Thursday, 3 April 2014


Saepinum, Italy

Finding the little ancient Roman town of Saepinum wasn't easy. For one thing, it wasn't even called Saepinum on road signs, as the modern town was named Altilia. At one point, the GPS told us to turn down a narrow dirt road that did not look like it had a tourist attraction at the end of it. There weren't many people around, but there was an old woman putting her rubbish into a large dumpster at the start of this road. We stopped, and asked "Saepinum?" She replied by pointing down the dirt road. 
We drove down it, and arrived at a place to park. Entering the ruins, many fenced off farm dogs barked at us angrily. Unlike better-known preserved Roman towns like Pompeii, Ostia Antica and Herculaneum, Saepinum was a derelict village that was gradually transformed into a farm over the centuries. It was a strange feeling, like we were trespassing. It wasn't at all touristy as we were expecting, and in fact, there was hardly anyone around at all, including locals. 

What used to be a temple. Someone stuck the pillars back up so that you can get a slight idea of what it might have been like.

It makes sense - if you want to build a barn and you come across what used to be wall made of stone, why not use it? You'd need fewer materials. Here was a grape vine that ran alongside one of the roads that led into the town. 

Some of the shops and houses were still discernible by the shapes the remaining walls formed and whatever was made of stone left in them. In this picture, I stand in the compluvium and look up wondering where the impluvium has got to. A long time ago, this grassy area with stones in it used to be 'indoors'. 

The central forum area where townspeople would congregate was still very much identifiable, as the paving stones survived. One part that amazed me was the guttering in the forum. (I'm clearly far too excited about drainage systems.) The stones that made up the gutter could still carry water away from the forum so that it did not flood - a two thousand year old gutter that still works! 

As in Pompeii, there were stepping stones over the road (which was also a clever drainage system in itself). Most of the stepping stones had gone, but one remained. I used my imagination. On the right of the picture, you can see a more modern farm house. These buildings are still in use to this day by the inhabitants of Altilia. 

And yet more drainage systems. A grate! For draining away water! From that well! And the rain! How exciting. And you might not be able to tell, but the grate did go somewhere. Under the grate was darkness. Meaning that it would still be functional. In draining away water! From the well!

There were four gates into Saepinum, one for each compass point. These hadn't survived so well, but had been reconstructed more recently.

No Roman town would be complete without an ampitheatre. And indeed, no Italian town; this ampitheatre is the only one in Altilia, and they still utilise it when they put on plays. This had also been reconstructed a bit, but as things on the ground seem to last better than things that are more affected by gravity (such as impluviums), I imagine not much reconstruction was needed.

Old in the foreground, new in the background. Walking through this field to get back to the main road from the ampitheatre, we spotted this guy:

He was also walking through the field. But it was obviously his field. He just stared at us, and we took that to mean we should leave.

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