A Guide to Irpinia
Immersed in a natural setting of great beauty, Irpinia is a land of Feuds, Principalities, and Baronies and home to numerous fortresses and strongholds especially from the Norman and Lombard ages. Functioning as protection against the terrible Saracenic raids, and guardians of the assets of the entire community, the castles of Irpinia have lived a very long life, passing from father to son and following the destiny of the various lineages. These castles often represented impregnable bulwarks of the powerful nobles of the province.
Moving from Naples towards the provincial capital of Avellino, with its Castle unusually rising in a valley rather than on a hill, the discovery of the Irpinian castles begins with the Lancellotti Castle, majestically overlooking the pretty village of Lauro. A few kilometers away, you will find the ruins of the Lombard Castle of Avella, one of the biggest castles in southern Italy. Continuing, you will find the Castle of Monteforte Irpino, built in Lombard times on the hill of San Martino, and a little further ahead, the Angevin Tower of Summonte which, at the time of the Normans, represented one of the most advanced defensive sites of the valley of Avellino. In fact it was used to control the roads moving from the inside and heading towards the city and towards Salerno.
From Summonte you can easily reach the Caracciolo Castle of Montefredane and the Caracciolo Castle of Grottolella, both named after the last feudal family that owned them. Facing the village of Montefredane is the Castle of Saint Barbato, named after the small village in which it rose, in the territory under the municipality of Manocalzati.
Heading North-East, you will reach Montefusco, the ancient capital of the Ultra Principality, lying on an isolated hill between the valley of the Sabato river and the plain of San Giorgio del Sannio, whose castle is notorious for being home to one of the most rigid prisons of the Bourbon kingdom.
In the territory that had been once under the jurisdiction of Montefusco, you can find the Aragonese Tower of Pietradefusi, built in 1431. Not far away from here, in the city of Montemiletto, you can admire the Lionessʼ Castle built by the Normans and solemnly standing in the center of the town square.
In the town of Taurasi, renowned for its wine production, you can admire the Medieval Castle, while on the nearby hill of Gesualdo, you will appreciate the impressive Castle dating back to the 7th century, which used to be the baronial residence of Prince Carlo Gesualdo, one of most famous European madrigalists.
In the vicinity of this castle, you will find the Candriano Castle of Torella dei Lombardi, standing in the center of the town and representing its defensive bulwark, although no trace of its original nucleus remains. However it is possible to admire, even if partially ruined, the entrance door, the city walls and parts of the interiors of the nearby and large fortified area of Rocca San Felice.
Lingering in the area, you will find the Imperialsʼ Castle of Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi, of Lombard origins, clinging to a rocky spur in the old city center. Continuing eastward you will see the Castle of Morra de Sanctis, also known as the Castle of the Princes Biondi- Morra, and the Ducal Castle of Bisaccia founded by the Normans, but having some typically Swabian characteristics.
Approaching the border with Apulia, you will admire the Grimaldi Castle of Monteverde Irpino boasting its austerity and dominating the town that rises on three hills. When proceeding northward from here, the first castle to visit is the Castle of the Susannaʼs of Zungoli, which takes the name from the family that still owns it today; then you will find the Guevara Castle of Savignano Irpino, whose name derives from the homonym family. Not far from Savignano, you can visit the Norman Tower of Casalbore, which represents the historic and architectural symbol of the town since its construction probably marked the real birth of this ancient village.
Further south, on the top of the hill, you can admire the Castle of Ariano Irpino. Its strategic position in defense of the Valley of Ufita, of Miscano and Cervaro, made it a fortress of extraordinary importance, a safe bank and impregnable barrier against invasions in the Kingdom.
Heading back south-west towards Naples, you can admire the Castle of Bagnoli Irpino and the Castle of Montella, the first named after the Cavanigliaʼs, its last owners, while the second is also known as the Mount Castle because it rises on top of the homonym hill.
The city of Volturara Irpina rises in the picturesque Piana del Dragone (Plain of the Dragon), which represents the largest catchment area in Souther Italy and is located between the slopes of the mounts Costa and Faggeto. The city's medieval castle, which is undergoing renovations, was erected during the Norman times and was later reconstructed during the Aragonese times.
A quick detour northward will lead you to the charming town of Castelvetere sul Calore, where you will recognize parts of the ancient Lombard castle incorporated in religious and private buildings.
Lastly, going back southward, you will see the ruins of the Lombard Castle of Montoro Inferiore built around the 7th century.