|Architecture in norman times|
Remains dating back to the Norman period can still be found in Molise, even though they often suffered alterations in subsequent periods. The location of buildings appears to be one of the main clues to the origin of fortifications. Distinctions based on the differences in the materials used in different periods or areas are not possible, since the most commonly used material was locally quarried stone. Construction and stonemasonry techniques depended on the level of evolution and wealth achieved by the urban settlements. Moreover, the numerous reconstructions and functional adaptations of fortified buildings, which were rendered necessary, to a certain extent, by the high seismicity of the region, complicate the investigation efforts even further.
The Normans, who in the Chronicon are described as great builders of castles, certainly found a land that was already characterised by fortified buildings dominating the burghs, with occasional isolated defensive elements. The Normans, over a period of a century and a half, seized power from the Longobards, creating a network of castles more suitable to their fighting requirements and new defensive strategies. The capillary Norman penetration led to the creation of a sufficiently homogenous network of military structures. The function of the castles gradually changed from the military-political one of the Longobard princedoms and Byzantine temi to the military-feudal one of Norman domination. The autonomous nature of the Longobard fortifications was rendered obsolete by Norman architecture, which satisfied more comprehensive defensive requirements and spread an increasingly tighter net on the territory.
The Normans did not confine their efforts to the simple re-adaptation of pre-existing Longobard strongholds. They build new structures, adopting models that, though initially imported, were gradually modified to suit the peculiar morphological conditions of the Molisian territory. Those which occupied the best positions eventually become the pole of attraction for others who, after a while, reunited, thus laying the foundations for the development of the second stage of feudalism.
The survival in inland and mountainous areas of land administration structures and processes which dated back to the Roman period, even after the decline of the latter, prevented the development of a system which allowed the castle to function as the effective administrative and institutional core. It is quite probable that the concepts of motte and donjon had to be modified in those Molisian areas that are prevalently mountainous (their presence is in any case substantiated by the survival of the toponyms), and adapted to environmental conditions different from those previously experienced by the Normans. On the other hand, in the flat areas of Apulia and Calabria the traditional models, similar to those in France, were followed more closely. During the early stages, fortifications that were originally made of wood (or mainly wood) were transformed into stone structures. Later, new buildings were constructed entirely of stone.
The castle building phenomenon in Molise was motivated by the political and administrative instability of the times, while the development of the feudal society was strongly affected by the presence of the abbey of St. Vincent. In the Volturno river valley the settlement phenomenon was preceded by a phase of centralisation, consequent on the reclamation of the “silva densissima” accomplished by the peasants organised by the monks. Under the pressures of the Longobard counts, of the Saracens and of the Normans themselves, the military defences were reorganised: burghs enclosed by walls were established, such as Forneli, Scapoli and Santa Maria Oliveto (“castrum costituit in montem” after 1066). The castella represented the concluding stage in the process of exploitation of the territory, and were the foundations for the subsequent expansion of the settled areas and for sustained building activities.