Informazioni sul comune / Information about the town
The town of Arpaia lies close to the bottom of a narrow saddle, to which it gave its name, located between Mount Tairano, 768 m, up north, and the Partenio mountain range down south, in particular Mounts Castello, 623 m, and Paraturo, 927 m. Since the Appian Way runs just at the bottom of the saddle, this may be considered the real entrance to the Valle Caudina from Caserta, or to better say from the coastal plain called Campania Felix
by the Romans. Before the Roman colonization (which took place at the beginning of the 3rd century BC), the Saddle of Arpaia used to be a natural boundary between the latter region, populated by Greek and Etruscan colonies, and the mountainy region of Samnium. Indeed it is extremely likely that it was (close to) the location of the Caudine Forks, where in 321 BC the Samnites blocked and humiliated the Romans.
As a confirmation to the strategic relevance of this area, Mount Castello owes its name to fortifications built on its top by the Langobards: several centuries after the Samnites, they were again concerned with both defense and attack to the coast. This is the most likely reason why the settlement of Arpaia was born, or gained importance (according to the archaeological findings, it is possible that some inhabited place here already existed during the Roman Imperial age); the village was indeed structured as a citadel protected by defensive walls, on the southern side of the Appian Way.
In 8th century, a gastaldate (i.e. stronghold for local administration, in particular on a military level) in the Langobard Duchy of Benevento was named Furculae
: although it would sound natural to identify it with the neighbouring town of Forchia, it has been suggested that the seat was either the citadel of Arpaia or the fortifications uphill, because they both have a better location than Forchia for military purposes.
Actually, there's no agreement about the age of foundation of the citadel of Arpaia. Local authors believe that the citadel developed in parallel to the castle; other sources instead think that its plan has been inspired by the bastides
built in France in the 13th century. So they conclude that the original settlement was built around the castle; between the 13th and the 14th century, when Arpaia was part of the Kingdom of Naples, ruled by the Angevin dynasty, this acropolis would have been abandoned and replaced with the current citadel.
In any case, when the Principality of Benevento was split to create a new Principality in Salerno (849), the territory of Arpaia became a boundary land of the latter. It's only in the 12th century, during the Norman stay in southern Italy, that the name Arpaia is mentioned for the first time: the chronichles of Alexander of Telese mention it in the form Appadium
, suggesting that this name may derive from the proximity to the Appian Way; or from the expression ad podium
, i.e. 'close to the hillock'.
Around that time, the town used to belong to some Robertus de Molino, together with Cervinara. Later on, these territories were subdivided into different feuds, and the one of Arpaia included the smaller hamlets of Forchia and Paolisi; no notable administrative changes occurred until the abolition of feudalism (1808). Among the several noble families of feudatories of Arpaia, the longest-standing one were the Guevaras (1461-1604). In particular, starting from Giovanni de Guevara in 1591, the feudatories of Arpaia were entitled as marquises.
During its Neapolitan period, Arpaia remained a militarily remarkable place. It was the scene for some of the battles of Ladislaus of Anjou, committed to regain the usurped Kingdom of Naples. Not much later, here some further warfare took place between the Angevins and the Crown of Aragon, rivals at the possession of the Kingdom: the town ended up sacked and destroyed by Alfonso of Aragon (1438). Damages were caused by an earthquake in 1456; and by two later ones in 1688 and 1702. Half of the population was killed by an epidemic in 1656.
Paolisi and Forchia became autonomous municipalities in the 19th century. The loss has been undoubtedly significant for Arpaia, considering that earlier than that, in 1622, the town centre was inhabited by only 38 families, whereas there were 49 in Forchia and 71 in Paolisi. This does not surprise, though, as the soil exploited for agriculture was almost entirely included in these two hamlets: the role of the citadel was mainly of exploiting its position along the Appian Way for administration and trades. Commercial activities of Arpaia are still concentrated along this thoroughfare; another economical resource is now a limestone quarry on the south-eastern slope of the Mount Tairano.
Unfortunately, most of the town is evidently neglected and messy. The core of the town, the citadel, is still clearly distinguishable, and largely preserves its original plan. The northern half
of it, the one closer to the Appian Way, includes the Parish Church of San Michele; the southern half
preserves a large portion of the town walls and the remains of the palace of the feudatories.
The portion of Appian Way
lying within the territory of Arpaia features a scenic access to the Saddle, followed by the main expansion of the town during the last centuries; these also conceal some more ancient remains.
Via delle Grazie
is a road to the side of the citadel, which rises from the Appian Way to the 15th-century Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie, and an old, small, Langobard church. Finally, more uphill
are hidden the remains of the medieval Abbey of San Fortunato; and, on the top of Mount Castello, the ruins of the castle of Arpaia.