History of Villa Literno, the city in the quagmire that changed its name

by Chiara Sarracino

Villa Literno is not called that. Literally. Its real name has been for centuries Vico di Pantano which, during the Fascist era, was changed because it was considered not very pretty and incompatible with the politics of the time, which instead had to exalt the reclamation of the Regi Lagni. Even before it was called Vico Fenicolense.

In reality, the true Liternum, the ancient city from which our town takes its name, was located in a slightly more distant place, In the municipality of Giugliano.

Villa Literno and the barns

At the origins our small town in Campania Felix, divided between the real Liternum, Sinuessa and Capua, was nicknamed Vicus Feniculensis: it is a name that still survives today in a street of Villa Literno and is clearly linked to the destination of these lands: there were in fact some barns. Many believed that Scipio the African was buried in these parts, but his grave remains only a hypothesis.
We then find it in the Middle Ages, at the time of Duchy of Benevento under Gisulfo I: in those times there was a certain San Sossio Pantano or Vico del Pantano, which is certainly the first time the name of our city appears.

Why was it called Vico?

We note various toponyms in Campania with the name "Vico". They are children of an ancient Latin custom: "VicusIn fact it was a small cluster of houses too small in size to qualify as a city. However, each Vicus was still considered a civil unit and were managed by a Magister, a sort of "chief" belonging to the patriciate.
In Campania we can think of Vico Equense, Santa Maria a Vico and, if the ancient name had survived, Vico di Pantano itself.

Villa Literno Garibaldi
Villa Literno has a monument to commemorate the passage of Garibaldi

A quagmire from which you cannot get out

For almost two thousand years this area has remained a gigantic swamp with an unbreathable air. Even doctors of the past believed that plague and malaria developed precisely because ofrotting atmosphere of the marshes and, under the Bourbons, they were placed several health checkpoints to verify that no epidemics broke out in the city brought by the locals. The reality is that living in the ancient Villa Literno was really difficult: in Naples they were frowned upon the peasants from the northern area of Campania, for fear of malaria. The city and its surroundings offered very little, if not buffalo farms, few arable fields and the sea.

To find the first reclamation works, however, we will have to wait Don Pedro of Toledo, that began to finance cleaning operations and economic development of this area, which at the time was still an almost abandoned village with a castle from the Angevin period (built by Michele de Cantono, councilor of Robert of Anjou) and nothing more.

The problem of the marshes in the province of Terra di Lavoro was very remarkable and it took centuries and centuries to face it: the area we now call "of the Regi Lagni”Was equivalent to approx 1100 square kilometers. With the knowledge of the Renaissance era it was needed a colossal work which was carried out by the best minds of the various centuries in which it was built. Let's take a leap into the 17th century, under the guidance of Pedro Fernandez de Castro, and this time we find Domenico Fontana, the leading expert in water architecture, to put an end to the problem. He couldn't, but at least he created the first "complain". And again, let's go on: the Bourbons tried again with Ferdinand IV and his successors, but even there it was only a solution of collision: he thought about it Francesco Pinto y Mendoza, the first to draw the first organic reclamation and redevelopment project of the entire Volturno area. Unfortunately, however, the unrest of 1848 and low confidence of Ferdinand II in a military engineer who was loyal to Murat, blocked the project. It was only connected to Naples through Via Santa Maria a Cubito.

We just have to think that the reclamation of the Regi Lagni is a problem that only in 2010 saw an almost total solution.

consortium aurunco of reclamation
The Aurunco di Bonifica Consortium was the protagonist, after the war, in the creation of the canals that made northern Campania habitable

Villa Literno is born

One of most famous works of the fascist government, the one that made the entire lower Lazio area habitable, is the reclamation of the Agro Pontino, with the birth of the famous Lictory, today Latina. Well, a few years earlier Mussolini also wanted throwing oneself into the same endeavor that everyone had failed at for the past 500 years: the reclamation of the Campania swamps, with Vico di Pantano being its capital.
They succeeded in large part: the reclamation of the Regi Lagni was the testing ground for experimenting with the Agro Pontino and, in fact, huge portions of land became arable. Precisely for this reason, with Royal Decree 173 of 1927, the name of the city was officially changed from Vico di Pantano to Villa Literno, to celebrate the symbolic rebirth of the former marshy area, also recalling the ancient Liternum and the Roman values so dear to the propaganda of the period. It was also created the station of Villa Literno on the occasion of the construction of the railway direct Rome-Naples.

This time, however, we find a new term in the name: “Villa". In this case it adds further confusion to a city that in its history has never found peace: in the Middle Ages, in fact, “Villa” were the names given to the small countryside villages. In short, nothing that has to do with ancient Rome and even less with Liternum.

And today, between humidity and the nearby Lago Patria, Villa Literno recalls its marshy past in the mosquitoes that plague us every summer.

-Chiara Sarracino

Egidio Finamore, Origins of the names of the cities of Campania, L'Arcolaio, Naples, 1964
Collection of various chronicles, diarjs, and other Italian brochures, such as… - Google Books
PINTO y MENDOZA, Francesco in "Biographical Dictionary" (treccani.it)
ROYAL DECREE 3 February 1927, n. 173 - Normative

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