Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Sep 2013 - update Mar 2015 & Apr 2016  
1. Caiazzo, the Royal Pheasant Grounds &
                      2. Roman Cistern & Cyclopean Walls

North is at the top in the photo. This is the Monte di Verna plain just a mile to the SW of Caiazzo, north of Naples and Caserta. The clump of buildings in the middle is a modern dairy processing facility. The tell me that whatever is left of the old Bourbon Pheasant Grounds is the small building shown in the insert (the photo is from c. 1970) and is somewhere on the premises of this facility. The river running below the diary plant is the Volturno. The plant is still called the Fagianeria --Pheasant Grounds.
The modern city of Caiazzo is about 20 km north of the city of Caserta on the right (north) bank of the Volturno river. The area came into the hands of the Romans for the first time in 300 B.C. Like much of the surrounding territory, it remained contested among various local powers, primarily the Romans and Samnites, before the consolidation of Roman power. In the Social War (100 BC) it rebelled against  Rome, lost, and its territory was added to that of Capua by Sulla. In the imperial period, however, we find it once more a separate municipium of Rome.

Caiazzo has a much older history, however; one of the points of historical interest is the section of so-called “Cyclopean wall,” (meaning 'gigantic') put in place in the 7th or 8th century BC by Oscan ancestors of the later Samnites. The wall surrounded an early acropolis of the pre-Roman civilization. (The walls may still be seen, as can the later Roman cistern [see separate section below].) After the fall of Rome, Caiazzo has more or less a parallel history to other places in the area in that it went through centuries of being owned by one or the other feudal lord as the Kingdom of Naples, itself, passed through numerous changes of ruling dynasty.

Caiazzo is on the Volturno plain. That plain is one mountain and one river to the north of Caserta and the Campanian plain; that is a bit north of the main target area of Charles III’s ambitions to remake the entire area around the city of Naples beginning in 1734, the year in which he came to the throne of Naples. Nevertheless, the Rizzi Zannoni map from 1784, besides showing the obvious new features such as the palace at Caserta, the adjacent farming collective of San Leucio, and various large Royal Hunting Reserves also shows a Royal Fagianeria (pheasant breeding and hunting ground) at Caiazzo, precisely on the plain at the base of Mt. Verna (the area in the photo, above). The hunting site may be traced back to 1753 when Charles III took the tireless architect and planner, Luigi Vanvitelli, to visit a similar hunting ground on the premises of the Capodimonte Palace to get an idea of what to do at Caiazzo. Vanvitelli came through, as usual, although he did write his brother in 1753 that “…this pheasant farm is a lot different than I had planned on….”

Royal Palace Naples
Royal Palace Capodimonte
Royal Palace Portici

Royal Palace Caserta
villa d'Elboeuf in Portici
Villa Favorita
Palazzo d'Avalos Procida
Lake Agnano
San Leucio
Casino del Fusaro
Palace at Quisisana
Demanio di Calvi

It is worth noting that the entire business of hunting grounds, pheasant farms and royal sites, etc. (the complete list of the 22 Royal Bourbon sites is shown in the graphic on the right) was precisely that—a business. These were not pleasure palaces, but usually an integral part of developing the agricultural and urban infrastructure of the territory at the time; you had to survey land, lay roads and put up buildings; people would be put to work and small communities would grow up, etc. Charles III was not a indolent monarch luxuriating in the midst of a decaying kingdom. He built palaces, highways, opera houses and opened land to agricultural development. If he enjoyed himself, it was secondary. We can't say the same for his nitwit son, but that's another story.

The entire area has always been the focus of intense warfare, from the times of Hannibal up through the republican revolution of 1799  (when the town was one of the centers of anti-royalist sentiment) and  Garibaldi’s invasion of 1860 (when it was pro-royalist, resisting the forces of Italian unification). In WWII the Volturno plain was part of the formidable German defenses blocking the Allied advance up towards Mt. Cassino and Rome. As well, there was a devastating flood of the Volturno river in 1966. There is no hope now of finding in decent condition a delicate Vanvitellian structure from the 1750s unless it has been restored for tourists, as is the case with some other buildings closer to or in Naples, itself, at Fusaro, for example (see link in box, above). Caiazzo has not been so restored. The building sat on the plain near Caiazzo in what is now administratively a separate community called, in fact, Piana di Monte Verna (Mt. Verna Plain). Until quite recently, the 334 acre (135 hectare) tract of the ex-Royal Pheasant Grounds was a private agricultural concern. It was called, indeed, La Fagianeria (the Pheasant Grounds). It is still called that and is listed as such in indices of the area. The private facility was auctioned off in 2003 and acquired by a multinational firm specializing in dairy products; the agrofirm then got involved in the Parmalat-Cirio scandal, one of the worst in post-war Italian history (See the film, Il Gioellino. 2011. dir. Andrea Malaiolo.) They cooked books way beyond al dente, and there are still people in jail over the affair. I am reluctant to drive out there (about 25 miles) to investigate. Sure, maybe I'd get a free bottle of Parmelat milk (slurp, slurp!); maybe a free can of Cirio canned tomatoes (yummy-yummy!); maybe a free pet pheasant (whaddya mean, you're afraid of the neighbor's dog?!); but maybe a free busted kneecap (Ow!). I understand that there is still a small part of Vanvitelli's original building on the premises. It's called the Palazzina Borbonica. Or that's what it should be called if it's still there. Stay tuned.

Added March 2015
The Roman Cistern

One of the most interestings sights/sites in Caiazzo is the Roman cistern beneath what is now Piazza Giuseppe Verdi. The cistern is dateable to the 2nd century AD. It is a rectangular brick construction mounted by a barrel vault. It measures 23 x 4 meters—AND—you can visit it! Not independently, of course; you have to call city hall and get permission, but you can do it. As a matter of fact, I have a friend who did it. He runs the Napoli Underground website and the story of his adventure is on that site in English translation (by Yours Truly) at this link. There is more photography, as well.

update: April 5, 2016

Cyclopean walls - As noted in this entry on Fiuggi:

The history of the towns in Ciociaria go back much further than the Middle Ages, however— even further back than the Romans. Many medieval structures, such as the cathedral of Anagni, are built on the very sites of ancient structures built by pre-Roman Italic peoples, such as the Hernici or the Volsci. The megalithic walls of Fiorentini, for example, are from the fourth century, b.c.; they are still well-preserved and intact for virtually the entire perimeter of the city and look as sturdy today as when their Italic masons, the Hernici, built them. In Alatri, the ancient acropolis contains the best preserved example of pre-Roman "Cyclopean" —gigantic— walls anywhere in Italy. On the remnants of that acropolis now rises the Cathedral of Alatri. Moving on to Arpino, one finds a town which, according to legend, was founded by Saturn, himself!
These remnants of pre-Roman Italy are found in many places on the peninsula, including Caiazzo. (See Cyclopean in the main index). Caizzo is in the Volturno river valley just below the Monti Trebulani (alias the Colli Caprensi), a massif in the heart of the province of Caserta. It is separated by that valley from the larger Matese massif and the main chain of the Campanian Apennines. It is karst country (caves, stalactites, underwater currents) and very good hiking and exploring for cavers. But there are also the overgrown ruins of the Cyclopean wall (photo, above, right) that presumably surrounded a pre-Roman settlement of the Oscan-Samnites. Even more mysterious is the lettering on one of the stones.

photos in bottom section: courtesy of Napoli Underground

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