History of Rivello, Italy

See Rivello guide for highlights and historic monuments

Given its formidable strategic position, Rivello was long disputed between the Byzantines and the Lombards, who conquered and fortified the city, but were forced to live with the Byzantines.

As a result, for a long period of time two religious rites developed in Rivello, one which used a Latin rite in the Church of St. Maria Maggiore, and another of the Greek rite in the Church of St. Michele dei Greci, with a service that was practiced until the 17th century.

Under the Normans, Rivello belonged to the fief of Lauria under the Santasofia and the Sanseverino families.

According to an established tradition, Rivello first had the name "Revelia", and Revelia would then be the heir of the ancient Greek city called "Velia": "Rivello was mentioned for the first time in a document of the second half of the eleventh century with the name of Revelia, [...] whose name came from Velia, a coastal town destroyed by the Saracens and the refugees of which moved to an inland which was not easily accessible." [2]

The first mention of Rivello seems to go back to a bull of Alfano, then Bishop of Salerno, in 1079, which does however present some problems of interpretation. According to some scholars it is a fake, while others believe it authentic, even if it should be back-dated:

"The bull of the archbishop of Salerno Alfano was not considered as a fake, but it must be back-dated to between 1068-1069, and the time of Peter Pappacarbone, a Benedictine monk educated at Cluny, who had the mandate to govern the Diocese of Policastro." [1].

In this letter Bishop Alfano informed the clergy and laity of the appointment of Pappacarbone, and at the same time quoted the boundaries of the diocese: “as far as a place where there was a village called Petrocella, as far as the middle of the castle, which was built on the top of the mountain [...] the castles are called Mandelmo, Camarota, Arriuso, Caselle Turturella, Turraca, Portum, Lacumnigrum, 'Revelia', Triclina".

Saracens and Swabians

The Saracen threat appeared suddenly in the early years of the ninth century from Spain and North Africa. After an initial period of expeditions, they began their conquest occupying first Brindisi (836), then Taranto and finalli Bari (840), before going in to Basilicata, where they took possession of Rivello, Castel Saraceno and Armento and the region along the Tyrrhenian coast where they settled in Ponza, and Licosa.

Under the Swabians, Rivello, which in turn became part of the fief of Amendolara, was granted by Frederick II to the Barone family, who ruled it until 1246. "On 13 September of the same year it was sold to the Ruggero di Lauria family (the feud also included Lagonegro, Castelluccio, Maratea, ‘Rivello’, Rotonda, Tortora, and Lauria). In 1273, after the Norman-Swabian Kingdom, the feud of Amendolara passed to the Sanseverino family and in 1297 to the Marra family." [3].

In the 14th century the country belonged to King Robert of Anjou, who gave it to Belmonte and in the 15th century it was under the jurisdiction of the Sanseverino, Counts of Maratea.

In the 17th century the village was able to escape the feudal rule, buying its independence from the Earl of Acerenza.

Ancient origins of the town of Rivello

The ancient history of Rivello has raised a long discussion among scholars. The most important discoveries about Rivello were made on the hill called "Serra la Città", with archaeological remains presumed to date from the 4th century BC. Some scholars have suggested, however, a settlement dating back to the sixth century BC, noting that a "mysterious city", called Sirinos was founded by the Lucani on the site of Rivello:

"With time Rivello has become more and more concretely identified with Sirinos, as proposed in 1949 by P. Zancani Montuoro, who identified the city of Sirinos on the basis of Strabo (58-25 BC): first with the results of surveys in 1980, in particular with the phase of the fourth century, then with the discovery of an archaic tomb in 1982, and finally in 1986 with the discovery of a wall" [4].

The controversy began in 1949, when P. Zancagni Montuoro [5] suggested that the inscription "Sirinos" found on the coins had nothing to do with the city of "Siris" (destroyed by Sybaris), but with a local population called "Sirini" by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) ("Naturalis Historia", III, 15, 97) - that is, the inhabitants of "Syrinos", about 30 km from Policastro.

To these ancient "Sirini" the modern names of Monte Sirino and Lake Sirino would correspond, at about twenty kilometers from "Pyxunte" and not far from Rivello, on the hill called "Serra the City." The presence of this coin with the inscription "Sirinos" suggested a kind of currency in common between two different cities, that is "Sirinos" and "Pyxunte."

The hypothesis of the existence of "Sirinos" was decisively rejected by M. Guarducci [6], who pointed out that the ethnic "Sirinos" refers to the city of "Siris", and that it is close to the better known "Sirites" in Stephen of Byzantium. Various scholars agree with M. Guarducci:

"Stephanos of Byzantium [6th century AD] reports 'Sirinoi' as an alternative to 'Sirites' for the ethnicity of Siris. We are forced, I suggest, to return with Guarducci to the view, first enunciated by J. Perret, that the Sirinos-Pyxoes pieces are an emission from Siris" [7].

Of the same opinion is C. Bencivenga Trillmich: "On the other hand, the hypothesis of Zancani which assumes an imaginary indigenous city called Sirinos does not have any support in recent archaeological excavations conducted in Serra la Città, as the village found there (although dating back to the IV century BC) is not structured in the sense of a city, but it seems to consist of a few scattered houses" [8].

It was stressed that the ancient Lucani did not have the “concept of city," and that in this area were the main finds were a small village with scattered houses, with widespread nuclei, derived from a system of social relations very different from those of the Greeks. We must consider whether and how a town called Sirinos might actually have existed." [9]

However, in recent years the remains of a wall have been discovered, which corroborates the presence of a city rather than a distributed population: "One of the biggest obstacles to the hypothesis of the existence of a city named Sirinos was the paucity of the traces from the archaic period on the hill of 'Serra la Città'. New finds [...] seem to support the hypothesis of Sirinos by P. Zancani [...] which retains its relevance" [10].

Among other things, archaeological remains dating back to the 6th century have also been found: "Some graves in the Serra la Città, dating from the second half of the 6th century BC and the first half of the fifth century BC, contained some Attic pottery, such as a 'hydria' with a black figure with a scene depicting a warrior on a chariot, a 'lekytos' with vertical palmettes, a 'lekytos' with red figures by the so-called 'Bowdoin Painter', and a crater with red figures of the second half of the 5th century, with a scene depicting a symposium" [11].

The presence of the Lucani (with the discovery of a belt) and the Greeks, however, is largely confirmed, and attested to the importance of the sacred area of Colla, with a temple dedicated to the goddess Mephitis, goddess of abundance: "This cult was practiced by the Italic peoples of Samnite origin, and it is attested in another sanctuary [...] of Irpinia" [12].

The decline of Serra la Città presumably occurred in Roman times, at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. However Rivello remained an important area for its roads, with "traces of Roman frequentation near the Sanctuary of Colla, where they found a small Roman bronze of Republican Age" [13].

Etymology of the name Rivello

With regard to the etymology of the modern name Rivello, it seems that it may derive from the Latin "rivus" or from "rava": "The modern name, which appears in the documents of the past as Rivello or Raviello, derives from 'Rivellus', the diminutive of 'Rivus' [River], even though formally it can be interpreted as a consequence of Latin 'Rava' [= cliff landslide]" [14].

Other scholars [15] believe that the name may derive from the Low-Latin term "Rubus", meaning "a place full of weeds" [16]. Of particular interest is the hypothesis that the place name derives from "Ravelin," a term that has to do with 'fortifications', hence "Re-vallare" [Latin "vallum" = fence], so it could mean "fortified village".

On the other hand, Rivello arose in the Lombard Age around the 6th century AD as a fortress on the edge of the territories of the Duchy of Benevento, as a typical Lombard camp surrounded by a moat ["fossatum"] and a "vallum" [= palisade]: "Fossatum is mostly a camp encircling a ditch so the identical expression was used in the sense of ‘camp of the Lombards’" [17].

We note also that "vallum" and "fossatum," according to Du Cange, are synonymous: "Du Cange gives the explanation vallum as well as pit" [18]. The etymology has a validity because, even from the historical point of view, this was an area with a very strong presence of Lombard fortifications and place names of Germanic origin - near Rivello there are "Fosso del Gaudio" by "fossatum" and "Gualdo", where "gualdo" is a typical Lombard place name:

"In some documents [...] the use of the term gualdo arose in the sense of land, partly cultivated and partly left to pasture or cover woodland, and owned by the royal treasury, of verified Lombard origin" [19].

Other scholars point out that there are "other toponyms linked to a proper Lombard origin or derived from Germanic origin, and some archaeological evidence chronologically attributable to the high-medieval times. This is the case of the fortified structures known in local tradition as the Castle Seluci that has been identified in the territory of Lauria, on top of Mount Seluci, on a small limestone cliff (978 metres above sea level ) located on either side of the upper reaches of the Noce River and the upper course of the Sinni […]

[…] Systematic investigations by the Archaeological Superintendency of Basilicata have brought to light, in different areas, a series of wall elements identified as indicative of two defensive structures" [20].

See Rivello for a detailed visitor guide.


1. See Universo, Istituto Geografico militare, edited by S. Govi, 2006, p. 704

2. See A. Falasca, "Basilicata, Calabria ...", Istituto Enciclopedia Italiana , 2001, p. 129

3. See V. Condino, “I Castelli Della Provincia Di Cosenza”, 1996, p. 30

4. See “Flotte e commercio greco, cartaginese ed etrusco nel Mar Tirreno”, 1988, p. 362

5. See“Archivio Storico Calabro-Lucano”, 1949, n. 18, pp. 1-20

6. See "Arch. Class.", 1963, 15, p. 239-245

7. See P.J. Bicknell," The Date of the Fall of Siris," in" La Parola del Passato," 1968, n. 23, p. 407

8. See C. Bencivenga Trillmich, “Pyxous-Buxentum”, in “Mélanges de l'Ecole française de Rome. Antiquité Année 1988, Volume 100, Numéro 100-2, pp. 701-729, p. 726

9. See E. Lattanzi, “Il problema di Sirinos”, in “Atti del ventesimo Convegno di studi sulla Magna Grecia”, Taranto, 1980, Napoli 1987, pp. 115-122

10. See P. Bottini, “La ricerca recente nel Lagonegrese”, in “A sud di Velia”, 1990, pp. 61-63

11. See “Il greco, il barbaro e la ceramica attica”, edited by F. Giudice and R. Panvini, Roma, 2003, Vol. II, p. 143

12. See E.M. De Juliis, "Magna Grecia," Edipuglia, 1996, p. 300

13. See F. Guandalini, “Il territorio di Rivello e il problema di Sirino”, in “ La Carta archeologica della valle del Sinni”, Roma, 2001, p. 220

14. See “Campania”, Istituto enciclopedico italiano, 2002, p. 215

15. B. Ferrari, “Ipotesi etimologiche su Rivello ...”, 1969

16. See A. Falasca, “Basilicata, Calabria ...”, Istituto enciclopedico italiano, 2001, p. 133

17. See F. Gregorovius, “Storia della città di Roma nel medio evo dal secolo V al XVI”, 1872, p. 219

18. see W. Mackay Mackenzie, "The Scottish Burghs ...", 1949, p. 40

19. See F. Cambi, “Il ruolo degli oppida e la difesa del territorio in Etruria ...”, 2012, p. 187

20. See “Nefandissimi Longobardi”, in “I Longobardi del sud”, Roma, 2010, p. 447