The Roman rural villas

The heritage of the villae rusticae, farms and villa farms is very interesting. They are in the area of the ager Pompeianus, the Pompeian suburb, and constituted the elements of the production network operating in the first century AD on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius and in the nearby plain of the river Sarno. In the territory of Boscoreale, in particular, the archaeological excavations, between the end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, have brought to light numerous structures, such as Villa della Pisanella, subsequently backfilled.

They allowed the discovery and recovery of wall and floor decorations and valuables, today in the collections, among others, of the National Museum of Naples, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Villa Regina

Among the rustic villas surveyed (about thirty), the most famous is Villa Regina in Boscoreale. The main activity there was wine production: we know this due to the presence of environments that were used for the pressing of grapes, with the treading floor (calcatorium) and the fixed preparations for the assembly of the wooden grape press (torcular) and the large wine cell with hollow clay pots (dolia defossa) for the conservation of wine.

The Golden Mile

The Golden Mile is that stretch of coastline, today SS18, which from the Neapolitan districts of San Giovanni to Teduccio and Barra leads to Torre del Greco through San Giorgio a Cremano, Portici and Herculaneum, between Mount Vesuvius and the Gulf of Naples and which contains 122 villas that since 1997 are UNESCO heritage of the Biosphere.

In 1738 Charles of Bourbon and his wife chose Portici to build a new Palace: hence the proliferation of sumptuous villas and vast gardens in rococo and neoclassical style, which the court of nobles entrusted to the work of famous architects like Luigi Vanvitelli, Ferdinando Fuga, Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, Ferdinando Sanfelice and which are still visible today in the territory of the Municipalities of Naples, San Giorgio a Cremano, Portici, Herculaneum, Torre del Greco.

You can choose between two itineraries: the widespread Museum of the Territory and of the Vesuvius Villas that winds through the territory of Herculaneum and allows the visit to Villa Campolieto, Villa Ruggiero and the Parco sul Mare della Villa Favorita; the Leopardian Museum of Villa delle Ginestre in Torre del Greco in which a guided tour is dedicated to Giacomo Leopardi, who had his last home here and in which he composed his poems “La Ginestra” and “Il Tramonto della Luna”.

Borgo medievale del Casamale

Of great historical and architectural interest, Casamale is the only medieval village within the perimeter of the Vesuvius National Park. It has a wall of Angevin origin, modified in 1467 at the behest of Ferrante I of Aragon who built an imposing structure for the military defence of Naples, based on a more modern design than the previous one that had a path of 1,300 metres of variable height interrupted by large semi-cylindrical towers. The village was isolated from the context by two natural riverbeds still existing today: Alveo Fossa dei lioni in the east and Alveo Cavone in the west.

The Alcantarine Church is wedged between walls; it was first inhabited by the Carmelite nuns and then by the Franciscan nuns of the Alcantarine and the Trinitarian Fathers.

Inside the village there is the Collegiate Church, which preserves a splendid ceiling, with inlays in the gilded wood with pure gold representing spirals of vegetables and naked cherubs, a wooden pulpit, an eighteenth-century pipe organ and a wooden choir.

Alagno Castle

This is the fortified house built by the Aragoneses in 1458 in the territory of Somma Vesuviana by the will of Lucrezia d'Alagno, lover of King Alfonso I of Aragon, who chose this place as her retreat after the king's death. The castle stands outside the Aragonese walls, just behind the medieval village of Casamale and in the direction of Mount Somma.

The new building replaced the old Aragonese castle which was located further upstream, in Santa Maria a Castello. This building dates back to the tenth century; abandonment and eruptions return only a few remains today.

Over time the castle has passed into the hands of various owners, including the Prince De Curtis, whose stage name was Totò, until 1998, when the municipality bought it to make it a museum and a library.

Medici Palace

It’s a Lombard construction. The first testimonies can be dated between 1039 and 1080. In 1083 the palace hosted Pope Gregory VII, on his journey to Salerno while escaping from Henry IV. Later the manor had other noble owners, such as Fabrizio Maramaldo, Don Cesare Gonzaga and his son Don Ferrante, princes of Molfetta, until it became property of the Medici family.

It was on 15th May 1567 when Don Bernadetto de Medici, nephew of Cosimo the Elder, bought the fortress, called “Palace of the Prince” by everyone, and all the feud. Currently it houses the headquarters of the Vesuvius National Park.

Church of our Lady of Graces

In 1587, with the papal bull of Pope Sixtus V, the humble chapel of the village of Trecase was erected as a parish church and dedicated to our Lady of Graces. In 1589 the church was readapted and restructured in a wider and more dignified manner for a population in continuous growth.

Today it is a splendid example of Baroque architecture containing works of art of important and indisputable artistic value. In 1700, the golden age of the Vesuvius villas, many Neapolitan and local noble families built summer residences in the territory: taking advantage of this impetus, in 1723 the Church of our Lady of Graces was restructured and extended, getting the configuration that currently characterizes it.

Casa Bianca Farmhouse

Located on the Vesuvius side in the municipality of Boscotrecase, at the upper end of Via Cifelli, it owes its name to the lime plaster which made it stand out in relation to the isolated location in the middle of wide slopes covered with dark and barren lava.

Since the second half of the nineteenth century, in addition to being a farm, it served as an inn, tavern and rest area for the horses of travellers who were about to climb the Gran Cono. Among the many travellers who passed through there, it’s worth mentioning the “associate” of the C.A.I. of Milan (Italian Alpine Club), the priest Achille Ratti, who climbed there after becoming Pope Pius XI.

From an architectural point of view, Casa Bianca stands out for a fascinating porticoed area, originally covered with a barrel vault, probably inspired by a similar solution adopted for the reconstructive restoration of the House of the Silver Wedding in Pompeii’s excavations.

Church of  S. Maria di Pugliano in Herculaneum

It’s the most ancient sanctuary of the Vesuvius area, existing since the eleventh century and has been a papal basilica since 1574. It was already known in the Middle Ages when two beautiful sarcophagi of the Roman age, which are still preserved in the church and are certainly worthy of artistic interest, were found during the excavation for the construction of the church.

From the outside, the Basilica looks like a collection of buildings from different eras and only the bell tower remains of the original structure. In the church, whose layout has three naves with side chapels, interesting works are preserved.

Complex of Santa Maria del Pozzo

It’s an extraordinary monumental complex that allows you to read the history of the religious settlements of the area, buried and reconstructed on several levels, in relation to the periodic floods caused by the slopes of the nearby Mount Somma.

According to an ancient local legend instead of this sanctuary there was a Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter, later transformed into a place of worship of the Christian religion. The small chapel located inside the sanctuary, at the lowest level, is considered part of an ancient Roman wine tank which presents, on the barrel vault, the entrance of a well from which the denomination “Madonna del Pozzo” (St. Mary of the well) comes from.

Above the chapel there is the church of 1333 built by King Robert of Anjou; Queen Joan of Aragon of 1500 had the convent and the church built over it.

Sanctuary of Madonna dell’Arco

In Sant'Anastasia on 6th April 1450 a young man was playing pall mall. He was unable to make the ball go farther than his opponent's, because it was stopped by the trunk of a linden, therefore he began to curse wildly and in the end, still not happy, he threw the ball against the left cheek of a sacred image depicted in a votive shrine and dedicated to Madonna dell’Arco (St. Mary of the Arch), so called because it was placed near the remains of some arches of a Roman aqueduct. Blood began to drip from the image.

The miracle attracted so many worshippers that in 1593 the works for the construction of a sanctuary dedicated to Madonna dell'Arco began. The works terminated in 1610 and incorporated the votive shrine and the first church built around it. The project was curated by the architect Giovan Cola di Franco who had already directed the works in Naples for the Church of Santa Maria La Nova and the Chapel of San Gennaro of the Cathedral. The carved walnut choir and the paintings among which it’s worth mentioning the Adoration of the Magi by Luca Giordano and the small temple that houses the sacred image of the Madonna commissioned in 1621 to Bartolomeo Picchiatti are very interesting.

The portals are adorned with biblical scenes in copper. The Sanctuary of the Madonna dell'Arco is a destination every year on Easter Monday of the traditional pilgrimage of the fujenti or battenti, an event that brings thousands of worshippers.