Situated sixteen miles north of Naples within the fertile plains of the Caserta province, Capua dates back to at least the 7th century B.C. when Etruscans and Euboean Greeks settled the area. Today, the ancient city lies mostly underneath the modern town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere.
The ancient city has several claims to fame. In Roman times, Cicero said that the “fleshpots of Capua” defeated Hannibal because his Carthaginians became soft due to the high living in the city. At the time, Capuan residents were considered wealthy, well-groomed, and always perfumed. The city was also called the terra di lavoro or “land of work” due to its cornucopia of agriculture, metal-working, pottery, ceramics and extensive trade in other goods. The ancient writer Livy referred to Capua as the granary of Rome because of its abundant wheat crop.
The amphitheater is easy to find at the center of Capua. It’s the second largest in Italy next to the coliseum in Rome. The amphitheater is open so visitors can roam the vaulted corridors, the gladiator field, and the underground tunnels where once elaborate stage machinery as well as caged animals were kept.
A Gladiator Museum next to the amphitheater contains two rooms of artifacts as well as a display of fighting gladiators. At one time, Capua boasted the best gladiator schools that trained both slaves and freemen. Spartacus, the leader who led the slave revolt in 73 B.C. against Rome, first distinguished himself as a gladiator in the Capua amphitheater.
The travel tip for Capua is to make sure to ask at the entrance gate to see the Sanctuary of Mithras. (It’s the only way to gain access.)