Gioia Sannitica castle: a Norman fortress among dead witches

by Chiara Sarracino

Despite being in ruins, the Gioia Sannitica castle still dominates the entire Telesina valley from the top of one of the first hills of the Matese.
It can be reached via an impervious path and, in its ruins that preserve the ancient architecture intact, it remembers perfectly the atmosphere of the Middle Ages.

And that's not all: it is also linked to this fortress the story of the death of a witch, Erbanina.

Castello di Gioia sannitica
The Castle of Gioia Sannitica. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

How many abandoned castles!

We know little and nothing about this castle, but the thing that fascinates us, when we look at the unhinged wooden door at the entrance, it is precisely his sense of abandonment that has preserved him from any modification, which also happened to the town of Gioia Sannitica, which remained very faithful to its medieval architecture.

Almost all the castles, in fact, have been modified over time and adapted to the various architectures and needs of the various eras: let's think about Durazzano castle, showing the true face of the Maschio Angioino of Naples, or the many buildings readapted over time such as those of Morcone e Montesarchio.

The need to build a castle on the heights was born at the time ofhigh Middle age, when the Roman Empire, once collapsed, did fragment the whole of Italy into many small duchies and kingdoms in constant struggle with each other to conquer the territories. Cities and their feudal lords, therefore, needed numerous observation posts to ensure the safety of the territory. And so, above all in Sannio and Irpinia, we have numerous testimonies of castles and fortifications to guard the cities. In Salerno and in the Terra di Lavoro instead there are the coastal towers.

Castello di Gioia Sannitica
The Gioia Sannitica Castle from above. Photo by Federico Quagliuolo

A Norman fortress

The Gioia Sannitica Castle was most likely built under the Norman domination, around 10th century. We do not know precisely the history of the family that dominated Gioia, but we have a good certainty that the structure remained active and lived up to the Angevin era.

The facility was built in an ideal spot: defensible from the shoulders, since the only access was through a path on Mount Erbano, well defended by a walls and also equipped with a small village with warehouses, houses and production units, to ensure self-sufficiency to the structure even in the event of a siege.

The breaking moment which depopulated the entire Titerno valley is in fact dated 1394: on this occasion there was one of the most devastating earthquakes in the history of Italy. It was probably on this occasion that the castle began to take on its function, but the latest news we have in the sixteenth century, when Charles V donated the fief of Gioia to a certain Ugo Villalumo.

Castello di Gioia Sannitica torre
The tower of the Gioia Sannitica castle. Picture of Federico Quagliuolo

The janara Erbanina and the castle of Gioia Sannitica

It's said a legend linked to the castle tower, which is the only structure left standing (although it was probably much taller before e developed on two or more floors).
A long time ago, in fact, it seems that the feudal lord of Gioia Sannitica yes it was fell in love of a beautiful girl. Her name was Erbanina and, with just a look, he was capable of melt even the hardest heart.

The nobleman did not think twice: the groom and he took her to live with him among the most beautiful rooms of the castle of Gioia Sannitica. But some oddities began to emerge from the coexistence.
In fact, at night the girl disappeared. At first it seemed routine, then the feudal lord noticed that it was physically impossible to find. Rumors began to spread in the village: some saw it flying over the roofs of the houses, while others even swore to see it in dreams.

This was getting weird. So it was that the nobleman commissioned a guard he trusted to keep an eye on the girl: she was a janara!
In fact, the guard reported that when the young woman got up at night, she actually went to a secret room in the castle to anoint herself with fat and other secretions of corpses. Then, thanks to this magic potion, she threw herself from the window of the tower and flew into the village to perform who knows what witchcraft together with her other janare friends.

Castello di Gioia Sannitica
The Castle of Gioia Sannitica from afar, is still maintained in a very dignified way for being more than 1000 years old!

From passionate love we passed to terror. Or maybe the jealousy, since the man was more concerned with the idea than there girl could meet a lover.

So it was that the bridegroom, to stop the janara, he decided to sneak into the secret room, replacing the magic potion with the very simple lard.
The spell didn't work and the girl, throwing herself from the tower window as usual, he fell down and smashed to the ground throwing an atrocious scream during the fall.

There are those who affirm that of night, who has the courage to walk there, he can still hear that young girl's scream.

-Chiara Sarracino

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