We have been to Rocchetta Sant’Antonio twice and in two different seasons, according to us the best to capture the most intense atmospheres of the landscapes: autumn and spring. And in both cases we immediately understood why it was christened “the poetic” by Francesco De Sanctis in the book written the year after his electoral journey in this part of Italy to be elected to Parliament.
Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, the town of Maria Teresa Di Lascia
Our spring visit was made on the occasion of the XIII edition of the “Maria Teresa Di Lascia” national award, named after the original writer from Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, who died prematurely in 1994 at the age of 40, a generous woman, engaged in numerous battles in defense of the environment and human rights, as well as author for Feltrinelli of Passaggio in ombra, with which she won the Strega Prize in 1995. The National Award, established in 2006, is divided into three sections: Female Narrative, Non-fiction on themes Social and Children’s Literature.
And on March 30th, the Award Ceremony of Prize has taken place to the work Solo la luna ci ha visti passare by MAXIMA and Francesca Ghirardelli ed. Strade Blu Mondadori for the Children’s Literature Section in the presence of the President of the Scientific Jury Prof. Emma Giammattei, Professor of Italian Literature at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples, with the participation of the Jury of students from various local schools.
In the first tour of the village, instead, Mirko Mastrogiacomo accompanied us and during the walk told us the many stories that keeps this town at the crossroads of the territories of Puglia, Campania and Basilicata and that until 1938 was part of the province of Avellino.
Starting with those related to the spectacular boulders of Preta Longa, Murgia Spaccata and Caca Riavule. The name Caca Riavule (caca diavolo that is devil shit) arises from the legend linked to the Micaelic cult and the long struggle between the Archangel and the Devil: the elders narrate that the devil while escaping from the Gargano to escape the sword of Saint Michael, found in this valley a ideal place to do his restrooms, which magically turned into rock.
Another interesting story is that of the Strada Larga, which owes its epithet not to the fact that it is the widest street in the country but that it could be covered from the unhooded to the lords, mandatory if the nobles were to meet in front of their palaces.
To get to the top of the oldest part of the village you need to tackle a steep climb that leads to an open space where the sixteenth century Seat and the Cathedral face each other, while even higher you come across the castle built by Ladislao II D’Aquino, owner of the fief of Rocchetta from 1501, perhaps designed by the famous architect Francesco Di Giorgio Martini.
The manor is one of the most beautiful in Puglia and boasts an imposing almond-shaped tower that stands tall on the countryside already in the Campania area. Although more than a bulwark it has always been a symbol of power, the castle resumes the construction and defensive techniques in vogue at the time to counter the Turkish Ottoman advance. Among these was the adoption of the almond-shaped towers that today, in Puglia, are visible not only in Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, but also in the castle of Carovigno Dentice Di Frasso in the province of Brindisi and the castle of Monte Sant’Angelo in the Gargano National Park.
The oldest fortress, the one to which the name of the village can be traced, is that of Sant’Antimo, built in the 10th century. The construction, of which the remains can still be admired today, was square in shape and surrounded by walls. Professor Alessandro Forlé, a passionate connoisseur of the area who accompanies us along with Giuseppe Palladino, young amateur photographer and lover of his village, tells its story along with that of the birth of the town.
Always contended, due to its strategic position by the Byzantines and the Lombards, it subsequently developed around a fort erected by the Normans in 1083 and destroyed by the earthquake of 1456. In the highest part, the town preserves its medieval section with terraced roof houses, alleys and small squares that overlook the modern part built on the opposite hill following the earthquake of 1930.
Above all, besides the Castello d’Aquino which is private and not open to visitors, it dominates the parish church originally dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abate and then to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built between 1754 and 1768 in Baroque style. It has a beautiful façade and a tall bell tower with a majolica dome, now being restored because it was recently struck by lightning.
The interior has three naves with a Latin cross. Guided by the professor and by the parish priest Don Antonio Aghilar we admired the polychrome stuccoes, the majestic altars of Cimafonte, the luminous wooden choir behind the main altar and the various paintings and works of art including the beautiful sixteenth-century table of the Madonna del Goldfinch of Giaquinto and the Ecce Homo by Brudaglio preserved in one of the walnut cabinets of the Sacristy.
Another interesting church is that of San Giuseppe which stands in the Cittadella, the oldest part of the town and which currently preserves the statues of Saint Joseph, Saint Lucy, Santa Maria Incoronata and of the Madonna of Constantinople, while on the walls the photos of the historical archive referring to the post-earthquake years of 1930 and the rapid reconstruction of the town that followed.
Moving through the countryside of Rocchetta Sant’Antonio you will come across the splendid Marian shrine of Santa Maria in Giuncarico, known as “the Annunziata”: an ancient monastery with a troubled history.
This complex, originally much broader and bordering on the Monastery of Santo Stefano of which today only ruins remain in the woods, was part of the assets of the powerful Abbey of Cava de ‘Tirreni and underwent a phase of profound decadence under the Angevins up to be sold after 1807 to the family of Don Michelangelo D’Errico.
One of the most important places for the inhabitants of Rocchetta is the church of the Madonna del Pozzo, patron saint of the town, which is located three kilometers from the town. Unfortunately the original one, considered one of the most beautiful in the village, no longer exists today replaced by a modern construction that is not too attractive, but devotion remains very much alive. On 15 August the Rocchettani go on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary and in procession carry the splendid wooden sculpture from the country chapel to the village where San Rocco awaits. On 24 and 25 August the Madonna together with San Rocco is carried in procession through the streets of the town and on the 26th morning they are taken back to the countryside in her Sanctuary.
After visiting Rocchetta we want to know the origins of the village which, as already mentioned, start from far away. Its importance is mainly defined by the presence of the most strategic arteries of antiquity: the via Egnazia, which branching from the Appia followed the old route of the Via Herdonitana up to Ordona and the Via Traiana which crossed Erculia and led to the Adriatic coasts. To testify the tracks, now disappeared, there are several bridges still standing in the town’s countryside.
And its importance as a crucial junction has been underlined over time by the presence of the railway station of Avellino-Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, which until recently, when it was abandoned, was the link to the four terminals of Foggia, Potenza, Avellino and Gioia del Colle, linking territories with enormous resources. Precisely in order to exploit these resources in a tourist sense, they are now working to reopen the route that would connect centers of great attraction: from Venosa and its historical heritage, to Gravina in Puglia up to Altamura and Gioia del Colle through breathtaking landscapes.
The cover photo is by Giuseppe Palladino.
In collaboration with the Municipality of Rocchetta Sant’Antonio
With the support of the Banca di Credito Cooperativo di Conversano