The reconstruction of Cerreto Sannita, nicknamed the "Turin" of Campania

by Federico Quagliuolo

Cerreto Sannita is one unusual city. At first glance the are surprising wide and regular streets separating arrays of small and elegant buildings. Another world than the medieval towns of Sannio characterized by stone houses, fortifications and narrow winding streets.

There very regular plant of Cerreto it is no coincidence, so much so that it was nicknamed "The little Turin" in the eighteenth century: there was in fact a disastrous earthquake in 1688 which destroyed the entire medieval settlement. After the tragic event one was rebuilt elegant city on a human scale, making a visionary project remained the same today.

The architect who designed it he was inspired by the map of the city of Turin, which at the time was completely different from the current Piedmontese capital. After all, today, taking a look at the city from above, we will find straight and parallel roads which seem almost drawn with a ruler.

Cerreto Sannita vista da Google Earth
Cerreto Sannita seen from above

A little Turin with a Neapolitan detail

The center of Cerreto is the square of San Martino, dedicated for a hundred years to Vittorio Emanuele II and today returned to its original name. It was designed as a meeting place for the whole community and still today it has not lost its central function. And there is also a small detail that links this city with Naples.

The Fountain of the Dolphins that which is located near the Palazzo Del Genio, in fact, comes from Market Square: it was purchased by Cerreto Sannita in 1813 as part of new works to embellish the main square.

We told the story here.

La ricostruzione di Cerreto Sannita, soprannominata la "Torino" della Campania

What was Cerreto Sannita like before the earthquake?

To rebuild the appearance of the ancient city you just have to rely on testimonials vague and generic from past eras, which makes the job very difficult. The first to reconstruct a map of the city was Renato Pescitelli, pharmacist and local historian who died in 2017.

Going even further back in time, it is certain that before the medieval city, wich was founded around the 9th century, there was a Samnite settlement. Titus Livius also mentions it in the story of the II Punic War. And it is no coincidence then that, right behind Cerreto, the Bridge of Hannibal: legend has it that the Carthaginian leader crossed the Titerno river thanks to the Roman bridge, even if there are no historical certainties.

The city lived through peaceful times. During the Aragonese period the territory was purchased by the Carafa, who at the time with Diomedes they were the most powerful family in the kingdom, and it was similar to many villages of the Sannio: a medium-sized town perched on a small plateau with walls and towers, of which only a dilapidated tower remained at the gates of the modern city.

After destruction of Telese in the 14th century, Cerreto Sannita had become the most important city in the area, with a highly developed industry in the production of cloths: it was inhabited by 9000 people, a record figure for the times.

Then on the afternoon of June 5, 1688 it completely changed history. There was a earthquake of the eleventh degree of the Mercalli scale which leveled the entire area and killed more than half of the inhabitants.

Cerreto antica torrione
Last testimony of the ancient Cerreto

A very modern reconstruction

At the news of the earthquake that shook all of Naples, the brothers Marzio and Marino Carafa immediately arrived in the city bringing food, doctors and building materials emergency housing, working personally for retrieve the last survivors.

The two feared the ruin of the territory, as it had already happened in the past in Telesia. For this reason they hired a Neapolitan architect, Giovan Battista Manni, who he studied the territory thoroughly and chose a small plateau not far from the ancient medieval city, believed ideal for climate, stability and economic growth prospects, thanks to the numerous access routes to the fields.

The small virgin plateau which was chosen by the architect made one spring to mind an idea light years ahead compared to the era in which he lived: the new city had to be a "perfect place" in which anyone, rich or poor, would have lived with the right space. It is even said that Manni did choose to citizens even the individual lots where they would build their homes. Meanwhile, to ensure the success of the operation, the Carafa brothers they dissuaded with good or very bad manners, all the Cerretani who tried to rebuild houses on the ruins of the ancient city.

Pianta della città di Torino
Turin city map

Cerreto Sannita was rebuilt in just 8 years

But the young feudal lords did not stop there. They also played a certain entrepreneurial spirit, with a brilliant banking operation: They provided interest-free loans (for the first 3 years) to all those who wanted to build houses in Cerreto, in order to immediately repopulate the town. Through a contract, however, the nobles all the commercial activities of the country were ensured. That way they would earn a lifetime with taxes on taverns, hotels and other commercial activities.
From theory to practice: there were many disputes between Cerreto Sannita and the Carafa, that soon they imposed unsustainable taxes. Even in 1739 he was forced to intervene in person Charles of Bourbon to be able to find an agreement between the city and the feudal lords.

Cerreto Sannita pianta originale
Original project of the new Cerreto Sannita

Samnite pride

The new Cerreto Sannita began to attracting workers not only from Naples, but also from the rest of Italy: an artist even came from Como. The advertising made by the Carafa family and the fame of "little Turin" or "perfect city" that preceded it, in fact, attracted numerous artisans and small entrepreneurs of the time who, in the following developments, brought to the city the legendary school of ceramics.

From the assured ruin to the modern economic center of Sannio: a story of four centuries that is still told today, incredibly, in the perfect buildings.

And it is no coincidence that the Carafa-Giustiniani Institute, the country's high school, was dedicated to two most representative characters of the city: on the one hand the man who rebuilt it, on the other the man who made it known all over the world thanks to his pottery school.

-Federico Quagliuolo

This article is dedicated to Nunzia Lavezza for her generosity in supporting Stories of Naples. Help us stay alive with a small donation!

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