Morcone is one of the most beautiful towns in the Sannio area, in the province of Benevento, in the heart of the Campania Apennines, on the border between Campania and Molise.
It stands on the steep slopes of Mount Mucre, on the southern slope of the Matese chain, and overlooks the splendid valley of the Tammaro river which ends right at the town giving the vision of a wide hilly landscape.
The historic centre of the village has remained unchanged at one time and is characteristic for its tangle of alleys and inaccessible stairways, not only to cars but even to the wheels of wagons, which make it look like a crib.
On each side of the town two streams flow, the San Marco stream and the Rio Vivo, which lap the town and set its limits, almost forming a small island and which have been its strength over the years.
It is said that the origins of Morcone are linked to another ancient and mysterious city: the famous Murgantia, mentioned by Tito Livio in his book “Ab Urbe Condita” which tells the story of Rome.
The city was inhabited by the proud and warlike people of the Samnites and was conquered by the Romans only during the 3rd Samnite war. Several remains of the ancient settlement remain, such as the polygonal walls which were then used as a base for the walls of the medieval castle.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the population took refuge on a hill to escape the Barbarians giving rise to the current village of Morcone. The initial fort then became a castle surrounded by fortified walls with six access gates. Porta San Marco is still in existence.
Marcone was then dominated by the Lombards and became part of the Duchy of Benevento, also called Langobardia Minor, which for centuries ruled central-southern Italy. It is mentioned for the first time in 776 AD. when it became the seat of a Lombard gastaldato, that is, a territorial administration endowed with civil, judicial and military powers, conferred by the king. Morcone administered justice within the Principality of Salerno.
It is said that during the 9th century, the Byzantine emperor Leo the Savio established a Greek rite diocese under the direct dependence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but with the advent and Norman domination, the diocese was suppressed by the Church of Rome. In fact, the Normans had been called by the papacy to spread the Latin rite and abolish the Orthodox one.
Under Norman domination, Morcone was part of the fief of the Counts of Ariano and in 1122 Giordano, Count of Ariano, took refuge in the Castle, after being defeated by William the Norman.
King (Ruggero) Roger II of Sicily, also known as Roger the Norman, during the struggles of 1138 for the consolidation of power, dismembered the fief of the counts of Ariano and raised Morcone to Terra Regia to his direct dependence with an administrative autonomy.
Unfortunately there is no precise information of Morcone during the Swabian domination.
With the arrival of the Angevins of Carlo d’Angiò, the town was assigned to Bertrando di Real and then passed to the Cantelmo family.
In 1345 a bloody episode characterized the life of Morcone, in which the Countess Sancia of Cabany was executed by King Louis of Hungary because she was suspected of taking part in the conspiracy for the assassination of the king’s brother, the husband of Queen Joan I of Naples .
After the death of the countess, the fiefdom was totally acquired by the crown assets and became royal land with its own municipal statutes, called “Antique Assisie” and the organization of the Universitas developed.
Under the subsequent domination of the Aragonese of Spain, the town became a fief of the Gaetani house, counts of Fondi. It is said that Onorato Gaetani, count of Morcone, took part in the conspiracy of the barons against the King of Naples Ferdinando I of Aragon, for which he was imprisoned in Castelnuovo.
But King Ferdinando had the fate of the Caetani family very much at heart and had Sancia, the natural daughter of Alfonso of Aragon, married to the son of Onorato Gaetani, giving her the Morcone fiefdom as a dowry.
During the invasion of King Charles VIII of France, Morcone remained loyal to the crown and was the basis of military operations that culminated in the battle of Circello in 1496, when the Aragonese defeated the Angevins.
In 1504 Ferdinand the Catholic granted the dom to Prospero Colonna who sold it to the Caetani in 1507. In 1528 the viceroy then gave it to Luigi dello Degno, but in 1537 the Caetani bought back Morcone once again and, in 1554, it was brought as a dowry by Isabella Caetani to Scipione Carafa, who became Count of Morcone.
In 1596 Antonio Carafa sold it to Giovan Francesco d’Aponte who was called Marquis of Morcone. After hardships it was later bought back by Domenico Carafa, prince of Colobrano.
During that period, industry and commerce developed considerably. In particular, several “fulling mills” were established, that is, the plants for cleaning the wool, enabled by the presence of waterways that provided motor energy. Even today the area is covered with a large number of water mills.
A building called the “Cartonera”, in which the cardboarding of woolen clothes took place, is still in the centre of the town, under Piazza San Marco.
With the arrival of the Napoleonic troops and the abolition of feudalism in 1806, Morcone became part of the Contado del Molise and, in 1861, flattered by the promises of advantages, it joined the province of Benevento.
Morcone suffered serious damage in the terrible earthquake of 1980, but the reconstruction led to the recovery of the buildings in the historic centre, of the open spaces, of squares and of the traditional streets of Morcone that can be admired today.
Cover picture by Domenico Vignone