Gambatesa is a medieval village in Molise located on a hill with a view over a wide horizon and the lake of Occhito – for capacity it being the second biggest artificial reservoir in Europe – born from an artificial dam built on the Fortòre river that separates Molise from nearby Puglia and thanks to which the surrounding nature is particularly luxuriant.
A horse trail has been built around the lake and is very popular with horse lovers.
Its origins are Roman but its documented history begins with the barbarian invasions then with the arrival of the Lombards of the Duchy of Benevento and with the construction of a castle in the eighth century around which the present village was built.
Perhaps the name of the castle and the municipality comes from a physical defect of the first owner.
A great development occured with the Angevin court of Roberto d’Angiò who gave the castle to Riccardo Pietravalle as a fiefdom, though the period of greatest prestige was in the fifteenth century with Andrea di Capua who transformed it into a Renaissance palace.
To him His due the name of the castle, known as Capua Castle. You can recognize the oldest parts that had above all defensive purposes and the Renaissance ones with a rusticated entrance portal and a loggia that lightens and softens the facade.
The interior of the castle was richly frescoed in 1550 by Decumbertino (Donato da Copertino who had been a pupil of Vasari) with the typical scenes of the time: landscapes, hunting scenes, mythological and allegorical scenes such as the representation of the cardinal virtues: Charity, Strength, Prudence and Justice.
Take note of a fresco showing the construction of the large Church of San Pietro in Rome and note the square with the obelisk.
The last feudal lords were members of the Caracciolo family until shortly after the unification of Italy.
The main church is that of San Bartolomeo Apostolo which dates back to the castle period but was then rebuilt several times until the great transformation of the late seventeenth century ordered by the Capua family.
A small jewel is the Sanctuary Chapel of Maria Santissima della Vittoria, a small local church with a simple stone facade that ends with two bells inserted in the stone, and which once belonged to a monastery born from the will of Emperor Federico Barbarossa.
But Gambatesa’s fame is mainly due to one of the most ancient Italian traditions, that of the “Maitunate” which takes place on New Year’s Eve and which involves the whole town.
To try to describe it in a few words, one could say that the “Maitunata” is a satirical starling, with a single musical note, which is sung, in front of the door of each house of the families targeted, by “squads” of singers and musicians playing traditional instruments. Along with the accordion, they play bufù (caccavella or putipù), tree frog, triccheballacche, …
At the end of the Maitunata the family invites the team to come into the house to eat and drink generally home made biscuits, sausages, cheeses and wine. The “tour” lasts all night on December 31st until the following morning.
During the day the teams will perform on a stage specially set up for the Maitunates “targetting” the municipal administration, with prizes for the most successful satirical starlings.
The cuisine is typical of the rural areas of Molise with home-made pasta in the shape of a flute, called Ciufelli, topped with sausage ragout or with ricotta or turnip greens, and cod with breadcrumbs.
Among the traditional desserts you can taste Casciatelli made with ricotta, sugar, cinnamon and lemon, Calzonetti made with chickpeas and honey, and almonds.
(Photo courtesy of Pietro Abiuso)