Sessa Aurunca, a journey through time along the Southern Via Francigena
The town Sessa Aurunca in the Campania region is in the province of Caserta near the Lazio border; it is a veritable treasure trove of monuments and naturalistic views to discover. As an obligatory stop for pilgrims travelling along Via Francigena in Campania, it is still a mystical and fascinating place.
The cathedral of Sessa Aurunca, a jewel of Romanesque architecture in Campania
Start right here from the heart of the town in Campania, namely its cathedral standing in the historic centre, along the Southern Via Francigena. Dedicated to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the cathedral is one of the most important works of Campania's Romanesque architecture and has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. Built in 1103 on a sacred, likely pagan building, it has remained intact despite 18th-century renovations and numerous interventions to safeguard it from wear and tear and damage caused by a series of earthquakes. The building has recently been restored to its original layout.
Beautiful mosaics from floor to pulpit
The imposing façade is partially covered by a portico richly decorated with arcades supported by columns and pillars, where statues and bas-reliefs alternate mysterious and mythological figures, scenes recalling the life of St Peter and the Old and New Testaments. Divided into three naves, the interior deserves special attention for its striking mosaic floor covering the entire central nave with Moorish patterns. The pulpit is also decorated with a fine mosaic that alternates vivid depictions of animals with geometric motifs.
The Roman theatre and the mysterious cryptoporticus
Visiting Sessa Aurunca is like travelling back in time: hardly anything separates the Romanesque architecture of its cathedral from the spectacular coloured marble of the great Roman theatre that was only brought to light in 2003 and is extraordinarily well preserved. Erected in the 1st century A.D. and exploiting the natural slope of a hill, with a capacity of 7,000 spectators it is the second largest Roman theatre in Campania after that of Naples, which, however, lies almost completely hidden below the city's houses.
There is a cryptoporticus next to the theatre, i.e., a covered corridor dating from a slightly later age. It is still unclear what its purpose was: perhaps actors used it to get from one place to another, although the numerous inscriptions in Greek and Latin on its walls, which also include some Virgilian verses, suggest that it was used as a school or gymnasium.
The Ducal Castle: a “cheat sheet” of the city's history
In its extraordinary stratification of eras and structures, the Ducal Castle of Sessa Aurunca narrates and synthesises the city’s history and dominations.
To give you an idea, you can visit the library inside, but above all the rooms of the Civic Archaeological Museum that preserves many testimonies of the passage of dynasties that have succeeded one another over the centuries, from the Lombards to the Normans, from the Angevins to the Aragonese, together with some archaeological finds discovered on the seabed of the Gulf of Gaeta, including the famous statue of Matidia minor, a local ruler of prominence and power in Roman times.
Borgo Valogno, from ghost town to open-air gallery
Don't miss the small village of Valogno, 390 metres above sea level and just a few kilometres from Sessa Aurunca: this hamlet with just over 90 inhabitants was gradually losing its people until it averted its fate threatening to make it a ghost town by transforming into an open-air art gallery: for some years now, its streets, walls and courtyards have been hosting street art works and installations by artists, attracted here by the call to action of the Il Risveglio cultural association, which has promoted a veritable rebirth of the village and made it a continuous destination for tourists and enthusiasts.
From the (dormant) volcano to the beaches of Baia Domizia
Note that Valogno is located inside the Regional Park Volcanic Area of Roccamonfina and Foce Garigliano, 11,000 hectares of nature that reach as far as the border with lower Lazio. The park is looked down on by the massive dormant volcano of Roccamonfina, the oldest in the region, directly opposite Vesuvius. Amidst chestnut groves, vineyards, olive groves and streams flowing down to the sea, this area of mountains, hills and coastline hosts festivals and events throughout the year to promote local traditions and products, first and foremost the famous chestnut, while its roads are popular among trekking and cycling enthusiasts.
Leaving the slopes of Roccamonfina behind, we suggest heading back to Baia Domizia: the coast of Sessa Aurunca is the best part of Campania in the Gulf of Gaeta for swimming, where you can recharge your batteries with a barefoot stroll along its kilometres of fine, golden beach, or perhaps indulge in a little relaxation while soaking in its ultra-blue waters.