Informazioni sul comune / Information about the town
Cervinara is the second most populated town of Valle Caudina. It is actually what is called a loose municipality
, namely one that consists of several villages and hamlets with none of them dominating on the others. It is only since the 1960s that the growth in population led these villages to merge with each other, but the sentiment of unity of Cervinaresi
is much older than this. Cervinara is probably is the town in Valle Caudina whose inhabitants look proudest of their own heritage, in architecture, nature and traditions.
Due to its spread configuration, Cervinara is also the town in the valley which administrates the widest territory. Its constituting settlements and roads are a web spanning a extent ranging from a vast farmland to the mountains of Partenio. The ancient core of Cervinara lies at the east end of the town, under the barren slopes of Mount Pizzone, 801 m. Aside from it, peaks in the territory are arranged into two rows: the one on the back, along the southern boundary of Cervinara's land, reaches a considerable elevation with the Ciesco Alto, 1357 m; and Tuppo Alto, 1250 m. The woods covering these mountains have been source of wealth to locals for centuries.
The origin of the town's name have never been clarified. It's a somewhat classical, but abandoned, hypothesis that it comes from Cereris Ara
, an 'altar to Ceres' that may have been erected here in Roman times. Other ones connect the name to cervo
, 'deer', an animal that used to be common in the local woods and is reproduced on the town's coat of arms; or to cervo in aria
, 'stag beetle', as these areas might have been rather marshy in early Middle Ages.
The villages constituting Cervinara originated from casali
, i.e. small groups of peasants' dwellings, usually gathered around a church. Throughout almost the entire Middle Ages, indeed, most of these estates were owned by monasteries. Possibly several of these hamlets all had the same origin, as it may be seen that they have been built up according the same geometrical scheme (4 elementary modules on each side of a road in the middle). From a political and military point of view, the first core of Cervinara was — as mentioned above — a fortified hamlet, or maybe just a fort, along the slopes of Mount Pizzone, structured as to resist to invaders, Saracens in particular. It is unknown when and by whom it was built, but it is documented that in 837 the Langobard prince Sicardo, ruling Benevento, acquired it from the monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno, that owned lots of lands in this valley. The fort must have been rather important for the Langobard principality of Benevento in the following years, as it was the last one before the boundary with the rival principality of Salerno.
The fortified village was born, or maybe enlarged, during the 11th century, under the Norman domination; but later, in the early 12th century, some invaders may have destroyed it: we know, indeed, that in 1127 Cervinara was not autonomous: it was a part of the neighbouring fief of Arpaia, held by a specific subordinate. Further fights in 1135 between the king Roger II and Rainulf, count of Avellino, entirely destroyed the villages in the area. In the following decades the castle was restored, but then destroyed again in the 1220s by king Frederick II fighting agains rebel feudatories.
The fortress of Cervinara was then restored again: in 1251 it was apparently seat of some "palace of the church of San Matteo". Cervinara was still largely a possession of religious organizations, in particular of the monastery of San Gabriele in Airola. Unlike several surrounding towns, Cervinara did not concentrate its population into an urban centre, but kept it into a bunch of farms (they were 120 according to an earlier document), so as to better exploit the abundance of its agricultural soil.
Around the 1280s, not much after the Angevins seized the throne of Naples, there were fights between small local feudatories and the monks of San Gabriele about the possession of some acreages. King Charles I, then, drastically solved the situation committing these possessions to some of his followers: in particular the Etendart family and, more importantly, the De La Gonesse (or Della Leonessa) family. Initially several lands in Cervinara were part of the fief of Guglielmo De La Gonesse, whose seat was at the castle of Airola; his grandson Carlo took possession on Cervinara, separating it from Airola which was taken by his cousin Giovannuccio. The dynasty united larger portions of the soil of Cervinara under their feudal possession, until they left it to the Carafa family in 1488.
During this period the casali
of Cervinara grew larger, and became, to some extent, autonomous centres (there would be, indeed, 6 parish churches in the 18th century), pretty much corresponding to the modern suburbs of the town. An economy based on agriculture, breeding and exploitation of forests made the town rather flourishing and populated (it had 420 families in 1532 and was among the biggest in the current province of Avellino). A Universitas
(i.e. a form of municipal administration gathering the citizens) had already been established during the 13th century. At that time professionals in town, especially notaries, were already in a significant number.
The D'Avalos family kept Cervinara for some decades in the 16th century; they abandoned the old castle and moved more downhill, into a new palace in the casale
of Ferrari. After some alternations of different families, in 1607 the fief was sold to the Caracciolo family, marquises of Volturara; Francesco had this title changed to marquise of Cervinara, and in 1629 he married Porzia Caracciolo, belonging to another branch of the family: the marquises of Sant'Eramo. The Caracciolo carried then both titles, and kept the fief until abolition of feudalism in 1809.
Meanwhile, their role of feudatories had been gradually downsized by the rise of the middle class: although the general living conditions of population were far from great, agriculture had an overall positive trend throughout these two centuries, and private ownership became common; trades along the main roads grew significant as well. This reflected into a swift growth in population: in 1688, not much after an epidemic in 1656, inhabitants were 2,042; they rose to 4,117 inhabitants in 1776, and would double again by the late 19th century.
Just after Italian unification, on 29-30th November 1860, protests took place in Cervinara against the new rulers, led by several local landowners bonded with Neapolitan aristocracy and the the former royal family of Borbone. The climate was made worse by the spread of brigandage
, in particular by the gang set up by Cipriano and Giona La Gala, two criminals that had just broken out from jail. The gang involved dozens of people; maybe they had no interest in politics, but embraced the Borbonic cause to receive support. They spent months hiding on the Partenio mountains, and periodically ravaging the surrounding villages where they extorted food and money. Cervinara was one of their favourite targets. Italian police had a hard life against this mob due to their lack of knowledge of the places, but in December 1861 the gang was routed.
Main events in the first half on the 20th century include a considerable depopulation: many migrated to the USA — a considerable community of Cervinaresi
, in particular, established in New York City — others were victim of the world wars, in particular the Spanish flu pandemic killed 500 during WWI. Nevertheless, in the 1910s and 1920s a deep urban redevelopment and modernisation also took place.
The big earthquake that destroyed a large portion of innermost Irpinia on 23rd November 1980 also severely damaged some historically important buildings in Cervinara. Some of them were torn down rather than restored, and this originated a harsh polemic that has not ceased yet. Moreover, heavy rains on 16th December 1999 caused a landslip from Mount Cornito that killed 5 and ruined a large portion of the old casale
of Ioffredo, which has been subsequently razed.
The barycentre of Cervinara's life has been gradually moved downhill: the oldest core, hidden among the mountains preserving the ruins of its castle, is still called Castello
; whereas the one arranged in the 16th century between the marquises' palace and the main church, San Gennaro, is Ferrari
. The town centre nowadays can be identified with the site of the town hall, Trescine
: although with a modern appearance, the square hosts artistic remains of an old convent.
Between Castello and Ferrari are Ioffredo and Pantanari
. The former, although damaged, still features the arguably oldest church of Cervinara, while the latter is a smaller hamlet born around a minor convent. Valle and Salomoni are nearly separate towns: Valle
is an ancient-looking village under the slopes of the Pizzone. Salomoni, in a diametrally opposite position, can be divided into a medieval upper half
with the important church of Sant'Adiutore, and a 18th-century lower half
featuring houses of the upper classes. In the same page there is also Pontocampo, the 20th-century district arranged around the public gardens. The flatland
, mostly agricultural, adds up some more pieces to the town's identity.