The Churches of Molise
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So many periods of architecture are handsomely represented in Molise! Starting in the capital of Campobasso, there's 14th-century S. Leonardo, with its exquisitely carved portals; the cream-colored S. Giorgio with its charming lunettes and squat 12th-century belltower, the Romanesque S. Bartolomeo, and the 16th-century S. Antonio Abate, which boasts many beautiful wood sculptures, stone carvings and paintings on canvas.

Larino Just north of the city is Biferno Valley, where a short drive will reward you with three memorable shrines. The first, situated in rural isolation just outside of Matrice, is the austere 12th-century S. Maria della Strada, a fine example of Romanesque sculpture with a curious detached belltower. A handful of miles and 200 years farther up the road, we come to Petrella Tifernina and the charming 14th-century S. Giorgio Martire. The carvings above its main portal are as elaborate as the interior is stark and silent. Posed behind is a belltower wearing what looks like a medieval dunce cap. Larino's illustrious past is proudly represented by its cathedral, one of the prettiest churches in southern Italy. Its ornate portal and imposing belltower somehow fit perfectly into the tiny square it faces.

Castelpetroso
I
n the seaport of Termoli, visit the elegant cathedral of S. Basso, with its unusual façade bearing seven arches, and its magnificent (albeit quite deteriorated) 6th-century mosaic floor. Lovers of Romanesque should drive a few miles to Guglionesi, first to visit the elegant 7th-century crypt of S. Adamo, then for the slightly more recent one beneath S. Nicola. But don't stop there! Push on a little farther to Roccavivara, where you'll find the 14th-century sanctuary of S. Maria di Canneto, flanked by a stout belltower and surrounded by a whispering forest of poplars and pines, and by a sea of vineyards.

Special mention must be reserved for the sanctuary at Castelpetroso, one of the most startlingly out-of-place sites in Italy. Looking rather like a giddy round wedding-cake, the French Gothic conceit sits alone in a pristine valley inviting the curious passerby to enter and glimpse its soaring sun-streaked interiors.

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