OF THE INLAND towns of Campania none has perhaps more charm than Sant’ Agata dei Goti, high on its narrow promontory between the two tributaries that descend to the deep valley of the river Isclera.
The site was inhabited in early times, but the town takes its name from the Goths who obtained it after 553.
Subsequently controlled by the Lombards of Benevento and the Byzantines, by the Normans and from 1220 by the church, Sant’Agata was held by a sequence of great families ending with the Carafa, who acquired it in 1696.
While there has inevitably been some recent building nearby, its narrow site has protected the town from inappropriate development.
The first view, from the bridge across the ravine on the approach from the west, is unforgettable: the town crests the cliff, its silhouette dominated by the towers of three churches, the approach controlled by the formidable castle at its southern end.
Below this, and thus just outside the original urban area, is the church of the Annunziata.
The rich marble front of 1563 does little to prepare one for the gothic interior, begun in 1238. The entrance wall was frescoed about 1415 with a forceful and imaginative Last Judgement, which with the murals at Galatina is a high point of painting of the time in southern Italy.
Rather remarkably this, like the contemporary frescoes in the choir, was brought to light as the result of a programme of restoration due to the present priest.
A key late quattrocento Neapolitan altarpiece, the Annunciation by Angelillo Arcuccio, is in the first chapel on the left: the rich brocade of the Angel’s mantle is unusually lavish, and as so often in the south there is an echo of Netherlandish taste.
Opposite the church, and a little higher up, is San Menna, built for Robert I of Capua and consecrated in 1100.
Here also the façade gives little hint of what follows, a luminous and coherent early Romanesque masterpiece: the nave is flanked by antique columns of varying colour and separated from the presbytery by screens which like the equally satisfying pavement are faced with porphyry and other ancient marbles.
The Duomo is at the heart of the town. The ambitious Romanesque portico, also with reused Roman columns and now almost disturbingly out of the perpendicular,
was capped in a project to modernize the structure from 1728, when the body of the interior was skilfully adapted to contemporary taste, but the early crypt was happily retained.
Much of the fabric of the town survives. It is worth wondering round this, to follow the road on the eastern flank, which passes through a few defensive towers and commands views over the subsidiary valley up to the wooded hills.