Human settlements at Venafro, in Molise, predated the Romans, and even the Samnites, who came before them. In antiquity, the city was praised for its olive oil, and as a resort. Even today it is known for its oil, and the city possesses a not only a fine historic center, but also various sites of archeological importance, including a Roman theater, on its periphery. We made a short visit to Venafro one quiet Sunday afternoon, and despite not having the chance to see all that the city had to offer, I was satisfied by our passagiata through the center.
The castle, named for the Pandone family, who became lords of Venafro in the fifteenth century, is located at the highest point of the city. Originally built upon Samnite walls, the castle has undergone various modifications and expansions over the centuries, among them, the moat constructed in the fourteenth century. It was only with the arrival of the Pandone that it became a fixed residence. In the early sixteenth century, Enrico Pandone had the walls of some of the rooms frescoed with images of his favorite horses, which seems to have been a courtly thing to do at the time, the frescoes Giulio Romano painted in the Sala dei Cavalli in the Palazzo del Tè, at Mantua, being a better known example.
The church of the Annunziata was built in the late fourteenth century but wears a Baroque veneer. I didn’t get to see the interior, but the exterior was captivating enough, its façade neatly irregular with stones of different sizes, many of them reused from earlier monuments. The nonuniformity of the courses makes an interesting contrast with the precise cornices and sculptural details of the seventeenth-century restoration.
The seventeenth-century reorganization of the façade involved closing up the two lateral portals and opening a new one at the center, in order to create a symmetrical disposition. The outlines of both portals are still visible, together with that of a large oculus that originally held a rose window. The portal on the right, with the oculus above it, served as the main entrance to the church, while the smaller one to the left gave access to the old bell tower.
As its swallowtail crenellations suggest, the Torre Medievale was once a defensive structure. As part of the city’s walls, it overlooked the great moat that once surrounded Venafro. It served as the point of entry for visitors arriving from the Sannio.
The Torricella, perched on a mountaintop overlooking the city, was long part of its defensive system, (indeed, the foundations of the structure are Roman.) Commanding a view of the valley, sentries stationed there once communicated with the castle by means of a system of mirrors.*
*The source I have for this last bit of information is unreliable, yet I find it too evocative to omit.