delle Galline is most lively. Tradition would have her the discoverer of the wooden panel with the image of Maria, hidden perhaps for tear of the iconoclast fury of the Saracens. This is the legend, while the real protagonists of the religious folklore are the tammorrari who come from all the Agro and Vesuvian towns to exhibit themselves our traditional dances and songs.

The old royal roadway, in the area of the Convent of Santa Chiara, winds up above Nocera lnferiore, where the left-hand side is dominated by the hill of the Parco, with the Norman-Swablan pentagonal tower and the restored Castello Fienga, once a sumptuous patrician residence, today the site of the institution of Patto dell’Agro Nocerino Sarnese.

It will also soon host the very rich homonymous archaeological collection.

The ancient castle, the origins of which are not completely clear, was one of the bulwarks of the Longobard principality of Salerno.

The true protagonist of the history of the town up to the beginning of the 17th century, it was transformed by the Dukes of Carafa into a pleasantly agreeable residence. On the slopes of the hill, in 1758, on that which remained of the Ducal Palace, the colossal Caserma Carlo III (today Caserma Tofano) was inaugurated. A true military headquarters for more than two centuries, it is now awaiting a new architectural and functional identity.

On the left side of State Highway 18, a little after the town-centre, a slightly sloping turning leads to the settlement of the Vescovado.

Marked by the restored Diocesan Seminary (prestigious site of the offices of the Curia) by the splendid borgeois buildings of the eighteenth century, it also shows, in a higher position along the axis, the baroque bell tower erected in 1724 on the plans of Francesco Solimena.

From here one enters the Bishop's Palace and the Cathedral of San Prisco (originally dedicated to San Marco Evangelista). Inside, besides eighteenth century canvasses, the side Chapel of the Rosario contains the fresco of Paradise, carried out by Angelo and Francesco Solimena.

Another mile to the east, in the heart of Nocera Superiore, the cupola and the cylinder of the Rotonda stand out.

The latter is the Paleo-Christian Baptistry of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Erected at about the middle of the 6th century AD by anonymous Byzantine master builders, it obliterated a grandiose architectural complex of the Imperial age of which the archaeological excavations have shown fragments of walls and floors in polich rome mosaic, both outside and along the internal walkway of the building.

However, what is really breathtaking are the fifteen precious double columns and the composite capitels which support the small archivolts: entering at sunrise or at sunset, when the sun's rays illuminate the alabaster and the cipollino marble. The few remaining Marian frescoes take on a new light.

Centuries before, Nuceria had been the rival and later on the friend of Rome: the magnificence, recalled in the literary sources, is also testified by the Hellenic-Roman Theatre of Pareti, still far from a definitive sistemation and in the monumental Necropolis of Pizzone, which has a via cava, that is, a beaten road with three carriageways adorned on both sides with large funereal sepulchres, sarcophagi and box tombs chronologically datable to between the 2nd century AD and the late Imperial age.

Here, next to the gens Numisia and Cornelia, there is the cenotaph of Quinto Lutazio Varo: a seventeen-year-old kidnapped by the fury of the terrible Naiads. A double epigraph verse, in Greek and Latin still exhorts the passerby to stay a while.

Unaware of the enormous vestiges, then still buried, perhaps travelling along the torrent of Cavaiola in that season of 1850, our anonymous English diarist, accompanied by the sound of the horses running along the Strada delle Calabrie, left the valleys and went up, passing the Camerelle turn, towards the city which would give her hospitality.

From "Itinerari culturali della Valle del Sarno" Patto dell'Agro S.p.A. 2003

Realizzato dalla Soprintendenza Beni Archeologici Salerno-Avellino e Benevento, nell'ambito del progetto pilota per la gestione dei beni complessi della Valle del Sarno di cui all'Intesa Istituzionale di Programma, finanziata dalla Regione Campania nell'ambito dell'Accordo di Programma Quadro - II atto integrativo all'APQ 'Sviluppo Locale'.

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