History of Aversa, a Nordic city in the center of Campania

by Federico Quagliuolo

Norman Aversa it is not only the name of the football team, but also the origin and soul of one of the most important cities of the Campania hinterland, always disputed between the provinces of Naples and Caserta and which, in response, has always tried to be independent from both provinces.

There millennial history of Aversa begins with the first and last name of Rainulfo Drengot, which in the 1022 became the first count of the Aversano countryside.

Everything was born paradoxically from a political error of the Duke of Naples in the eleventh century: it was indeed Sergius IV to "pamper" the Normans, the men of the North, hoping to make an alliance capable of rejecting the bullies Benevento and Salerno, with their kingdoms that for 6 centuries have tried in vain to subdue the small Byzantine duchy in the shadow of Vesuvius.
He did not understand, however, that the real enemy had brought him to the doorstep: own Aversa was the Norman bridgehead in Campania, which helped the conquest of the whole of Southern Italy.

Storia di Aversa portone lapide
The plaque that tells the story of Aversa in its foundation. At the time it was still the province of Naples

Why is it called Aversa?

A good question that is difficult to answer. There are those who explain it in meaning literal, from Latin "urbis aversa", or "detached city"Referring to Naples, which is about 20km away.

The term "Aversa"We also find it in the times immediately following the collapse of the Roman Empire: ancient sources indicate the presence of a village "Sanctum Paulum in Averze". Effectively, Saint Paul the Apostle is still today the patron of the city.

Another interesting thing is it coat of arms of the city of Aversa, between mythology and symbolism: the symbol of the city is in fact a "cock basilisk". Let's explain it better: it is a rooster with a snake's tail, with the bird representing the origin of the Normans, who had the rooster in their banner. Some ancient Aversan coins also represent the rooster. The basilisk, the king of snakes, is instead the symbol of Oscan and Atellan tradition, being the territory part of one of the most important Italic populations present before the Roman conquests. It was added in the 15th century to represent the spirit of the Aversans survived the plague of 1496.

There is also the official motto of the city: “the basilisk left on the arena, free raised his head unconquered". Celebrate, in fact, the resistance of the people aversano.

aversa antica XVIII secolo
Aversa in the 18th century. It still kept the walls in good condition.

The Normans are coming!

The history of Aversa is most likely older than the arrival of the Normans. Probably there was already a small settlement or many small villages separated from each other already at the time of the ancient Romans, given the findings of some tombs and some buildings along the ancient consular road. What is certain is that the territory in the Middle Ages was almost uninhabited and was located at the limits of the influence of the Duchy of Naples, who had managed to enter the second millennium thanks only to his stubbornness and the courage of the Neapolitans, led by the various Atanasio and Sergio, with many talented leaders such as Cesario Consul.
The very small duchy, with dimensions more or less similar tocurrent province of Naples, it was indeed survived centuries of wars and invasion attempts, becoming the last Byzantine outpost in an Italy dominated by barbarians. It was though the history of independent Naples has almost come to an end: on the eve of the year 1000, indeed, the city was conquered by the very strong and cruel Pandolfo IV of Capua, after surviving a few years earlier even the descent of Henry II, emperor of Germany, which he intended to annex the whole of Italy.

Naples was lost, Duke Sergius III had been deported to Germany and nothing more was known of him. The son, the young man Sergius IV, only had one chance: talk to the leader Rainulfo Drengot, a mercenary who had settled with his people in the parts of Aversa. He was ready to sell yourself to the highest bidder and, in exchange for a land and a wife (Sichelgaita, the sister of Sergius IV), helped the duke to return to the city driving out the overbearing Capuans. But Sergio's move was a sensational own goal.

Aversa storia 1650 cartina antica
Aversa in 1650 is quite intact in its forms and must have been very similar in appearance to how the Normans also knew it.

The story of Aversa begins

It was the 1030 and Aversa was born for real (in 1022 only the noble title was created): Rainulfo Drengot began to call in that most fertile field the men of his people, which he was direct descendant of the mythological Vikings: in nearby Puglia in fact Roberto the Guiscardo he had subdued most of the territories and was happy to find an ally in Campania.

The particularity oforiginal architecture of Aversa, which today we can only know through ancient texts, is that it was purely Nordic: in fact, the Normans of Drengot had not yet suffered Latin cultural influences and the city, at its birth, it must have looked very similar to one of the early medieval villages found in Northern Europe.
Sergius IV understood the trouble he had gotten into. In a few years the Normans of Avers multiplied in number and strength, they fit perfectly into the local political context and, with cunning alliances, attacked first Amalfi, then Pozzuoli, Capua, Sorrento and Gaeta. They dismounted, one by one, all the Neapolitan cities and their allies. Then they even headed against the Papal State, imprisoning Pope Leo IX. After a long conversation with the supreme pontiff, the Normans obtained the title of Diocese for Aversa and the support of Rome. They had by now free way.

Naples, meanwhile, managed to resist for 100 years to the Norman pressures that, starting from Aversa, strengthened by Puglia and strong by Sicily, they had surrounded by now the last outpost of that early medieval world that clung desperately to his past. Until, in the 1140, Ruggiero the Norman managed to triumphantly enter the city. Era just born a kingdom which would remain more or less intact within its borders until 1861.

Tribunale di Aversa storia di aversa
History of Aversa also in the images from above: the court has preserved the shape of a castle, even if in appearance it looks like a normal palace.

Aversa Normanna

The history of Norman Aversa certainly did not end with the birth of the Kingdom of Sicily. On the contrary, the Drengot family was declared "the exclusive owner of Aversa", precisely to underline the services rendered to the new ruling dynasty that ruled from Palermo. In Campania, Meanwhile, the transfer of regional political power to Naples began, which was not yet capital.

In the city numerous noble families moved, including a branch of the Altavilla. In the meantime they also began to settle down very numerous religious orders, on all Benedictines, which at the beginning of the past millennium they were powerful throughout Campania. They were built large and solid walls that still pop up here and there in the historic center and within the city numerous fortifications and castles were built. Some of these still survive today, such as the Court of Aversa that, looking at it carefully from above, still retains the original structure.

When the Angevins, and Naples was the capital, ihe capital of the Aversano area was one of the richest cities in the region, so much to be particularly loved by Queen Giovanna, who often went to the palace of Aversa. And it was here that one of the most important events took place controversial of the history of the time: the murder of her husband, Andrea of Hungary.

Rainulfo Drengot Aversa storia
Rainulfo Drengot, the founder of Aversa

A thousand years well worn

Despite the competition from other cities in the province of Terra di Lavoro, especially Caserta (the city that was then preferred by the Bourbons), Aversa always remained one of the political and cultural centers livelier than the entire province of Campania. This is testified not only by the noble families who frequented the city, but also by the contribution of illustrious men that the city has donated to the world of music: Domenico Cimarosa to Niccolò Jommelli and Gaetano Andreozzi they are authors of compositions still studied in the conservatives of all the world. It was also of Aversan origins Cirillo family which, having moved to Grumo Nevano, gave the world centuries later the scientist Domenico Cirillo. Not all recent events in Aversa were beautiful: in the 1900s it was theater of tragic events as the death of the mayor de Lieto and was touched by purges of Colonel Anceschi.

At the dawn of its first 1000 years, the history of Aversa it is a baggage made of events, stories, names, traditions and characters who proudly survive under the wild concrete who has brutalized the provinces of Caserta and Naples, without silencing the stories preserved in the books.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Mario Forgione, Naples Ducale, Newton Compaton, Naples, 1994
Alfonso Gallo, Aversa Normanna, Similar publishing industries, Naples, 1938
Gino Doria, History of a capital
Municipality of Aversa

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