Venosa: the history of a southern beauty

Venosa: particular of the "gravattone"Hello again! It is your guide, Domenica. Today I would like to tell you a story. The story of Venosa, a town in the region Basilicata, in the south of Italy, which is a small beauty for its historical remains, for its authentic location, for its exceptional gastronomy and for the friendliness of its inhabitants.

According to some historians, the town was built by the Greek hero Diomedes, who landed on the Italian coast after the end of the Trojan war, and was called Venusia (its Latin name) in honor of the goddess Venus. According to others, the name Venosa was given to the town because of its abundance in water veins or in wines or for its windy climate.

The history of Venosa starts before the period of the Roman Empire, as revealed by the many Prehistoric remains found in the area (and preserved in the archaeological park of Notarchirico). However, the city, which at the time was called Venusia, was snatched to the Samnites by the Romans and turned into a Roman colony in 291 BC. The Romans soon realised the importance of this city, and allowed it to retain its institutions and its army. The Romans included Venosa in the Appian Way, the road that connected Rome to Brindisi. The city took part in the Social War and, even though it supported the defeated faction, it still got the right to vote and the Roman citizenship for all its inhabitants in 89 BC. In 65 BC, the city’s most esteemed citizen was born: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the author of the famous “Carpe Diem“,¬†known in English as “Horace”. From the year 43 BC the population started to increase and the Roman city-planning reached its peak with the construction of several public and private buildings, places of worship, baths and also an amphitheater (the remains are still visible in the archaeological area). In 70 BC, a Jewish community settled in the region and blended with the local population, as the catacombs on the Colle della Maddalena show.

Venosa: an alleyAfter the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 475, Venosa became part of the Ostrogoth Kingdom, when they conquered Italy and then passed to the Lombards, who included it in the Gastaldate of Acerenza, under the direct control of the Crown. In 985 Venosa was besieged by the Saracens and then conquered by the Byzantines. In 1041, after the battle of the Olivento river, the city ended in the hands of the Normans and given to Drogo of Hauteville. With Frederick II, one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors, Venosa was included in the King’s domain and many privileges were given to it. The town began to expand towards the region that hosts the modern city of Venosa today, and the Roman area started to depopulate. New palaces and buildings were erected, such as a castle constructed on top of the remains of a Lombard fort, which became the seat of the kingdom’s Treasury. In Venosa, Manfred of Hauteville, a later king of Sicily, was born.

Venosa: Aragonese CastleWith the arrival of the d’Anjou family on the throne of Naples, Charles d’Anjou consigned Venosa to his son Robert and, after several feudal lords, Venosa passed to the Orsini family, who gave the city as a dowry to Maria Donata, the later wife of Pirro del Balzo in 1443. According to the legend, the new lord of Venosa erected a castle in the very spot of the old cathedral of St. Felix, after promising to the church’s priest to build a new cathedral; this was the Cathedral of St. Andrew, finished in 1502 and preserved until today. After the death of Pirro del Balzo and the fall of the Aragonese dynasty, Venosa passed in the hands of the Gesualdo family in 1561. This is the period of cultural flourishing of the city. Several institutions were born during this period, such as the Accademia dei Piacevoli e dei Soavi, the School of Law (Scuola di Diritto) and the Accademia dei Rinascenti, as well as several important people, such as Luigi Tansillo, a sixteenth century poet; Giovanni Battista De Luca, a famous jurist; and Carlo Gesualdo, a famous composer that had a controversial existence and murdered his first wife.

After this period of great cultural growth, in the eighteenth century, Venosa ended up being under the power first of the Ludovisi family and then of the Caracciolo family, but for its miserable conditions and its isolation the city ended up being a republican municipality that was soon destroyed as a result of popular revolts.

Venosa turned again to play an important role during the Napoleonic Age, being in 1808 the third city in the province of Basilicata to have active and passive right in the National Napoleonic Parliament. In the Italian Risorgimento and in the revolts that brought to the Italian unification, Venosa was active part of the secret association called Carboneria. People from Venosa fought in the revolts of 1948, where in Naples the Venosine student, Luigi La Vista, lost his life. Finally, the town was slightly involved in the phenomenon called “brigantaggio” (“brigandage”), which was particularly severe in the surrounding area.

Now that you know Venosa’s history, a trip to the city is absolutely worth.

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