Venosa: a walk along history

Aragonese Castle Hello everybody! My name is Domenica and I will be your guide for today. I will show you some of the attractions of a really beautiful town in the South of Italy: Venosa. This is a small town in the Basilicata region, which is very authentic and still linked to its traditions. In this region, past and present fuse so well together to form a particular style and atmosphere. Come and walk with me now.

Venosa is situated on a hill on the vale of the river Reale and on the vale of the river Ruscello, which are still visible today from the walls of the town. We can symbolically divide the town into three parts: the new, the historic and the Roman area. Without considering the new area, which abound with modern buildings, parks and schools, we will focus on the two other parts.

The starting point of our walk is the entrance to the historic town; that is the Angevin Fountain. This fountain, built in 1298 in honor of the new king of Naples, Charles of Anjou, is formed by a long rectangular basin between two lions crushing a ram’s head, symbol of the power of Venosa among the cities of the Apulia region. From the fountain, on the right, you can see the Aragonese Castle, whose entrance is located in the Umberto I Square, which is known as Castle Square (Italian “Piazza Castello”). The castle was built in 1470 by Pirro del Balzo on the site of the old cathedral, dedicated to St. Felix. The castle, which has four towers and a very beautiful gallery, hosts the Archaeological Museum. Going out of the castle, you can see on your right the baroque church of Purgatory, dedicated to St. Filippo Neri. The square is dominated by the statue of the jurist Giovanni Battista De Luca and surrounded by porticoes. Leaving back the castle, we enter Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a narrow street with several shops and houses, till Horace Square (Italian “Piazza Orazio”).

Statue of Horace in Piazza Orazio The square is named after the famous Latin poet Horace (the author of the “Carpe Diem”), who was born in Venosa in 65 BC and hosts the statue of Horace surrounded by beautiful palaces and small bars. Walking along the Corso we encounter the church of St. Dominic, built in 1348, with its old monastery and, some meters ahead, the Palace of the Bailiwick, residence of the bailiff of the Knights Hospitaller for 500 years. Going a little further, we see on our right side the so-called in the local dialect “chiazzodd” (in English “small square”), hosting the fountain of Messer Oto, which is dedicated to Robert of Anjou and was used as public laundry. Just behind the fountain, you can see the panorama looking at the vale of the river Reale. Coming back on the road you can see two Roman epigraphs representing two people wearing a toga. Walking ahead, we arrive in the Square of the Town Hall, where in the Calvino Palace the town hall is located.

Cathedral of St. AndrewOn the same square you can also see the Cathedral of St. Andrew, built by Pirro del Balzo after the demolition of the old cathedral of St. Felix. The church, example of Romanesque style, was completed in 1502 and hosts in its crypt the tomb of Maria Donata Orsini, the wife of Pirro del Balzo. Walking towards Via Frusci, enter the characteristic “borough of the salines“, where the salt kontor was located in the thirteenth century. The salt that was coming from Barletta was stored here and distributed to the other cities of the area. In this borough is also located the so-called house of Horace, composed by two confining rooms. Coming back on the main street we reach the crossway with Via Roma and we find the old Lombard castle, belonging now to the Trinitarian Order. On our right, we see the church of St. Roque, built in 1501 and dedicated to the saint who was believed to have saved the city from the plague. Just behind the church you can see both the majestic abbey church of SS. Trinità and the Archaeological Area.

Here we are now, in the Roman part of the city, where the everyday life of the ancient Venusia was carried out. Venusia was snatched from the Samnites and became Roman colony in 291 BC. In the Archaeological Area, you can see several Roman buildings, the public baths with the still visible basins for warm, cold and hot water, as well as a the remains of a Roman road. The amphitheater that was located in the opposite side of the street was the symbol of Venosa’s power in the Roman era, but after the depopulation of the area, its stones in particular were removed and used for the construction of the newer buildings. Finally, in front of the Archaeological Area the abbey church of SS. Trinità rises. The complex is composed of two elements: the New Church and the Unfinished (in Italian “Incompiuta”). The new church was built on the remains of an Early Christian church, in turn erected on a pagan temple dedicated to Hymen, the god of marriage, as witnessed by the “column of the bride” or “column of friendship”. The church, built in Romanesque style, has three naves with simple and solid pillars frescoed with icons of saints. In the apse, a big statue of the Trinity sitting on the earth observes the faithful, who, during the celebration of the Trinity, turn three times around the statue in a sign of devotion and for good luck. In the church the relics of St. Athanasius and the tomb of the Hauteville’s brothers are located and from the crypt you can see the remains of a mass grave. Behind the church you can see the Unfinished, meant to be the extension of the abbey. In fact, belonging to the Benedictines, it was one of the most influential churches of Southern Italy. The decline of the Benedictines was also the decline of the church which passed further to the Knights Hospitaller. Even though the abbey was never completed, it remains —in my opinion— the most suggestive place of the town. Just in front of the entrance of the Unfinished, in the Archaeological Area, we can see the ruins of an old baptistery. You can easily notice an octagonal basin used for the baptism and three corridors, where the candidates used to walk before reaching the baptismal basin.

A little outside the town we can find another two archaeological areas. One is located on the Magdalen Hill (in Italian “Colle della Maddalena”) and houses the Jewish and Christian catacombs. These catacombs, which are tombs dating back to the third–seventh centuries AC, are the witnesses of a pacific cohabitation among Jewish and Christians. The second archaeological park is situated in the area of Notarchirico. Here, we can find remains dating to the Paleolithic Age, such as bones of large animals, human traces and also a femur of a female belonging to the Homo herectus species.

Aglianico del VultureAfter all this walk, it is almost dinner time, but before having a nice Italian meal, we can have an apero in one of the small bars in the historic town. Remember to try the typical wine of this town, the Aglianico del Vulture, a strong red wine with the aromas of this enchanting land. If you want to eat something typical you can ask for the “peperoni cruschi”, lightly-fried dried peppers, or the “lagane e ceci“, a kind of homemade tagliatelle with chickpeas cooked in the characteristic “pignata” (in English “beanpot”) or the “strascinati“, a particular type of pasta with tomato sauce and grated “cacioricotta” (this is a type of cheese generally made with goat or sheep milk and only produced in the regions of Basilicata, Puglia and Calabria; it is the equivalent of a hard ricotta). As for meat, you can have lamb or try the quite particular steak coming from Podolica beef.

Our virtual walk has now come to a close and I hope you all enjoyed it! However, you can enjoy this walk for real, by visiting my wonderful little beauty: Venosa.

The Italian version of the article is available here.

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