Mondragone and the dragon: history and legend of the name of the city

by Federico Quagliuolo

The city of Mondragone has a name of rare charm, halfway between history and legend. In fact, it seems that there was a mountain defended by a ferocious dragon which, with its pestilential breath, killed people.

For those who do not want to be influenced by legends, there is also one less fascinating historical explanation, but more plausible: in this case we must knock on the door of the Normans. Let's find out.

Mondragone e il drago: storia e leggenda del nome della città

The origin of the name Mondragone: a dragon or the Normans?

The origin of the name of the city is a rather complex matter: we are sure that the modern core of Mondragone arose time after the destruction of Sinuessa, which was one of the seaside towns richest and most flourishing of Southern Italy in Roman times. Archaeological findings show, however, that the area was already frequented in the Neolithic era and, in later times, it housed a Aurunci village which was conquered by the Romans.

Roberto il Guiscardo: the Normans in Italy

The Dragon of Mondragone

The witness of this legend is a truly exceptional name: the poet Jacopo Sannazaro. It is really him, in Arcadia, to tell the story of a terrible dragon from the parts of the Rocca di Mondragone (which still exists today).

The building is located on the summit of Mount Petrino (which is actually tall 417 meters: in fact it is a hill), which dominates the domitian coast, ideal for observing the possible enemy raids. It was already known in ancient times Sinuessa and in this very place the ancient inhabitants fled after the destruction of the city in 375, building a first small settlement on which the castle was then built many centuries later.

Sannazaro explains that the mountain quarries were characterized by a terrifying smell, capable of killing humans. On the other hand, we don't have to think of medieval dragons as gigantic fire-breathing lizards: in the mythology of the past they had numerous forms no less terrible and they were very frequent in the stories even in ancient times Greece.

Often, instead of spitting flames, they were equipped with a pestilential breath: we also think of the traditional dragon of St. George. And well the dragon of Mondragone did not shy away from this specialty: it was hidden in a mysterious cave, ready to kill anyone who came near the top of the mountain.

In fact, even Sannazaro pointed out that the air in the area was truly unbreathable and the thing has intrigued over time speleologists of all ages: probably the mountain, at the time of Sinuessa, housed two large water tanks (found in recent archaeological excavations) and the same, stagnant, made part of the marshy and rotting soil. Or, very plausible explanation, the smell was due to thermal springs of Mondragone, of sulphurous origin, which they created mofete in the caves (these are gas emissions from cracks in the ground, often with a nauseating smell).

RubRumDragon Final Fantasy VIII
Not all dragons were like that. Certainly, however, they all caused nightmares like the one in Final Fantasy.

Norman Mondragone

According to many linguists, the origin of the name Mondragone could derive from theNorman occupation which departed from county of Aversa which was donated by Duke Sergio of Naples to Rainulfo Drengot. The year 1000 had just passed. The name or nickname "Dragon it was widespread among the Normans and in the 11th century one of the regents of the Rocca Montis Draconis it was such Drogone d'Altavilla, the brother-in-law of Guaimario V, the prince of Salerno, and Riccardo Drengot, the founder of Aversa.
Finamore therefore assumes that it was the Normans who gave the city its name: it was probably one distortion of the name Drogone, who owned the territory and who, when the city was besieged, he took refuge with all his family on the ancient fortress which, with the mountain, was identified as "Montis Drogonis ".
From the mountain, then, the entire settlement below became known as Mondragone.

It would also justify the fact that the mountain is known in several scriptures as Dragonis" and not "Draconis“.

Panorama Rocca Mondragone
Il panorama dalla Rocca di Mondragone

From the mountain to the city: a people between the hills and the sea

The Massico mountain range has always been home, ally and protector of the people of the Domitian Riviera, from the ancient Aurunci to Falerno wine loved by the Romans of Sinuessa, arriving at the raids of Fra Diavolo, and ending today at the ruins of the ancient medieval fortress that still dominates the coast today, between Baia Domizia and his Mondragone.

A fascinating name that encompasses a 2000-year history that revolves around this one very ancient hill.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Egidio Finamore, History of the names of the cities of Campania, Arcolaio, Naples, 1966
Municipality of Mondragone

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