Identity of a Territory

The identity of the territory of Daunia is recognized in the figure of the legendary Dauno, the eponymous king from Illyricum, whom Horace describes as “poor of waters” ruling over the peasantry. So it is a land of contests and conquests, which the poet describes as the obstinate action of its inhabitants against the implacable drought and, at the same time, by the presence of a nature with a character that is at times arrogant and impetuous. In fact, this is what the geographical history of this part of Puglia tells us: an ancient and ancestral dispute to remove the flaps to be allocated to the rural area, the land “tamed” to obtain crops or pastures and, consequently, sustenance.

The signs of a thousand-year-old civilization remain of this eternal struggle, which in the course of history has shaped the vast plain and the undulating elevations of the Daunia hills. It is rural civilization that has accompanied human populations since their first appearance in these places. From the geometries of the Roman centuriations, to the rows of dry stone walls, from the traces of the ancient “tratturi” (grassy, stony or clay path) to the plots drawn by modern agricultural equipment, these signs tell the intimate bond of man to his land and the complex system of geographical and historical connections that they contributed to the construction of the landscape. A landscape that still preserves intact scattered episodes that make up in their chorus the cultural and visual image of the local area. Splendid and noble farmhouses, fountains carved in stone that capture the water of the freshest springs, rural villages, small churches and, still, milestones, carved crosses, solitary chapels, broken taverns and stone bridges offer the infinite variations with which the the inspiration of artisans, peasants and pastors has responded to the needs of everyday life. Spontaneous and fleeting appearances that emerge from the thick of the woods, thick and luxuriant or, solitary, on a slight height

A wonderful example of “civil coexistence” with the natural environment, sometimes feared but always respected, towards which the ancient rural systems show an almost sacred deference. And this is how, very often, traditions, folklore and cult practices seek, through the form of ritual, the reconciliation between man and the natural rhythms marked by the seasons. In fact, the testimonies of material culture, from prehistory to the modern age and, on an anthropological level, reveal the indissoluble link between man and the forces of nature. They are sanctuaries and apotropaic figures related to the cult of water and land, intended to propitiate the fertility of the crops. Or, still, votive statuettes and archaeological evidences that refer to the myth of Hercules, an italic divinity linked to pastoral civilization, which often makes its appearance in the territories affected by transhumance. Later, with christianization, the forms of pagan worship will decline in the new religious sentiment, particularly addressed to saints such as, for example, Saint Antuono – Saint Antony Abbot – whose festivity in many centers is animated by the lighting of fires propitiators for the new agrarian year.

The second Punic war, at the end of the III century BC, marks the beginning of the Romanization of the Daunia. Central for the new political and administrative organization is the role played by Lucera, a roman colony from 314 BC. From now on the function is consolidated, which will remain a stronghold for the control of northern Puglia up to the Middle Ages. Mount Albano, frequented with continuity from the Neolithic age, becomes the pivot of the defensive system that finds in the Apennine cordon a natural frontier with the territories of the Sannio. For this reason the Daunia mountains become the scene of various clashes, sometimes supporting the opposing party and attracting the repressive actions of the Romans. The destruction of the Oppida, remained loyal to the Samnites, is part of this context, including Vescellium near Roseto. Moreover, it becomes fundamental to the road network, with particular reference to the Traiana road, which ensured the connections between Benevento and the ports of south-eastern Puglia. For example, the urban development in the imperial age of Aecae, near modern Troia, which will become one of the first dioceses of Daunia, is linked to the route of this artery.

Equally significant are the traces, which refer to a more recent past, of late-ancient rural settlements, such as Saint Giusto on the shores of Celone (today submerged by Capaccio reservoir), which show an articulated organization of production systems, exploiting the absolutely rational resources. From this time, up to the High Middle Ages, the whole area of North-Western Daunia is affected by scattered settlements, small farmhouses for the exploitation of the countryside. It is in this period that begins the process of christianization of the Daunia that sees the flowering of different dioceses that will culminate in the construction of majestic cathedrals.

Meanwhile, with the progress of the centuries, in the narration of events are affirmed some protagonists: knights, princes, feudal lords, emperors, monks and ecclesiastical authorities who, with their appearance, write the main chapters of the history of the Capitanata. It is the history of the great dynasties and of the various rulers: Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese, until, after the period of the Spanish viceroyalty, it arrived to the Bourbons. Of their deeds and events remain the documentary evidence and, above all, the architectural emergencies, true poles of attraction of the urban villages and the surrounding countryside. The cathedrals of Lucera and Troia, the monumental complex of Orsara, the baronial palaces, the mighty medieval tower of Castelluccio Valmaggiore, the evocative remains of the tower of Tertiveri, not far from Biccari, and, again, the castles, majestic and severe, where alliances, intrigues and relationships are woven, representing the noblest pages of this narration, the memory of a heritage of great value.

Roberta De Iulio