Via Santa Maria del Giogo is a secondary road that leads from the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie westward. After overtaking the Church of Annunziatella (see the page about Via delle Grazie), it runs through a narrow strip of countryside between the town of Arpaia and Mount Castello. Some 300 metres further, a road on the right leads to the slopes of Mount Castello, and runs around it. The destination of the road is a natural drinking fountain (after which the road turns into a track) but, before that, it passes quite close to the top of the mount: here the ruins of the mediaeval castle of Arpaia are concealed among the greenery, almost completely forgotten.
Mount Castello as seen from Via Santa Maria del Giogo Landscape on the Valle Caudina from the slope of Mount Castello The mountain on the left is Mount Tairano, with the modern expansion of Arpaia at its feet; in the background is Mount Taburno.

Ruins of the castle

Rovine del castello

The castle of Arpaia was built between the 8th and the 12th century, but it probably replaced previous forts and lookout posts used by the Samnites (during the passage of the Roman army at the Caudine Forks) and the Romans. The natural protection given by its barely accessible position was enhanced by a system of two barriers. The more external one was a huge wall, some 80 m far from the top, which not only encircled the side of Mount Castello that looked towards the Valle Caudina, but also continued along the mountains aside: it ran westward around a ravine up to reach to the defensive system of the nearby castle of Arienzo; whereas its east side skirted another ravine, and reached Mount Paraturo the other side.
The more internal wall also holds up a man-made plateau on the top of the mountain, upon which the core of the castle was built. The steep slope between the two walls on the west side featured several lookout posts. At the opposite side of the castle, a keep looking onto the Valle Caudine protected the main entrance: a drawbridge behind it, passing between two ravelins, used to lead inside the court. These structures are made essentially of lime stones, with a scant usage of mortar.
The castle was abandoned around the 12th century, as life moved to the town of Arpaia. Currently, only some ruins remain of this robust fortress. The court, in particular, has been completely invaded by trees, and it is difficult to understand its structure; but it must have been a rather complex building, probably arranged into 2 storeys. Not long ago it was possible to distinguish arches, and gutters in terracotta. Most of the castle is now buried and inaccessible. Il castello [Pro Loco Arpaia]

Source for the information given here. Note the photograph: the same portion of the ruins has been photographed here but is covered with greenery.

Paolo Sommella, Antichi campi di battaglia in Italia, De Luca 1967

A portion of this book is about the Caudine Forks, and describes the castle of Arpaia the ponder the possibility that it was born on more ancient fortifications.

A hatch in the ground This hatch, currently at ground level, probably leads to some water tanks. The castle seen from down its plateau This picture has been taken from the south-western slope of the mountain. A trench precedes the plateau of the castle; this area possibly included one of the entrances. The core of the castle is now entirely invaded by greenery.
Westward view from the castle site The castle was built in an excellent position for watching the Valle di Suessola, namely the area just outside the Saddle of Arpaia, toward Naples and Caserta. For this reason, it has been suggested by the historian Paolo Sommella that the castle was born on the site of a fortification of the Samnites: it is reported by the Roman historian Livy that during the episode of the Caudine Forks, they were watching the arrival of the Roman army from a praesidium located on top of the gorge that delimited the valley where the enemies were marching: identification of this valley with the Valle di Suessola sounds then pretty natural. In any case, several times in history, this has been the direction where the enemies came from.
The mountain slope on the left is Mount Orni. At the bottom of the valley, behind the smaller hill called Puntarelle, are the towns of Arienzo and Santa Maria a Vico. Some pieces of walls of the castle are on the left of this picture.
A corner of the keep An old picture of the keep circulating online is the symbol of the castle, but greenery nowadays makes it impossible to reproduce it. You can find it on the webpages of the Pro Loco (see the link under the paragraph about the castle).
Remains of a lookout post along the western slope An arch in the structures of the keep The walls encircling the castle's court
Back to Via Santa Maria del Giogo, we eventually reach a crossroad: on its right, hidden at the bottom of a ravine between Mount Castello and Mount Paraturo, are the remains of the mediaeval Abbey of San Fortunato.

Abbey of San Fortunato

Abbazia di San Fortunato

The abbey lies at the bottom of a ravine between Mount Castello and Mount Paraturo. Several historical sources ascribe the abbey to the hamlet of Paolisi, which depended from the town of Arpaia. But when Paolisi became autonomous, its territory did not include the abbey (which now has been almost reached by the modern expansions of Arpaia).
Saint Fortunato, at the time of the wars between Radelchis and Siconulf who eventually divided the Principality of Benevento into two parts, was the patron saint of the city of Salerno: it is therefore possible that this Abbey was built just after the annexation of Arpaia to the newborn Principality, during the 9th or 10th century. Yet it is mentioned for the first time only in 1278, and at that time it must have been rather important.
Later on, in 1472, it was just a priory, namely it was much smaller and depending from some other monastery. This happened probably because of the damages caused by the 1456 earthquake. But the decay (probably due to further earthquakes) did not stop. In 1686 the Abbey, which probably had already lost its community of monks, had reduced to the elements that remained until nowadays: a small church, a bell tower, and a garden with a well in the middle (but the walls surrounding the garden disappeared later). Latest damages to the structure occurred during the 20th century: in 1954 the bell was stolen, two years later the roof of the bell tower fell down, and some arches of the top window did as well with the 1980 earthquake.
Similarly as the town walls and the castle of Arpaia, the walls of the abbey are built in lime stones; most of the arches and vaults of the structure are in tuff stone. Originally, the Abbey was fortified by a perimeter wall. Remains of older structures show that the original church of the complex was considerably bigger than the current one; moreover, the vaulted arcades in front of it were part of the walk around a cloister, corresponding to the current square in front of the church. The only entrance to the complex must have been the portal at the bases of the bell tower, which is delimited by a pointed arch built in tuff stone and gives access to a vaulted environment. L'Abbazia di San Fortunato nella sua storia millenaria [Pro Loco Arpaia]

History and description of the Abbey. An old text is followed by a newer, technical discussion about the current and the original appearance of the Abbey.

Restauro della torre di San Fortunato

Another description and attempt of reconstruction of the sanctuary, and a detailed explanation of the later restoration works it underwent.

Overall view The bell tower and the chapel lie at two adjacent sides of a squared open space that probably used to be the cloister of the abbey. The entrance to the church is located behind two arcades, the only remainder of the cloister.
At the feet of the bell tower it is possible to see the big entrance portal to the original abbey, with its tuff arch. Originally the windows at the top story of the bell tower were all simple windows topped by round tuff arches. Later, the one above the portal was converted into a mullioned window by inserting a marble column. Probably the others have been enriched the same way, but the columns have been lost and the windows themselves needed later interventions of restoration.
The bell tower seen from North This photo shows several of the interventions the bell tower underwent during the centuries. The terrace on the left, held by a flying buttress, was built in order to balance the weight of a spiral staircase in stone which was set up within the tower in order to reach its top. The top part of the tower, including the top of the arch of the windows, was rebuilt after the 1980 earthquake. Interior of the ground level of the bell tower The room at the ground level of the tower is roofed with a groined vault in tuff stones. At the bottom of the room, opposite to the entrance portal, there is another identical one, again topped by a tuff pointed arch; however, because of the seismic risks, it was necessary to build a pillar to hold it, as well as another support arch on the ceiling.
The well and the columns of the convent garden The courtyard of the abbey, originally surrounded by walls, has been lost, but the well in its middle is still standing. It features a hood, nowadays deformed, and two columns at its sides. Roman inscription kept in the bell tower This roughly cubic lime stone, with edges about 1 m long, has been found in 1992 under a building near the disappeared church of Sant'Agostino on the Appian Way (see the related page), together with another one. The stone dates back to 207 AD and reports a framed text in which the Roman colony of Beneventum paid homage to the emperor Caracalla. The colony, indeed, also used to own the countryside around the town of Caudium. So the stone probably belongs to some monument on the Appian Way which marked the entrance into the territory of Beneventum. Here is the transcription of the text:

Site 63 includes the inscription kept at San Fortunato.

View of the interior of the church The statue of San Fortunato is placed in a groined-vaulted interior.
The church The current church is not the original one, but a smaller one rebuilt later (before 1686). Some remains around it (for instance the ones at the left of this photo) refer to the original structure of the abbey. The front of the church consists of two groin-vaulted arcades, which were probably part of the cloister of the abbey. The small bell case on the top left of the church has been built in 1962 to receive a new, small bell that replaces the big one stolen ten years before. The doors of the church were destroyed by English soldiers during World War II. The interior is covered with a vault, and includes two small rooms for the hermit that lived here for a while, plus an underground environment.
Currently the church is used as seat of the Parish charity of Arpaia.
Rear view of the church and the bell tower
Tombstones kept under the arcade of the church These sculpted tomb stones, dating from 14th century, belong to the Del Giudice noble family. They were meant to be buried into St. Mary's Chapel within the Church of San Michele Arcangelo (see the page about the northern part of the citadel), but were instead placed into St. John's chapel. Later they were vertically placed in front of the entrance of the church; and finally they were brought to San Fortunato. The mullioned window of the bell tower Remains of the southern wall of the disappeared cloister
Copyright 2014 Antonio De Capua