The fountain of Hercules of Sessa Aurunca: history of the symbol of the ancient and modern city

by Federico Quagliuolo

Majestic, austere, suggestive: the fountain of Hercules of Sessa Aurunca appears suddenly, in a small square between Ducal Castle and the medieval streets of the city.

Today is the symbol of the city and its urban and technological advances, but it also hides a reference to the history of the ancient city known by the Romans. The protagonist of the sculpture is not in fact casual: Ercole was the god who protected the ancient Suessa.

It is no coincidence, moreover, if the symbol of Sessa Aurunca is the Nemean lion.

Fontana dell'Ercole di Sessa Aurunca
A detail of the fountain of Hercules in Sessa Aurunca

The fountain of Hercules: an ancient history

When Suessa Felix was one of the cities of Campania, a lot famous to be often cited also by Cicero, was an important center of art: it hosted the second largest theater in Campania and it was seat of the cult of Hercules, so much so that the demigod was also the god who protected the city and had a large temple dedicated to him which today probably lies buried under the hill.

The cult of Hercules, in fact, it was a characteristic of all the cities of Magna Graecia and, not surprisingly, comes from the Greek culture. This cult, which celebrated the values of strength and virility: his twelve labors are in fact the symbol ofeternal conflict between man and nature.

The episode told on the fountain of Hercules of Sessa Aurunca refers to theslaying of the Nemean lion, the first effort of the demigod.

The lion was one of the monsters children of giant Typhus and Echidna and terrified Mycenae and Nemea: he was endowed with a skin invulnerable with every blow and in fact resisted both arrows shot from the arch that the blows of an olive tree, which was detached from the ground e used as a club to beat him.

Then Hercules decided to strangle him with his own hands and, once suffocated, it skinned and made one coat that it would protected from the weapons of all men.

Fontana dell'Ercole di Sessa Aurunca
The fountain of Hercules of Sessa Aurunca in its entirety

A fountain born on a door

The fountain of Hercules was built in 1825 to celebrate a historical anniversary, that is the inauguration of the public aqueduct wanted by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon who managed to supply the entire city with running water as it did not happen since the times of the ancient Romans.

The sculpture was created by Angelo Solari, a sculptor from Caserta who was father of the more famous Tommaso Solari, in turn the author of numerous monuments in the city, including the lions of Piazza dei Martiri and the statue of Charles of Anjou.

Before this square, however, there was a gateway to the ancient city: it was called with the eloquent name of "Gate of the Slaughterhouse" and the first certain news we have dates back to 1558, when the Spanish duke of Sessa Aurunca, Lope de Herrera, decided to renovate area. We still have one last testimony of this story: there are in fact on the sides of the wall that surrounds the fountain two small tombstones with ancient inscriptions, placed there in 1638.

Stemma di Sessa Aurunca
The coat of arms of the municipality of Sessa Aurunca which represents Hercules fighting with the Nemean lion

During the years of Viceroyalty Sessa Aurunca had a period of great ferment: it was indeed one of the most important cities of the Campania hinterland, seat of numerous noble families (in fact Sessa was ruled by the Noble seats, just like Naples) and elective house of Gonzalo of Cordoba, L'Spanish national hero who conquered the Kingdom of Naples. It was him the first "Duke of Sessa", a noble title that still exists today.

Even today, after the restoration, the fountain of Hercules of Sessa Aurunca is exactly that perfect link between the ancient world and the modern city, in a continuity that only art can give us.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Lapide Fontana dell'Ercole di Sessa Aurunca
The plaque commemorating the destruction of the ancient gate for the construction of the Fountain of Hercules

References:
Sergio Cascella, The Roman theater of Sessa Aurunca, Marina di Minturno, 2002
History of the fountain
Campania Region - "Blue Flag of the Domitian Coast" Project
From Hercules to San Michele

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