torsdag 21. juli 2011

Saepinum: Roman ruins in mezzogiorno


Not only do sights lead to tourism, the effect does also work the opposite way. Just go to Saepinum far inside the valleys of Italy's forgotten Molise.

There you will find the remains of a small roman provincial town, beautifully placed in the foothills of the Matese mountains. The theatre is there, and the same goes for the columns of the temple, the walls of the baths, market and forum. And everything is remarkably well preserved. 

OK, I'll admit it has never been Pompeii. The town was probably as sleepy and easy forgotten as today's Sepino, the modern town a few kilometres to the south. And Saepinum lacks the dramatic story. It never saw sudden death, and it never drowned in ash and burning rocks like the more famous ruin town south of Naples.
But. Roman ruins in mint condition. Imagine if it was in Tuscany...

It isn't. It's in the southeast of Italy, in a poor region where little has changed since... Molise is el mezzogiorno at it's worst - used as an expression of backwardness, poverty and crime - a part of Italy where life stops at midday. And it doesn't spin much faster the rest of the day.

I have wanted to see Saepinum for years, after reading about it in my favourite travel guides for backwatery holidays in a rental car: The Rough Guide to Italy.

This March I finally went there. But I almost didn't make it. The ruins are not signposted from the main road SS17, only Sepino is, and even that name is listed as number three from top.

So I missed it at first try. But I persevered. By the center of Sepino a sign showed the way to zona archeologica, from there I only drove the wrong way once (keep right 50 meters after the probably closed tourism center).

Finally I was in Saepinum. Alone. There are some farmhouses built within and around the ruins, and even a farmhouse that uses the backside of the theatre as walls. But there are no guides, no ticket office, no fences. Even the café outside the ruins was closed.

In the grass between the ruins I saw sheeps manure (some years ago nomadic shepherds used to pass through the ruins when they moved their sheep flocks between summer and winter pasture), and during my visit I saw two possibly tourists and one farmer walking her dog.

Apart from that, the roman town was mine. It might have felt like that when the nobles of old went on their Grand Tour. A little lonely. And with a sense that this must hold greater opportunities.

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