The Arch of Trajan - A Gateway to Benevento

The Arch of Trajan – A Gateway to Benevento

The Arch of Trajan A Gateway to Benevento The ancient Arch of Trajan seems slightly misplaced surrounded by modern roads and housing, but 2000 years ago it marked a triumph and brought prosperity to Benevento.

Witches of Benevento - Italian Notes

Witches of Benevento

How Benevento in Italy came to be associated with witch’s celebrations. And speculations on the link between Denmark and the witches of Benevento.

The sights of Benevento

Exploring the sights of Benevento despite of the wind and the rain of an uninviting autumn day.

A fierce wind blew from the North sending showers of cold and wet rain down over Benevento, which given the circumstances might as well have maintained its original pre-roman name. The Romans considered ‘Maleventum’ a bad omen and changed the name from foul to fair in the more welcoming Benevento, but occasionally winds and events are still evil by nature.

I was looking for the famous witches of Benevento, but the shops were closed and few felt tempted to take a stroll in the rain. Save for the odd umbrella, the broad Corso Garibaldi pedestrian street was deserted and only shadows could be seen flickering the narrow, crooked alleys of Centro Storico. All I managed to find was a couple of signboards advertising a Locanda delle Streghe, a Liquore Strega, and other shops and souvenirs sporting the local Ianara/strega brand. Modern witches seem to have sold their souls to Mammon, who may or may not be identical with the Medieval idea of Satan.

On the other hand, witches are known to blend in with the crowd in order to make their dark magic inconspicuous, so perhaps they were hiding undercover. The only crowd had gathered outside the Chiesa di Santa Sofia, which along with certain aspects of the witch cult bore witness of my long-bearded Lombard ancestors and their presence in Italy from 568-774 AD. Bells summoned locals to high mass in the beautifully simple and vaulted church, and quite a few women were in attendance, though no one – even vaguely – resembled a witch.

sights of Benevento

We decided to move on and entered the garden behind La Rocca dei Rettori, thinking it might contain the famous walnut tree, under which Italian witches, wizards and devils met to dance and celebrate under a full moon. In medieval times, the tree was said to infect the brain of any person who might fall asleep in its damp shade. Actually, you just have to look at the nuts for evidence of their affinity to the brain. Furthermore, a pagan rite is said to have existed around a sacred tree in Benevento in the 7th century. Knights were required to gallop towards the tree, grab a piece of snake’s skin hanging from it and pretend to eat it. Apparently, the pagan rite has been mixed up with a snake cult and the legends of the sacred walnut tree, and the up to 200 witches have been on trial for assembling under a tree in Benevento, but few people were actually executed for witchcraft in Catholic Italy.

The park behind Rocca dei Rettori offered a magnificent view, a lot of trees and quite a few distorted and disquieting figures that seemed to be frozen in the past. At least, they could not quite eliminate the image of Benevento as a diabolical place, which means there is still some magic to search for, while we along with millions of Italian children are waiting for La Befana and her small gifts of carbone.

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A stop on Via Traiana Italy

Driving along via Traiana Italy I was anxious to find a place to eat, after having read how Horace almost missed his dinner in Benevento 2000 years ago. 

The queen of the roads, Via Appia, was constructed more than 2250 years ago, at a time when men still dressed in sheets, and although the original stones are now covered in asphalt, the track remains, giving a nice kind of perspective to a road trip from Brindisi to Rome.

We started out on the Via Traiana – better known as the motorway between Bari and Napoli – around sunset and reached Benevento in darkness and pouring rain at nine in the evening. At that time the narrow streets in the old town were teeming with teenagers, who braved the weather and the deafening techno for a night out. And a ‘Festival internazionale di teatro universitario’ added to the youthful atmosphere.

A stop on Via Traiana ItalyI had read how Horace almost missed his dinner in Benevento 2000 years ago, and was eager to find a place to eat. In Satire V Horace wrote:

Next morning we to Beneventum wend.
Here, while our host did sedulously tend
His meagre thrushes roasting by the fire,
To the old roof the rushing flames aspire
Now, scrambling in confusion, you might see
How active all could in a moment be
The flames to smother, and the dinner save;
Snatched up by hungry guest, and trembling

With this is mind, we settled for Taverna Paradiso named after Sylvester Stallone’s movie Paradise Alley in Hell’s Kitchen, and they had neither open fire nor thrushes on the menu. Instead we were offered the usual plate of local salumi with a rather original potato pie followed by huge slabs of meat and baked baccala that tasted exactly like the potato pie. The standard was – to quote Horace – Aurea mediocritas or a golden mean.

The meal was rounded off with a Tiramisu con mele, that seemed like a successful marriage between traditional cream based Danish apple cake and tiramisu, and when I asked the cook how he had come by that recipe, he shrugged:

– My wife is from Austria, and her grandmother has always been making a lot of cakes. Apple cake is one of her specialities, which I have merged with Italian mascapone and tiramisu. It is quite simple.

So with the rain and an apple cake the travelling Danes ended up feeling quite at home in Benevento.

Other notes like a stop on Via Traiana Italy

Dinosaur tracks near Altamura

The sights of Benevento

End of the Appian Way in Brindisi

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