This past week, the Region of Campania released its new tourist map, highlighting must-see locales for visitors— including such well-known sites as Naples, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, Paestum, and others. What was striking, as seen below, was that the map excluded must-see locations in Avellino Province. I have been told that this map highlights only UNESCO sites, but it is not clear on a first glance. (It does, however, raise the question– how do we get Irpinian locales on the UNESCO World Heritage map?)
As an American of Irpinian descent, I do not profess to have all of the answers to when it comes to a “must-see” list for all of Avellino Province. I believe that name “Irpinia” should be just as well-known as Tuscany, Rome, Sicily, Venice, or any other heavily-traveled location throughout Italy. I started this blog because I firmly believe that this incredible section of Italy deserves its rightful place among more well-known locations and that it should be a destination for all, not just for those who claim heritage from the region.
When I saw this map, my heart broke because I have been to Irpinia several times and the entire area– not just my ancestral home of Guardia Lombardi– has a firm hold on my spirit. With this in mind, I have decided to respond to this map via this blog with my own “top ten” list. Every location that I have included is one that I have visited in person at some point in my travels that I personally feel best represents Irpinia in all of its splendor.
With this in mind, I present to you the top ten places to visit in Irpinia– in no particular order:
1. Santuario di Montevergine/ Mercogliano
Thousands of pilgrims flock to the Sanctuary of Montevergine annually to pay homage to the Virgin Mary under the title of “Madonna di Montevergine.” The site’s history dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries when St. William of Vercelli answered God’s call to establish a monastery on a mountain, which is where the Sanctuary now stands today. The painting of the Virgin Mary housed inside the Sanctuary is said to have been painted by St. Luke in Jerusalem and was given to the monks at Montevergine in 1310. St. William is buried on site and some of his relics are at other churches throughout the region.
2. Abbazia del Goleto/ Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi
St. William of Vercelli also founded the Abbazia del Goleto in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi– now partially in ruins, the abbey was originally built as a place for women who were called to the religious life to begin their studies. There was also a small monastery built on the site for monks to oversee the nuns, as they would have needed economic help running the abbey. The abbey saw a decline in the early 1500s due to plagues that swept the area, but remained open until 1807 when Napoleon closed all monastic orders. A restoration project on the abbey began in 1973, although parts were lost in the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake.
3. Museo della Cultura e della Civiltà Contadina di Guardia Lombardi/ Guardia Lombardi
For those of you who follow my blog, this may seem like an obvious choice for me and, perhaps, slightly biased, due to my Guardiese heritage, but I assure you, it is not. This museum should be a must-see for anyone who is interested in Italian history leading up to the era of immigration abroad. Before I visited this museum, I had a slight understanding of what my ancestors’ lives were like due to the stories I was told, but nothing prepared me for what I saw inside. A visitor to this museum will walk away with a thorough understanding of what conditions were like for any Italian who chose to leave Italy to settle in a new country. The exhibits are both moving and empowering, and a tangible link to our immigrant past.
4. Conza della Campania
On November 23, 1980, life forever changed in Irpinia when an earthquake all but destroyed the area, leaving more than 2,400 people dead, 7, 700 homeless, and more than 250,000 injured. The epicenter of the earthquake was the town of Conza della Campania. Conza was so badly damaged that the town could not be rebuilt where it was– it was rebuilt 5 miles down the road in Piano delle Briglie. During the recovery process, ruins from Compsa, the ancient city of the Hirpini, the tribe from where Irpinia gets its name, were found, and that dig gets about 10,000 visitors a year. Both the old town of Conza, abandoned from the earthquake, and the dig, can be seen today.
5. La Tarantella di Montemarano/ Montemarano
The tarantella is a dance that is synonymous with Southern Italy and Irpinia has its very own version right in the town of Montemarano. The Tarantella di Montemarano is characterized by lively instruments, improvisation, singing and response, the use of a clarinet, and its unique “Y” formation. It is danced during the Carnevale (Mardi Gras) season and Montemarano even has an ethno-musical museum, Museo Etnomusicale Celestino Coscia e Antonio Bocchino, dedicated to furthering the preservation of this art form, as well as a school where people– including tourists– can learn how to perform its steps!
6. Street Art/ Bonito
I am a sucker for any kind of street art– I love the street art that is popping up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and every time I visit Europe I could stand for hours just looking at the amazing creations on buildings there! The town of Bonito actually has a street art festival dedicated to all of the stunning murals gracing the edifices of buildings throughout its town– other nearby towns, including Calitri— also have street art, making Irpinia one of Italy’s premier off-the-beaten-path artistic destinations!
7. Leather Tanning/ Solofra
Solofra is known as one of Italy’s major centers for leather tanning and is known as a prime location for the purchase of Italian leather jackets. Solofra’s population is only 12,485 people, but there are hundreds of tanners in town– meaning that shoppers can get the best prices and the best quality goods as the market is extremely competitive.
8. Lago di Laceno/ Bagnoli Irpino
If outdoor activities are more your thing, Irpinia has you covered. The area surrounding the Lago di Laceno has hiking, skiing, and a plethora of other outdoor activities. The area itself also boasts several restaurants that serve typical Irpinian cuisine, perfect for after you’ve worked up an appetite from being outside!
9. Torrone/ Dentecane
For those of you with a sweet tooth (like me!), the town of Dentecane boasts several torrone makers. What struck me the most about the torrone I tasted in Irpinia was the wide variety of flavors– in the United States, I am most used to the tiny boxes we get around the holiday season. The torrone in Irpinia can be hard or soft, depending on your taste, and can be chocolate, hazelnut, limoncello… whatever flavor you might find! It’s truly a delight and worth the trip to sample, especially if you grew up getting it in your Christmas stocking!
10. Parco Archeologico di Aeclanum/ Mirabella Eclano
You can’t understand your future without understanding your past– and that is why I chose to conclude this list with the Parco Archeologico di Aeclanum in Mirabella Eclano. This archaeological dig is actually the remnants on the ancient city of Aeclanum, the most important city of the Samnites in Irpinia. Dating back to the third century before Christ, Aeclanum was situated between the valleys of the Calore and Ufita rivers and was accessible only by way of the Via Appia, one of the most important ancient roads as it connected Rome to Brindisi. Today, visitors can stop by daily and entry to the park is free to the public.
It is my hope that this post encourages people to visit Irpinia, to truly take in its beauty and its wonders. I know I missed things because narrowing down such an amazing place to only ten suggested spots is an impossible task– fortunately this blog highlights all of the stories this area has to tell.
If you have a suggested place you’d like to see highlighted on this blog, don’t hesitate to reach out!