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Benvenuto a Benevento: City of Witches

I'm a sucker for the spiritual, so when I heard that Benevento had once been a popular pagan destination, complete with a temple dedicated to the Goddess Isis, I added it to my list of places to visit in Italy.

A Gathering of the Janara

The story of the witches in Benevento dates back to the 13th century, though long before that, the Roman emperor Domitian erected a temple to Isis.

In 1278, reports of mysterious gatherings around a large walnut tree in Benevento began to take root. Stories of the janare (the local word for witches) peppered the centuries; tales of flight and of curses spread like wildfire.

We learned about the history of the witches at the Janua Museo. The museum is small but packed with stories. The founders interviewed the nonne (grandmothers) of the area to get their stories of witches turned into animals, spontaneous healing, and other mysteries.

Being American, I was a little surprised to see that Benevento hadn't amplified its reputation as a city of witches in the way that Salem has. In fact, if you didn't know the story, you would never suspect that anything out of the ordinary had ever happened in Benevento!

More Streghe...That You Can Drink

Naturally, you'd find a liqueur called Strega in Benevento, city of witches! This herbal liqueur was first created in 1860. Today, the flagship store (located directly across from the train station; how convenient!) sells the liqueur as well as candies filled with the liqueur or with locally-made torrone.

I'd never tasted Strega before the trip. Thank goodness I asked someone if it was drunk like a digestivo! Apparently not. It's primarily used in baking. I did, however, order a Strega Spritz at a local bar. I do NOT recommend it!

The Culinary Highlight of the Trip

While the town wasn't overrun with witchy things, one place that did make my heart sing for two reasons was Beneventum Public House (aka Ollivander's). This pub is outfitted in all manner of Harry Potterness. Fra didn't get it. I loved it.

The other reason my heart sang was that I ate the best burger I've ever had in Italy. Perfectly cooked...the perfect amount of gooey cheese on top. I'd order it again in a heartbeat. Also, the truffle cheese fries were to die for. Fra had a yummy smoked salmon salad, and we had really nice Belgian beer.

Sadly, this turned out to be the only amazing meal of our trip. Lunch choices were sparse, particularly on Sunday. We also had unremarkable gnocchi. Nothing worth writing about.

Other Benevento Sights Worth Seeing

We spent three nights in Benevento, which was about perfect. There's not a ton to see, but we had a leisurely time, complete with naps at our b&b.

I recommend the Roman theater, which was built in the second century. Everyone who visits Italy flocks to the Coliseum, but I'd rather see a lesser-known example of Roman architecture like this one...and have the place to ourselves!

There's also the Museo Arcos, a tiny but interesting museum about the cult of Isis that once existed in Benevento.

There are several other museums (Museu del Sannio, Chiostro di Santa Sofia, Sant'Ilario a Port'Aurea, Geobiolab, Musa, and Museo Diocesano, but we weren't able to fit them all in since the museums were closed on Monday. You can buy a ticket for one or all of them if you are so inclined.

Is Benevento, City of Witches Worth a Visit?

I'd say if you're interested in the pagan history of Italy, then yes. It's a sweet, pretty little town, and a nice spot to spend a few days. It's a couple of hours by bus or train from Napoli, and there aren't many tourists, which is always a plus in my mind!

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