A Guide to Irpinia
In addition to its naturalistic beauty, the province of Avellino boasts an exceptional artistic, historical and archaeological heritage which makes it one of the most surprising areas of the Apennines. There are specifically six archaeological sites where you can literally travel back to ancient times through roads and places that trace back to prehistory and up to the Middle Ages.
Any archaeological tourist route in the Irpinian area will undoubtedly include the ancient Abellinum, the civitas that gave the name to our provincial capital. The archaeological park is located in the city of Atripalda, a few kilometers from Avellino. Some relevant remains of the ancient city are still visible today: the amphitheater, the baths of the Augustus age, and part of the city walls that were built in the 3rd century and profoundly altered during the following periods. The urban area (25,000 sqm) appears to have a regular network, structured around two main streets merging into the square of the Forum. At the end of these roads, one could find four gates connecting the city to Nuceria, Beneventum, Campania and the upper Valley of the Calore river.
The centre of Atripalda, as it stands now, was built in the 9th century around the Specus Martyrum, the Christian cemetery of the Roman city of Abellinum, founded by Sulla in 80 BC. Some remains of the ancient Roman Atripalda, which rose in the area comprised between the actual train station and the cemetery of Avellino, are still visible today. These are: the city walls, the aqueduct and an impressive domus. The oldest traces of a first occupation of the site date back to the Bronze Age, whereas a proper stabler settlement took place around the 4th-3rd century BC. The oldest part of the city walls built with the opus quadratum technique also traces back to this age.
The final urban plan, covering an area of 450 square meters, was only defined at the end of the Republican Age, in the 1st century BC, when they built the 2 km-long city walls, the buildings of the Forum and the atrium-and-peristyle-based domus. The area around the atrium included facilities and services, while the area around the peristyle included the living and entertainment rooms, and a hall with a decoration in the style of the 3rd and the 4th century. Built in the Republican Age, the home underwent several building phases from the Republican age up to the Flavian age (end of the 1st century AD).
Traveling along the Appian Way, in the direction of Benevento, you will reach the Archaeological Park of Aeclanum, located in the city of Mirabella Eclano. Founded in the late 3rd century BC, the ancient Aeclanum is one of the most important Samnite cities in Irpinia. It is located between the valleys of the Calore and Ufita rivers, and it is set on a triangular tableland. The only road that gave access to the city was the Appian Way, running across the town from west to east. The city was sacked by Sulla in 89 BC and straight afterwards it became a Roman municipum with entitlement to vote. In 120 AD, under Emperor Hadrian, Aeclanum gained the status of colony by the name of Aelia Augusta Aeclanum. The noteworthy remains of the Roman city include: the public baths, located on a small hill, the square of the covered market (macellum), some houses and workshops. You will also be able to see the remains of the city walls measuring about 10 meters in height and including at least three gates and towers of various sizes. Tracing back to the Late Antique Age is the construction of an early Christian basilica outside of which you will find a baptismal font characterized by a Greek cross shaped plan and provided with steps for the rite of immersion.
Continuing on the route towards Ariano Irpino, you will find the Archaeological Area of Aequum Tuticum, an Oscan city located at the junction between the Trajan way and the Herculean way. The city reached its greatest glory in the 2nd century BC becoming an important junction during the Roman times. Aequum Tuticum appears in the Peutinger Table and in Antoninusʼ itinerary. The city took its current name of St. Eleutherius when the Saint, the first bishop of Ariano, was martyred there. During archaeological excavations a thermal building tracing back to the imperial age (the 2nd century AD) was dug up together with a building characterized by a large room beautifully decorated with a geometric multi-colored Late Antique mosaic. After the city had been abandoned between the 5th and 6th century, it was again occupied in the Middle Ages. At a few meters from the excavation, in the locality of Sant'Eleuterio, some remains such as statues, honorary bases and funerary stelae have been placed under some canopies.
In the upper Irpinia, near Lake Conza, a little village named Compsa developed in very ancient times. This village boasts some extraordinary monumental treasures and has been officially recognized as an Archeological Park in its entirety, as to say in its intra and extra moenia, and in fact it shows a variegated temporal stratification. Despite having suffered considerable damage from natural causes and consequently having its original aspect deeply changed, the site has not lost its peculiarity: Roman graves share their history with feudal palaces, and ancient city walls stand along Renaissance monuments. The presence of the necropolis of Fonnone, located along the hillside, shows that an active community existed by the 5th century BC, with 11 tombs found, among which only no. 4 was found perfectly intact, whereas the other graves either collapsed or were sacked. Another trace of the local history is represented by the urban area and the remains of the Lombard castle and cathedral, the fragments of a thermal plant, the pre- Roman floors and walls found in 1977 and probably belonging to an ancient Roman amphitheater. And yet the forensic area with a building by the opus incertum technique constructed with brick rows, four columns on the east front and a podium in limestone blocks.
Finally, leaving the upper Irpinia and heading towards the provincial capital, you will reach the town of Avella, where you will find the Archaeological Area of the monumental necropolis of the ancient Abella, a town that was particularly active around the 8th century BC and of which today, unfortunately, only a few traces remain: the amphitheater and some remains of the city walls. The presence of four burial mausoleums in the necropolis of Avella shows that the archaeological area in question was a major economic hub led by a powerful aristocratic class during the late Hellenic and early Imperial age. The site, located along the suburban road network leading to the Campanian plain, was built with the opus incertum technique using small blocks of limestone and tuff, the latter also being used for external decorations.
The mausoleums of the distaff type are essentially characterized by two overlapping elements: the dice-shaped square base and the cylinder-like top. The grave lays on bricks with lateral pilasters and is characterized by the funerary cell placed on the opposite side of the entrance, and a small barrel-vaulted roof that could only hold the urns with the defunctʼs ashes. Due to various subtractions occurred over the centuries, no archaeological find or tool were recovered. However, after excavations were carried out, a real 'route of the Graves' was found. It traces back to the Republican period and it is made of ten hypogeals, located along an original suburban street, and some mausoleums, mostly made with cement, characterized by a quadrangular plan and containing tricliniumlike funeral beds.
In the town of Avellino, you will then be able to visit the Provincial Archaeological Museum where the most relevant material finds from all around the region of Irpinia have been gathered.