It has been pointed out that Forchia originated from an early mediaeval rural settlement, located on the main road that runs along the mountain slope (the current Via Umberto I). However, traces of this very first centre are virtually impossible to see in the current town, whereas it is still possible to distinguish two cores that probably made up the casalem in Forclem
during the 9th-10th century, namely when population was most concerned about defence against invasions, sackings and destructions. And, even though Forchia expanded significantly from the 17th century onwards, these two cores did not end up 'glued' with each other.
The lower of these two cores is the current Piazza Teglia
: this used to be a crossroad between the main road and a path that climbed the mountain: its position encouraged the growth of a densely built, circle-shaped hamlet all around. Subsequent modifications have saved only a few details of the oldest structures, and of the overall plan. This area also hosts a good example of 18th-century manor house.
The D'Ambrosio family used to be a wealthy family of landlords in Forchia; their residence is located at the edge of the inhabited centre of Forchia. It is made up of wings built in different ages, starting from the 18th century, with an irregular courtyard in the middle, and faced by a decorated stone portal. It's a rather typical example of the local country houses, meant to be shared by an extended family.
Unfortunately, nothing remains of the building other than its walls: looks like the heirs of the D'Ambrosio family left Forchia for the USA, and the dynamics of what happened later are unknown to me. The building is undergoing works of restorations in order to establish here a museum about the Caudine Forks; but they look to be suspended.
Palazzo D'Ambrosio [Laboratorio GIS, Università di Trieste]
A short data sheet about the building.
Una lettera dall'America per avere informazioni sul Palazzo d’Ambrosio di Forchia [L'Informatore Sannita]
An alleged heir of the D'Ambrosio sent a letter to a newspaper, in which he states that his family has been snatched the Palazzo with a fraud.
Entrance to the building, at the end of a row of houses
The front of D'Ambrosio House is the white wall at the bottom, which protrudes from a row of houses and therefore gets highlighted. The main entrance is located on top of some steps.
The stone portal at the entrance
The portal is decorated with reliefs. As it is common with this kind of residences, the keystone of the arch reports the coat of arms of the family, together with the year of realization of the portal (1739) and the name of the one that had it built (Crauzio D'Abruosio).
The courtyard of this buildings summarises the main elements of wealthy residences: stone-made staircase lead from the courtyard to the upper floor, where a balcony, held by the stone vaults on the left of this picture, gives access to individual rooms.
Back view of distinct wings of the house, built at different levels and in different moments
The lower half of Via Umberto I
and a minor street called Via Nola depart from the lowest core and eventually get joined, close to the church of San Nicola di Mira (see next picture page for images of the church). The church is actually the convergence point of this area, that grew up from the upper of the two cores of Forchia, mostly around the 16th century. At a glance, the most ancient part is Vico dei Sanniti
, a steep alley whose access is just opposite the church along the main street. It preserves, at least partly, its original configuration: houses form a compact tissue, yet a ramified and irregular one. The alley leads to the main archaeological remains of Forchia, a couple of water cisterns of (pre?)Roman age.
Overall view of the cisterns, with Vico dei Sanniti and the olive groves in the background
Vico dei Sanniti has been given this name because it conceals two water containers in stone, which are traditionally believed to be built by the ancient inhabitants of the area, the Samnites, in order to ensure a constant water supply. According to the judgement of some experts, the tanks could instead have been part of a Roman villa born during late Republican or Imperial age, as well as other ones in the countryside west of Forchia.
They are located exactly at the border between the built-up area and the olive groves that cover the slope of the mountains. After a long period of abandonment, the tanks have been restored in 2009, but they are still filled with ground and mostly neglected. What is visible of them is only part of their barrel-vaulted roofing. Some sources report that ancient pottery has been found in this area, but now it looks to be disappeared. The cisterns look like enclosed within the walls of a room.
L. & S. Quilici, Carta archeologica e ricerche in Campania: Parte 3, L'Erma di Bretschneider [Google Books]
The tanks of Vicolo dei Sanniti are listed as Site 65 in this book about archaeology in Campania, by L. and S. Quilici, which also includes aother archaeological discoveries around Forchia.
Un paese che se ne va (…le cisterne sannite)
The state of abandonment of the Samnite tanks is reported in this blog post.
A detail of the left cistern, with a hatch that gave access to it
Vaults and staircases in Vico dei Sanniti
Several details of the houses and their arrangement in Vico dei Sanniti prove that they are actually the result of centuries of modifications in popular housings. The modern plaster covering, unfortunately, impede full appreciation of the old structures.
An underpass along the alley
Another ancient (but altered) corner of the alley
View of via Cupa, a nearby alley
Via Cupa is another of the alleys departing from via Umberto I, and is almost parallel to Vico dei Sanniti (but it is less ramified). It is the longest of the alleys departing from Via Umberto I, and the only one that is not a cul-de-sac. The lower portion of it consists of steps. The upper one (pictured here), evidently added in a second time, is still rather steep but paved, and leads to Via Roccarainola, a road connecting the town centre with the mountains. The alley looks downhill towards the Costa Cauda mountains, and the pear-shaped top of the bell tower of the church of San Nicola.
A detail of the lower portion of Via Cupa