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A little bit of history

Friday 23 October 2009, by redazione

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Grazzanise is a village in Campania, in the province of Caserta, in that plain, once marshy and malarious, known as “Mazzone”, on the left bank of the river Volturno. The village, an area of some 47 square kilometres, has about 7000 inhabitants called Grazzanisani.

The area is mainly clayish. Agriculture is moderately developed (it is noteworthy the production of wine and fruit). More important is the breeding of the (Italian Mediterranean) Buffalo, base of a remarkable affluence and of copious cheese factories, producing excellent milk products, among whom the famous Mozzarella cheese.

On August 29th, the festival for the patron Saint John the Baptist, also known, in the local dialect, as ‘a paparara because of the tradition of consuming the gander, is celebrated. Other traditional festivals are the Easter Monday (in which the Madonna dell’Arco, one of the forms in which Mary is venerated in Campania, is celebrated by “battenti” or “fujenti” in the local dialect – people of all genders and ages running, with a traditional uniform and often barefoot, and stopping to pray in the churches of the village) and September the 8th, the day of the Madonna di Montevergine (another Mary worship developed in Campania).

During festivals and in every season it is habit to prepare culinary specialities like struffoli, pizza alla crema, guanti, etc. Not tied to festivals, but really sought-after, is chicory, which is rich area especially buffalos’ pastures, ingredient of many recipes.
Worth a visit the Chiesa Madre (the main church, consecrated to Saint John the Baptist), the Madonna di Montevergine Church and the Annunciation Church.

Just short, on the right bank of Volturno river, there are the hamlets of Brezza and Borgo Appio. In the area of the municipality is deployed the airbase “Romagnoli”.

About the origins of Grazzanise, historical sources are few and uncertain. Some of them connect the name to the family Graziani, some others to the Graces of Greek mithology. Anyway this centre, one of the copious hamlets of Capua, followed the alternate events of the close city. Only starting from the Aragonese period, during which Saint Massimiliana Bona miracle happened, there are more definite memories.

The Mazzone
(From "La mia terra, i suoi Grandi", by Don Angelo Florio, 1954).

Mazzone got the famous epithet Campus Stellatis [Starry field] by ancient Romans, because of the spontaneous vegetation of aromatic herbs, of flowers of all kinds and particularly of spring daisies, sprinkling the area like stars gasping from the soil. Titus Livius, in the 9th Book [of Ab Urbe condita Libri CXLII] writes about Samnites raids “in Campum Stellatem”; in the 22nd book tells that Hannibal, after having taken up residence in Capua, came with his army plunder: "In Campum Stellatem descendit".

The colonization of the Campus Stellatis was started by Julius Caesar and by Augustus. In fact, a law to split the Campus Stellatis among Roman plebs was proposed by the consul Rufus around 80 a.C.. Caesar assigned the lands to his legionnaires. We have a confirmation of this in headstones found among ruins, such as in a border stone, still walled in the Tower of Frascale, between Capua e Grazzanise, with the readable writing, in spite of the effects of the time: “Caius Iulius Caesar Diomedi Campano donavit pedes…". A headstone found in the Tower of Augustus, in the countryside of Grazzanise, and placed in the Museo Campano in Capua says: "Veneri Genitrici et Genio Augusti Caesaris Colonia Iulia - Fel. Pace Composita - Dedicavit IV Kal. Dec." etc.

The denomination Mazzone arises during the Middle Age and by Aragonese kings, that here had their Real Estates and hunting lodges. Panormitano recounts of King Alfonso I of Aragon [more exactly, he is called Alfonso I of Naples, but Alfonso V of Aragon; translator’s note], who went hunting in Mazzone delle Rose [Mazzone of the roses]: "Venabatur rex in campis, quos rosarum vocant".

As regard this point, it is really evocative the story of the miracle by Saint Massimiliana Bona and of whom this king was witness. King Ferdinand I, who was assiduous in hunting in the woods of Grazzanise and in the Real Estate of Carditello, granted to the city of Capua the right to graze and to gather the hay in the Mazzone delle Rose “without paying anything to the Real Court”.

But, as by ancient Romans the Campus Stellatis was left untamed (it was described by Cicero “low, marshy, unploughed and just plentiful of good pasture for herd”), so the Mazzone delle Rose, except a little part cultivated for the needs of local people, was left in a wild state in the grip of marsh and malaria, cluttered of forests and woods, where wild beasts and games for the hunt of kings and nobles of the Neapolitan kingdom were guarded.

[…] And obviously the Mazzone was largely an unproductive, unhealthy and insecure area, where the wild buffalo grazed undisturbed, and in closed off estates, fenced in thick dams, the buffalo herdsman lived and the echo of civilization and work did not arrive, conferring to these districts a tragic setting, even if sometimes exaggerated, in which crime and racket nuzzled and aggressively governed, that, with ambushed and going on the lam, undermined neighbours in many ways, with threatening, blackmailing and cowardice anonymous letters, with the blaze of farmhouses, of doors and gates, of sheaves of wheat, fodder and straw, with the systematic kill of animals, shots toward house windows, cut of orchards, bloody scuffles and shootings in the countrysides and in the villages, and not rarely with terrifying thefts and murders.

[...] The Mazzone, seen in the legend, emerges from the impressed fantasy as the livid marsh, full of fatal miasmas, tangled by pestilential and scaring scrubs and inhabited by outlaw conscienceless, immoral men, associated to offend! Instead, the Mazzone, watched in its historical reality and in its soul, is another thing. The Mazzone in its green, lush vegetation, expanding as far as the eye can see in the sunny country sweep, offers a wonderful sight to the admiring gaze. In the land in bloom, in the singing and loving countryside, we take part to the exuberant beauty of the Creation: immense trembling of live sprouts from living limbs, getting slowly lost endlessly in the immense free and fertile plain of the Mazzone, among rustic fragrances, whinnyings, lowings, bleats, screamings, hoobeats in a wonderful, great and solemn performance of prolificness, of strength and of work. Who imagined the Mazzone in another way would be wrong, and it does not correspond to the truth and to the history the willing to see, in bad faith, the tradition and the local folklore in the typical disreputable mazzonaro, wearing big leather boots and the wide-brimmed hat, dumped on the loyal horse [...]

[…] The inhabitants, the Mazzonari, like often, with unjustified and thinly disguised contempt, we are labelled, are genuinely pure, surprising, daring, generous… the mazzonaro is an enemy of duplicity and hypocrisy, he is warm, hospitable, generous, benign, social, smart: therefore has a natural aptitude for sentimentality, enthusiasm, excessive affection, sensitivity, spiritual, moral and material satisfactions and, as a consequence, for reactions in defence of the bread and of the honour and, right for this reason, for the inevitable disappointments and spiritual depressions affecting the sensible, magnanimous and noble soul, because of unnameable cruelties and animosity... As strong as the clayish land of Mazzone is, so virile and strong are the shapes of its inhabitants: dark, brawny, energetic, smart men, rosy, fecund, shapely women, the health of the ancestry and the real richness of the flesh and the blood. […]

When did Grazzanise arise?
(Historical information collected by Father Carlo Raimondo and reported in the volume "Grazzanise, ieri e oggi, quale sviluppo?" 1985)

According to a respected opinion by lovers of local history, Grazzanise arose during the 3rd or the 4th period of the Roman Republic, under the protection of the noble family of Graziani, who consecrated it to the Graces. Its name, according to an arbitrary but ingenious etymology, would mean “the island of the Graces” (Gratiarum nesos, following Erasmian pronunciation, or nisos, following the Reuchlinian one), or “the village supported by the Graces”, pagus Gratiis innixus.
And it appeared to give a shelter to the slaves who, inside the amphitheater of Capua, later dubbed Berolais, had to show their strength and their value in the dangerous fights among them and against ravenous beasts.
It arose to provide, with the roses of its fields, unguents and cosmetics, bought by matronly women and hetaeras along the Desplasian Way in the ancient Capua. Some historians, indeed, guess the existence of villages within 8 miles’ radius of Capua Vetere to date back to 211 b.C., in the time of Hannibal, when Romans made a terrifying massacre in Capua to punish the support provided to the Carthaginian… then, most of Capua inhabitants, relicta urbe, effugierunt. Where? In proximas terras.

Others think that these villages arose when the democratic terrorism by Marius (87 b.C.) was succeeded by the oligarchic terrorism by Sulla (81 b.C.), who created new colonies not-depending from the State but from their chief, for Grazzanise a Graziano.

[...] Iannelli, careful and profound historian, think that Julius Caesar, after he came back from Spain and was elected as dictator, detracted from Rome and the ancient Capua several colonies which, under the guidance of different chiefs, laid the foundations for many villages. In this way, from Tuberani originated Tuberoniola, Tuberoila, Tuberola – then, because of a phonetic process - Teverola; from Marziani Marcianise; from Franchi or Franchis Francolise, from Sparani Sparanise; from Graziani Grazzanise; where, it is worth to note, the suffix nisi does not derive from the Greek nesos or from the Latin innixus, but reveals the feudal service that, during the Early Middle Age, was paid directly to the feudal lord.
According to Iannelli, explained by Pirozzi, Grazzanise arose from a Julian colony, like so many others, like that one already existing around the Tower of Slaves, where, in November 1649, a headstone with an inscription reporting of a Julian colony established by Caesar who considered himself descendant of Venus was found. But we should not forget that many colonies, even preexisting, for gratitude or for adulation toward the great dictator, received the praenomen of Julian. [...]
(Peppe Florio)

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