The Witches of Benevento

A brief history of the city of Benevento


Benevento is an ancient, charming city in the Italian region of Campania, situated between the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic sea, between the north and the south of the country. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city is located at the confluence of two rivers, Sabato and Calore, in a valley with the ancient name of Sannio and surrounded by gentle hills. The shape of the hills brings to mind the profile of a lying woman, hence it is nicknamed the "sleeping beauty of Sannio".

The origins of the city are lost in the mists of time. Its name changed few times in the centuries: it was called Maloeis (perhaps from Apollo Maloeis, protector of the herd), then Maloentia, which was distorted by the Romans and became Maleventum, meaning “evil event”. This name was given because the Romans were defeated in Benevento during the battle called Forche Caudine. After their victory in a subsequent battle, they changed the name of the city again in Beneventum, or “good event”.

According to the legend, Benevento was founded by Diomedes, the Greek hero of Troy, who gave as a gift to the city the fangs of the Caledonian boar, today the symbol of the city.

Due to its importance as a trading hub and to its strategic position as a link between the south of Italy and the eastern countries of the Roman empire, the Romans made of Benevento one of the most beautiful and powerful cities in the south of Rome. The two imperial roads crossing the city, Via Appia and Via Traiana, are a testimony of this.

The Romans erected splendid monuments like the Trajan Arch, one of the best arches of the roman era, the Roman Theatre, the Leproso Bridge and the Arch of Sacramento.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Benevento was ruled by the Langobards and first it became a Duchy, then a principality, forming the “Langobardia Minor" (small Langobardia) together with the Duchy of Spoleto).

The Langobards, especially Arechis II, brought to Benevento an era of great prosperity and the city became a spiritual, cultural and economic center.

In this period, the Saint Sofia Church was built. The beautiful church has inestimable value, and in 2011, it was included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO, allowing Benevento to be part of the World Heritage Site.

Built in 762 AD by Duke Arechis II, the Saint Sofia Church is considered the Cathedral of all Langobards, and includes a monumental complex with the cloister and the museum of Sannio, once a monastery, with Paleolitic, Egyptian, Greek and Roman treasures, as well as a numismatic section and an art gallery with works of numerous modern and contemporary artists.

Mimmo Paladino, the protagonist of the Transavanguardia art trend, crafted in Benevento the Hortus Conclusus, a secret and protected artistic garden, where visitors can meditate and feel closer to God, rediscovering themselves and their past.

The legend of the Witches of Benevento is rooted in the Langobard period and it is inspired on the Langobard rites made in honor of god Wotan.

After the collapse of the Langobard principality in 1077, the city was taken over by the Vatican State, and it remained as such for eight centuries. During that period the city was like an island within the Kingdom of Naples, until Italy was unified in 1860.

The history of Benevento has lights and shadows, reality and legends, and for this the cultural heritage of the city is very rich and profound.

Benevento is known for being the city of the witches and of the magic walnut, of Diana and Isis, a unique and mysterious point of contact between the north and the south, the east and the west, bewitching all its visitors.