"La Rotonda" of Nocera Superiore: a jewel of early Christian art

by Roberto Iossa

TO Nocera Superiore one of the best preserved early Christian buildings in Italy is kept: it is the Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore, better known as "La Rotonda".

"La Rotonda" of Nocera Superiore: a jewel of early Christian art

A territory with a thousand-year history

We are inAgro Nocerino Sarnese, an area halfway between Salerno and Naples, near the sea and protected behind by the Regional Park of the Lattari Mountains. Its millenary history has seen it protagonist of important historical events partly traceable from archaeological finds. The Baptistery of Nocera Superiore was built little after the middle of the sixth century a. C. (about 1500 years ago!) in the years of domination of the Eastern Roman Empire. In those years, in fact, the Byzantines had just defeated the Ostrogoths led by King Theia.

According to local tradition, the alleged church annexed to the baptistery was destroyed in 1138 when the Norman king Roger II conquered Nocera by razing it to the ground. But the presence of a basilica complex is not found in archaeological excavations.

"La Rotonda" stands on an ancient Roman building, as can be seen from mosaic floor which emerged following the excavation work. Although many believe that this construction is a Roman temple, the most plausible hypothesis refers to a residential complex or a thermal complex. In fact, near the building stands the "Archaeological Park of Nuceria”Whose recent excavations have brought to light the remains of Roman dwellings from various eras.

"La Rotonda" of Nocera Superiore: a jewel of early Christian art

A magical place that takes you back in time

The Baptistery maintains its original structure especially inside. Entering, in fact, we are struck by the beauty of the columns. There are fifteen pairs connected to each other by round arches. Columns, capitals and bases are gods counting materials, most dating back to the time of the emperor Adriano, coming from the buildings of the ancient Roman city of Nuceria Alfaterna. Cipollino, gray granite, striped travertine, oriental alabaster: a real sample of sizes and colors, which makes this environment mystical and suspended in time. Also Roman-Corinthian capitals they are of exquisite workmanship, four of them are decorated with reed leaves and dolphins.

"La Rotonda" of Nocera Superiore: a jewel of early Christian art

The central plant revolves all around the baptismal font covered in marble and over six meters long in diameter (it is one of the largest in Italy!). Here the catechumens received the rite of Baptism through immersion, in memory of that dispensed by St. John to Christ in the Jordan River.

"La Rotonda" of Nocera Superiore: a jewel of early Christian art

Over the centuries the building has undergone a series of additions that testify to the use made of it by the community. To the left of the current entrance are located for example two medieval niches of different sizes decorated with frescoes from 1300.

A past that belongs to us all

There are many famous people who have visited the Baptistery of Santa Maria Maggiore. In 1856 King of Ferdinand II of Bourbon he went here and ordered its restoration, which was then slowed down by the events of 1860 and only seriously revived in recent decades. But also poets, travelers, artists: everyone was surprised by the charm of this place which, for hundreds of years, takes us back in time and tells a past that belongs to everyone better than any book!


The story is dedicated to Fania Fucci, to thank her for her generosity. You too can support Storie di Napoli with a donation, your support is essential!

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