Cerreto Sannita, as the name suggests, is located in the heart of the Sannio and was founded in the 10th century. It was ruled first by the Lombards, then the Normans and finally by the feudal families of Sanframondo and Carafa until the fateful day of June 5th 1688 when the city was razed to the ground by a cataclysmic earthquake. It is estimated that 4000 people were killed, half of the entire population.
Mons. de Bellis, bishop of Telese wrote: “The entire city, every building, every church and monastery – in less time then it takes to say a prayer – fell to the ground, destroying everything and leaving nowhere for the people to take shelter…only three tiny shacks belonging to a potter remained standing…if you were not there it would be impossible to believe.”
The Count of Cerreto and Duke of Maddaloni, Marzio Carafa, decided to rebuild the city a short distance away using a new and more rational concept. Instead of the houses cropping up willy-nilly around a dominant castle, Carafa – probably inspired by ancient Greek and Roman towns – had a grid plan drawn up by the Royal Engineer Gian Battista Manni. The town was rebuilt accordingly with two main streets lengthwise (decumani) allowing one-way traffic in each direction and a number of small streets (cardini) intersecting perpendicularly. The result was a unique and theartical setting, without walls or defenses and is one of the few remaining examples of pure18th century urbanization.
Today Cerreto Sannita is a sleepy town of 5000 and is still famous for its traditional ceramics in powdery hues of yellow, blue and green with unusual baroque curly-cues. Of particular interest to nature-lovers is the lush countryside and the hike past the sanctuary of Maria Santissima delle Grazie and up to the rock formation known as the ‘leonessa’ which is visible from the surrounding countryside, which seems to watch over and protect this lovely valley.