The History of Larino


 

LAYERS OF EXPERIENCE

Permit the images to tell the story of this amazing place.   There are layers upon layers of history all visible to the eye.  In fact, it is sometimes disconcerting to realize that so much of the human story is concentrated within a very small space.  Take a deep breath and begin



Almost every family has some item found in the farmlands of Larino.  A helmet, a small statue, coins.  They are more common that you might ever dream.  The past is always very near.   This area was settled by an Oscan-speaking people (as opposed to Latin-speaking) who were likely of Etruscan origin.   They had a thriving civilization in this district when the Romans lived in huts above the swampy confines of the forum.  Strangely, the Oscan language featured many letters that were (to our minds) reversed.  They also wrote from left to right.   They were a tough-minded people who preferred the highlands to the lowlands.   For centuries they bested the Romans.  The Samnite even humiliated the Roman legions by forcing them to pass under an arch.  In the end the Romans joined with Samnite and the Frentani to fight other enemies.



There's no doubt that it was a remarkable city.  We can imagine it best by examining the mosaic floors of long-destroyed villas.  You can see these examples in the Palazzo Ducale in the centre of town in a handsome new museum supervised by a gifted scholar, Dottore Napoleone Stelluti.

 


 

The Palazzo Ducale was once the home of Larino's ruling families.   It is still very beautiful.  The new galleries feature huge mosaics moved, carefully, from the site of ancient villas in the higher part of town (the site of the classical city) and placed here.  Often water is poured on the surface to reveal the beauty of the mosaics.  It is likely that these remarkable works of art pre-date the birth of Christ.


 

This rather odd image has been seen by relatively few people.   Who would expect it in such a relatively isolated and tiny community?   Apparently this was the floor of a reception room in a villa in classical times.   The image of Romulus and Remus suckled by the wolf was a compliment to the Roman officials who would come to this outpost of empire.  It is worthy of any of the world's great museums.  There are no crowds here.  In fact, you might be alone in the room with a masterpiece from the ancient world.


These two images tell an amazing story.  On the right there is Hannibal and his troops.  On the left there is the site of ancient Gerione, not far from Larino.  The city was totally destroyed by the Carthaginians.  But troops from Larinum, combined with Roman forces, compelled Hannibal to retreat (216 BC).  Until recently you could see outcroppings of walls of ancient buildings.  Beneath the ground there is likely a treasure trove of artifacts lying undisturbed.


Coins of various value are in scores of private collections.   There are stories of chests of gold coins in private land.  Not all of these stories are wishful thinking.


 

Spartacus was here, Pompey, Pyrrhus (from whom we get the phrase Pyrrhic victory [279 BC]), Caesar and others.  They all walked this verdant, hilly land and left some physical legacy.

 

Even the world-famous orator, Cicero knew of Larinum.  He defended a young man against charges of patricide and left a stirring oration that has lived down the centuries, Pro Cluenzio (69 BC). A street is named in honour of that historic defense.

In the Upper Town there is a remarkable amphitheatre which was built in the first century AD by a Larino citizen who had made his fortune in Rome.   The amphitheatre could seat more than 12,000 spectators.

 

The Longobards, Goths (475 AD), Normans (Eleventh Century), and the Crusaders(Fourteenth Century) all marched through this territory.  They, too, left their mark.

 

This is another surprise in such a small town.  The structure is enormous.  It has been a Norman castle, a palace for the nobility, and a municipal building.   Inside, in some of the unfinished rooms, it is still possible to see the signs of the earlier fortifications.  When you look on this facade, you are looking at almost a thousand years of history.


 

In the cathedral (1314), a recent excavation revealed that the gothic pillars were supported by Roman tombstones.  Even this baroque interior has given way to a spartan restoration that has almost reduced the cathedral to its framework.  When the flagstones were removed in 1997 scores of skeletons were discovered.   Plagues often ravaged this part of the world.  They would begin in an overcrowded Naples and sweep eastward.

St. Michael, the Archangel of God, weighs souls in the balance.


Behind the thick brocades of the baroque decorations images were discovered.  They are primitive and colourful.  They likely belong to the time when the cathedral was built.  Scrape any surface in Larino and you will be confronted with the past.


It is even likely that the cathedral, with its soaring campanile, was constructed from stones taken from ancient classical structures.   Built right into the walls are symbols of pagan temples.  This is the arch of the cathedral bell tower.  A churchman, who was visiting Larino, mused that the stones of the Cattedrale had been stained by the blood of Christian martyrs.  He's probably correct.

This is an image of Robert the King of Naples

Somehow it's easier to imagine Roman soldiers in this setting than medieval knights, but this little town was bought and sold by Angevin rulers, Bourbon kings, the Hautville family of Normandy, and a tedious list of petty gentry who controlled Larino with an iron hand.

This Picture of Piazzo Duomo was taken in the Seventies by Dott. Igino Pilone

 

On the right is the facade of the Palazzo Ducale.  In the background there is the Piazza Duomo.  The portal at the right leads to a flight of stairs that takes you to a courtyard.  The Palace was a place of privilege.  Now leading townspeople play cards, billiards, or engage in lively conversation. 

This ceiling in the Palazzo was decorated as part of a private theatre for the children of some reigning Duke.  While the outside world existed in grinding poverty, the gentry lived a life of elegance and ease.  You can see this remarkable setting inside the ducal palace.

The Tower, illuminated at night, was built by order of Pope Clement V at the very beginning of the fourteenth century.  In 1809 Napoleonic troops stole the bells to make cannonballs.

The rectangular tower in this image is part of one of the first monasteries in the Western World.  What are now windows and balconies was where huge bells were placed.   The tower is now a private home.owned by members of an old Larino family.  It is one of the tallest structures in the town and commands a view of the Piazza Duomo and views across the rolling hills that surround Larino. 

This image was degraded in the duplication process (my fault) but if you look carefully you will see a British soldier at the centre of the image beside a military vehicle.  You could stand on that same spot today and the physical scene (buildings) would be unchanged.

 

Countless wars have touched the town.  Garibaldi marched through these streets and so did the Allies.  Larino escaped any large scale damage but scores of young men died in North Africa, the Russian Front, and in the Balkans.   Every little town has its cenotaph and its list of young lives which were lost.   Larino is no exception. 

 

Sometimes on a windy night it feels as though Larino is at the end of the world.  So many lives have been lived here.  Generation after generation.  These two images are separated by decades and two World Wars, and yet little - physically - has changed.  Larino defies time and challenges our sense of self.

The miracle of Larino, though, is its sense of life and community.   This is the world as it once was, and the Larinese have had the wisdom to retain a type of life that has all but disappeared in the rest of the world.  This is authentic Italy with wonderful olives, fine wines, and that continuing aspect of the Italian genius: a devotion to family.

 

          

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or visit THE CATHEDRAL, THE CHILD OF DEATH, THE CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA, THE CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO, PROVERBS, THE PAINTINGS AND POETRY OF ANTONIO DE SANTIS, THE STORY OF VIA CLUENZIO, THE STORY OF PRIMIANO, FIRMIANO, AND CASTO, CHRONOLOGY, A POEM, FINAL THOUGHTS.  

The Amazing Story of how the Cathedral came into existence