THE MONUMENTAL COMPLEXES
According to the long-term vision of the Databenc District and the desire for participation of the expert authorities, some great historical valuable works have been identified in the archaeological and architectural legacy of the city for which it is important to develop protection and enhancement activities. These are Fruscione Palace and the complex of San Pietro a Corte (in agreement with the Superintendences BAP and BA).
The complex of San Pietro a Corte is one of the most important sites of the history of Salerno because it is a kind of time window on the evolution of this part of the city with many examples of archaeological, historical, artistic and architectural heritage. It is located in the heart of the old city center between Largo Antica Corte and Via dei Canali. As revealed by the archaeological excavations, the cultural complex stays above the frigidarium of a thermal structure dated between the 1st and the 2nd century AD, then converted into ecclesia and cemeterium from the end of the 5th century (497 AD), with the deposition of several buried. The 8th century is characterized by important political changes of the Langobardia Minor, such as the relocation of the house of the power from Benevento to Salerno by Arechis II. This corresponded to an urban transformation of the area, destined to become the political hub of the city, thanks to the realization of the royal palace and a subterranean chapel consecrated to Saints Peter and Paul by the princeps Langobardorum. In the following centuries (11th-14th), the spaces continued to be used, although in different ways. The royal hall became the room for the meetings of the City Parliament and the Schola Medica Salernitana, while the chapel became an oratory, enriched with a decoration of frescoes and bas relieves. From the 16th century, the complex underwent several changes, such as the addition of the staircase in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the entire structure was practically abandoned until 1939, when it was given to the confraternity of St. Stephen by the archbishop, and until the middle of the Fifties, the lower rooms housed workshops. Currently, the Archaeological Group of Salerno supervises the hypogeum of the complex thanks to an agreement with the Superintendence of Architectural and Landscape Heritage of Salerno and Avellino and the Archaeological Superintendence of Salerno, Avellino, Benevento and Caserta; instead, the Diocese of Salerno supervises the Palatine Chapel.
The long period of use has led to substantial changes in the monumental complex of San Pietro a Corte, especially in relation to the chronological reconstruction of the several stages of use that have occurred.
In the first phase, typical spaces of the Roman thermal architecture, datable between the end of the 1st century AD and the first middle of the 2nd century AD (Flavian–Trajanean age), are recognizable. This is the only roman monument preserved in Salerno. The work carried out between 1988 and 1990, returned a volumetric reconstruction of the area of the cold bath, the frigidarium, structural cornerstone of the thermal complexes starting from the Imperial age.
The frigidarium of S. Pietro a Corte can be inserted in the minor thermal complex, particularly widespread during the 2nd century AD, characterized by the non-axial position of hot spaces with respect to the frigidarium, which is the planimetric and architectural center of the building. With a width of 9.15 m and a probably length of 17.10 m, it was divided into two zones, one to northwest, covered by a cross vault, and the other to southeast, covered by a barrel vault. It is important to underline that the frigidarium had openings in any direction. Several fragments, painted with a rich range of colors and different decorative motifs, were found. Among them, the top of a column with Ionic capital and a chessboard, strong element in the Roman floor decorations that, in addition to being a ground on which a representation could stand out, it could emphasize the perimeter of a floor.
To explain the position of this thermal building in the ancient topographic map, firstly it is essential to observe the close relationship between the thermal complex and the presence of spring waters in the area, as well as the likely relevance of the harbor area that had to be nearby. Moreover, the complex very likely depended on the city, or rather on the public baths of Salerno during the Imperial age, although they were placed on the edge of the real urban center. The part of the frigidarium covered by a cross vault, after a partial abandonment after the flood, hosted an early Christian necropolis, dating from the 5th century AD and in use until the middle of the 7th century AD, as written in the inscriptions on the gravestones. A first level of burials used as floor the mortar layer, already considered Roman floor.
At the end of the 5th century, the spaces of the frigidarium of the Severan baths, fallen into disuse, were occupied by a small family cemetery. The tomb and the epitaph, survived unscathed to changes and abandonments, indicate the presence in Salerno in the 5th century of a Byzantine dignitary named Socrates, honored with the title of spectabilis and died in 497 AD, under the consulate of Anastasius. The examination of the archaeological documents shows the contemporaneity between the construction of the monumental tomb and the transformation of the church of the previous building of Imperial age, while the names of Gothic-Byzantine tradition, Eutychia and Theodenanda, among the sepulchral inscriptions found, address towards its use as a family cemetery. Socrates gave a different use to the spaces because the thermal area belonged to his personal jurisdiction granted to him by the state authority. However, it is also probably that Socrates became concessionaire because of his profession. Therefore, it is likely that, at the end of the 5th century, the state functionary built on the given area his own funerary chapel to house his family and himself for the two following centuries. The oldest tomb built inside the building is Socrates’ one. Its construction should go back to the years immediately preceding those of his death, simultaneously with the transformation of the thermal environments in ecclesia and cemetery. The tomb, located on the north side of the building and found untouched, was placed in front of the entrance, then closed, beneath a passage arch in a work of the thermal phase. In this way, an arcosolium structure was defined, in front of which, under the floor, the pit made of plastered masonry with deposition floor consisting of five flat shingles was made.
In the following years, the environment hosted several tombs. Found partially destroyed and without skeleton, all the tombs break the original marble floor and use, in most cases, the Roman structure underneath. Behind the late antiquity apse, seven tombs have been found and brought to light. It is assumed that all the buried were closely linked to the founder of the cemetery church because being buried closer to the apse was considered a privilege. The cemetery was not only extended in the inside spaces but also in the outside ones.
In the second half of the 8th century, allegedly the cemetery and the church became part of the public domain once more. The choice of the site where building the palace, according to urban planning reasons, had also ideological aspects for Arechis II. The Lombard palatine chapel would have been built above a Byzantine church and Arechis became a successor of the Roman world. The construction operations of those years produced partial damages to the tombs and pre-existing structures, promptly repaired. The Lombard Duke’s will to preserve and use the early Christian spaces is readable through the gap left in the partition wall that supported, along with the pillars, the floor of the palatine chapel, while the access was assured with an entrance to the south. Therefore, the monument has three separate buildings: the upper church, Arechis’ Chapel, a vast underground environment, Hypogeum and the Romanesque bell tower, which is located on the south side of the church. The church consists of an only nave ending in a semicircular apse, built to replace the original rectangular apse during the restoration in the 6th century.
The discovery of more frescoes in the building has been important. The most suggestive ones depict St. Catherine of Alexandria, because probably the church was consecrated to the martyr of Alexandria, but among these the most representative and best preserved fresco is that depicting her on the western side of the Arechis’ pillar, realized after the construction of the arch of connection between the staircase and the same pillar. Another crowned female figure, portrayed on the south side of the same pillar, depicts once again the saint and a third fresco, very deteriorated, behind the first, depicts the Virgin with, on the right, a female figure identified again with Catherine of Alexandria, and on the left a saint friar. This fresco is connected to other two additional paintings below the arch of connection between the staircase and the Arechis’ pillar that would show the meeting between St. Zosimus and St. Mary of Egypt and the holy communion that the friar gives to the holy hermit. The images do not represent a narration but they are the expression of a precise iconographic choice by clients who, in different periods, required the execution of a sacred subject.
In addition to Saint Catherine, after the closure of the old passage opening, there are paintings of St. George and St. Nicholas of Myra.
During the Norman period and up to the Swabian era, the rooms of the building were used for public functions. The representation room of the building was used for the meetings of the City Parliament and for the graduation ceremonies of the Schola Medica Salernitana too. In the hypogeum, an oratory was set. In 1576, the upper church underwent a restoration. In 1700, it was made an entrance stairway to the same church that leads to a prothyrum with a tympanum supported by columns. Fallen into disuse, during the First World War it was used as a military depot. In 1939, it was given to the confraternity of Saint Stephen by the archbishopric.
Fruscione Palace is located in the old city center, between Via Adelperga and Vicolo Barbuti, and is considered the most important building in the history of the civil architecture of Salerno. Today, part of town heritage, the Palace is still known with the name of its latest owners, Fruscione family. The property was expropriated to the family in 1967, when the Ministry of Education (General Directorate of Antiquities and Fine Arts) declared its significant public interest, subjecting the good to the provisions for the protection of goods of historical and artistic interest. The erection of the building dates back to the 13th century – arches and vaults in Lombard-Norman style stand out, although the general approach belongs to the 19th century – and recent excavations have revealed that it has been built, at least partly, on the foundations of a late roman thermal building. Currently, the building has five floors outside the ground, with a height of almost 25 meters. Around 1950, restoration works were performed by the Superintendence, restoring some of the original architectural structures.
In 2009, the City of Salerno provided for a building rescue, consolidation and restoration plan of the palace. The works, begun in December 2009 and ended in August 2013, did not change the original structure, proposing, where possible, the same materials and techniques, intervening on vaults, floors and walls, and operating on the complete remake of the exterior façade and the roof. Traces of masonry referring to a thermal complex of Imperial age, of mosaics and frescoes of the 2nd century have been found. The area with the mosaic, whose walls are covered by decorations in relief of stucco and paintings, belonged to the baths of the 1st-2nd century AD, identified in the sediment of the Arechis’ palace, to the south of Fruscione palace.
The purpose of the work was to attach the building to the nearby Church of San Pietro a Corte and the hall of the Norman Royal Palace, building a real archaeological island for rediscovering Salerno of that period.
The building preserves some fine architectural elements sculpted in tuff on three levels. The eastern front shows three orders of decoration composed of doors with inlays in tuff on the ground floor, carved mullioned windows on the first floor and a series of woven polifore on the second level. Rounded arches, woven with inlays in grey and yellow tuff, surmount the three openings on the street, each equipped with two side columns. For this, Fruscione Palace must not be considered as a building belonging to a limited period, but a complex of particular structures, which correspond to different historical phases. An analysis of the construction phases and the archival research have revealed that the palace, in its becoming, has always had the same function, which is housing. This use, depending on the socio-cultural, economic and urban conditions, has transformed the current building, which only in our century carries out a different function.
Fruscione palace houses the remains of a Norman building of the 12th century that had at least two floors, two parts with different levels and a front on Via dei Canali. It was affected by the reorganization of the block occurred during the 13th century, phase to which the doors on Via dei Barbuti could belong. Surely, the environments on Via Adelperga were made after the middle of the 13th century, but unfortunately, it is impossible to associate them to any of the surviving sculpted architectural elements. The second floor has to be considered as a unitary intervention, probably dated at the end of the 13th beginning of the 14th century. The structures leading to the rooms on the first floor were denied by the installation of the staircase in the 17th-18th century, when the ground floor was used as stable. Later, to give again decorum to the rooms, large compartments enhanced by ancient elements, as the two marble jambs decorated with grapevines and bunches of grapes placed at the entrance of the hall of the ground floor, were created.
The restoration works by Giorgio Rosi, started in 1950, recognize in the remains of Fruscione Palace the clear expression of the Norman architecture in Southern Italy. We have to remember the works done by the team of the Centre of Medieval Archeology of Salerno "Nicola Cilento" directed by Paolo Peduto in 1988, which established a street level of the 12th century to a depth of about 3.70 m from the current level. According to this first phase of construction, on the basis of the distribution of the original structures, the main façade with its entrance must be located towards San Pietro a Corte, in correspondence to the big pointed arch on the partition wall later to the current front. This was realized on Vicolo Barbuti with the passage from 19.40 m to 24.85 m in width, while on the opposite side, towards Via dei Canali, from 19.80 m to 22.10 m. It is easy to presume that the type of growth was affected by a road alignment, to which the same Church of San Pietro a Corte had already given the long side. The oldest wall parameters found in the entire building are on the façades that look onto Via dei Canali. Already during the restoration of the last century, the fragment of a marquetry showing a diamond motif with yellow tuff framed by grey tuffs was shown.
Either in the façade of the second floor or in that of the ground floor it is not possible to control the texture of the northern Norman wall for the presence of an anti-seismic buttress and a modern setting. On the second floor, to the south, it is noticeable the discontinuity between the wall and a different part of the building in white stone. On this later vestment, there are two phases of architectural decoration. The first consists of a system of woven rounded arches forming niches with ogival recesses in stucco, interrupted by a gap. Of the second, it remains only the imprint in the plaster of a vegetable theme of racemes and leaves on the gate of a window or balcony interrupting the flight of woven arches.
Other traces of the phase of the 12th century may be wall devices in grey tuff and bricks found on the second floor. Here, there is also a column with ancient capital whose base is wider than the shaft of the column, a sign that they were not realized together. The few remains of the tuff elements suggest that in the western wing of the palace there are fragments of an independent building, consisting of at least two bodies with openings decorated with two-colored marquetry, both open on Via dei Canali.
GROUND FLOOR: The architectural elements decorated with marquetry visible on Vicolo dei Barbuti constitute the clearest evidence of the architectural quality of the medieval palace. Thanks to the first results of some excavation tests carried out inside, it can be said that the southern areas, as they are today, were positioned after the middle of the 13th century. The removal of the plasters revealed that walls with arches divided the internal space on the ground and first floors. The excavations have shown that there are multiple levels of medieval presence up to about 80 cm deep. The foundation pit had cut various floor levels, among which the most recent can be dated to the middle of the 13th century for the presence in the floor of two Swabian coins, showing that the walls visible today were erected after this age. Moreover, the excavation has brought to light two cisterns: the oldest had been filled with material of the end of the 13th beginning of the 14th century, while the second was contemporary to the floor at a height of 8.80 m. On this basis, it is confirmed the dating of the first Angevin age for the current plant of the palace. However, the internal divisions are the result of subsequent adjustments as evidenced by the reports verified in the arches of the northern wall of the central compartment, that is to say the posterity of the most western arch. In the reorganization of the late 13th century, therefore, the space was of reduced length and then was enlarged, probably when also in the upper floors the defined spatiality of the so-called Salone (Hall) was determined.
SECOND FLOOR: The so-called crowning element of the second floor is the best identifiable building phase but it does not interest all the parts of the medieval building. Thanks to the restoration works, the decoration, visible on the entire eastern front, has also emerged on the northern perimeter. On the southern side, it stops where also the carved mullioned windows stop on the first floor and it neither affects the western front of Via dei Canali nor reaches the spaces above the most western Norman wall to prove that they were made in recent times to create a unified façade.
The realization of mullioned and polifore windows, even if contrasting with the preexistent structure, was necessary to give a new light and a new way to be related to the external environment. Perhaps, for this reason, from time to time, certain works of opening and closing of the lighting sources have been made. The façades of the building are also the consequence of how the need for light and air in this architecture has changed during thousand years. According to the style and construction technique, the tuff crowning dates back to the end of the 13th beginning of the 14th century. The second angevin arrangement of the second floor was not a new construction. Probably, under the southern spaces and the crowning, there was an intermediate building. On the western side, there is a track of the placement of the staircase preceding that of the 18th century, in use today. Set at the height of 1.40 m approximately from the planking level, it is located on a back wall that is later both to the western and to the eastern walls. The results of the investigation on the second floor suggest that the construction intervention on the so-called crowning had to adapt to some pre-existing elements in the western wing. The northern and western rooms, free from the angevin tuff decoration, are also distinguished by the presence of more complex construction phases, which have wall pieces of the 12th century, rebuilt several times until the modern and contemporary era.
The expansion and unification of Fruscione Palace would have affected two separate constructions that had windows different in type and size on the first floor. It is difficult to understand the function and the history of the more southern two-colored tuff door that would have been in a shared space of the two buildings, and therefore should be considered a later remake, made to connect two different cores. Probably, there was the construction of all the insula together with the acquisition of the Norman factories in Via dei Canali and of another more eastern core, which probably had two floors. To unify the new property, the rooms on Via Adelperga and the factories at the first floor in Via dei Barbuti, including doors with marquetry, were built after the middle of the 13th century, according to archaeological data. The type of woven arches and of the moon-shaped two-colored inlays of the gate does not define the stylistic point of view. The grey tuff and light stone inlays are used as architectural decoration in southern Italy over a long period, from the 11th to the 16th century. In particular, the doors of Fruscione Palace are unique because, although in general falling among the examples of the so-called Arab-Norman architectures, they cannot be compared with other Norman, Swabian and Angevin architectural decorations in Italy.
Between the late 18th and early 19th century, the building received an increase of the vertical structure with the construction of another floor. This phase is immediately followed by a heavy renovation, both with the structural growth towards Via dei Canali and with the shift of the main façade and its corresponding entrance towards San Pietro a Corte. The new entrance was made with large molded stone elements in the imposts of the rounded arch, unlike those on the sides, which were simply squared and with a segmental arch. In line with the architectural style of the 19th century, the new front was completed with a rather molding cymatium, stringcourses, a fake bossage in the corners and a smooth plaster, except for the ground level where it was chased with the same vertical interval of rustication. In these details, you can read the design logic, whose aim was to find on Via Adelperga the new image or, more simply, the façade of a building inside a new urban and particularly important scene. Since then, the state of things has remained essentially unchanged, except for the building of another floor, until the middle of the 20th century, on the occasion of works of static reinforcement of the buildings, when remains that have given the contemporary interpretation of different pasts were found.