Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Italy's neglected monuments

Nestling in the hills 10km north of Viterbo in northern Lazio there is a largely forgotten but nonetheless impressive Roman theatre: the theatre of Ferento. Built to hold 1,200 spectators, it is small in comparison to some of Lazio's other Roman theatres such as the one at Ostia Antica (which was able to accommodate about 6,000 toga-clad theatre-goers) or the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome (about 11,000 seats). But with its 26 arches framing the skyline and a backdrop of rolling green countryside, the Roman theatre of Ferento has its own charm. 

In the first centuries of imperial Rome it was the hub of entertainment in Ferentum, a small town with Etruscan origins. Not that you could tell these days; it's accessible along a small country road and the site is halfabandoned and overgrown. 

It hasn't been opened to the public on a daily basis for many years – when the last custodian retired several years ago, he wasn't replaced. The only times the public can visit now is during Italy's Culture Week in April, and during a festival that takes place in the theatre for a few days each summer. Otherwise, the grass is allowed to grow in the cracks and debris accumulates from one season to the next. 

The state of Ferento's theatre has even caught the attention of the popular investigative television show Striscia la Notizia, which highlighted the site's neglect in a programme broadcast in March. Presenters Fabio and Mingo visited Ferento and found that the archaeological site was in "a really ruinous state." Mingo joked: "The ancient Romans would have put on plays here: comedies, tragedies; the tragedy we see today is the state of this archaeological site. The only spectators today are the weeds and dead branches that have invaded the place."