That’s a sentiment I’ve heard repeated often enough here that it has become a commonplace for me, and I was reminded of it when I came upon the trash heap pictured above while out on one of my walks around town.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that Sessa Aurunca has a Romanesque cathedral and the ruins of a Roman theater, quite a few beautiful churches, some very interesting architecture, and lots of spolia. I still haven’t written about the castle, or even mentioned the Ponte Ronaco or the Cryptoportico, two structures dating from the Roman period. Outside the town, in the frazione of Rongolise, there is a small chapel with twelfth-century frescoes. There are several big restoration projects in progress, including the cathedral and the castle, with its civic museum.
I sometimes imagine a town like Sessa Aurunca in northern or central Italy, with good transportation links and some similar towns like it nearby. There would be fewer buildings crumbling from centuries of neglect, more shops and restaurants, a few hotels, and even tourists. I don’t mean to suggest that tourism ought to be the the aim of every place of historical importance, and I admit that it changes the character of a place, but in a town without industry or enough commerce to provide jobs to a significant portion of its inhabitants, it could provide much needed opportunities for employment and revenue. All of this is an oversimplification, but it serves to make a point, albeit a rather cliched one, about the future prospects of broad swaths of the Mezzogiorno.
The truth is that castles and churches and evocative, narrow alleys with diaphragm arches overhead do not cancel out piles of trash and other similar signs of neglect. I understand the political and cultural circumstances that have historically determined the condition that so much of the south finds itself in. But I find it ever more difficult to accept that sort of explanation for the continued absence of a enough of a sense of civic responsibility (and pride) not to spoil what beauty is left. And I believe that if places like Sessa Aurunca never improve themselves, that absence will be the fault of it.