28 June 2013

and now for something completely different

I belong to a group hoping to save a Roman triumphal arch from further damage and neglect. It isn't in my town, but at nearby Aquino. In another town I am not afraid to stand up to be counted, interferring foreigner that I might be.

It is a place where I regularly take my visitors.

This Roman arch fell victim to waterways diverted to supply a mill, and then in "recent" years has become the close neighbour of a paper-making factory. Paper-making requires a lot of water, and so this lovely old arch, built in honour of one of Mark Anthony's victories, now stands astride a swift flowing waterway with little quiet pools around one side of the structure itself (photo below).

This diagram shows how much of the arch is below the present ground level and underwater. Only a third of it is visible now. 

I first saw the arch in 2004. At that point access to it was easy, there was no gate or at least if there was one it wasn't locked. In 2005 I managed to read most of a sign that indicated the likely history of the arch, and the design of what is now unseen, underground after all these years.

In more recent years the area became abandoned, the grass between the church and the arch left to grow, and the gate firmly padlocked. It was a rare occasion that I managed to get in to see it again.

Recently, however, things relating to the arch have come to the fore a little. Justifying my participation on the grounds that I probably bring more tourists to this little section of Via Latina and the wonderful church of San Maria della Libera than any locals do, I joined a group who are lobbying to have this arch restored as much as possible, certainly the area around it cleared and cleaned up, and hopefully, with a little political intervention, there might even be some conversation with the industry that has for some time controlled the fate of this arch.

It helps to be a foreigner occasionally, as it highlights that this is not just a group of locals with an axe to grind. I really do care about the church and its surrounds, and the neglect of the arch is something incredible to those of us with such a short period of history to protect.

Italy has so much to care for so it is not surprising that some things wont be saved, but it seems to me that there is no reason not to fight for this one. (And then hopefully I'll be experienced enough to stand up and fight to preserve a medieval structure MUCH closer to my home).

So, apart from being active on facebook, attending meetings, and allowing my photos to appear as part of the team, I have another contribution to make. I have been asked to paint a picture of the arch for the group. This will be a donation of course, but is something tangible that I can do. My Italian is not yet up to arguing with politicians and mayors in rapid volley...  understanding the exchange is as good as it gets when the subject is being debated in terms I haven't met before.

So, watch this space. The painting is beginning to form in my mind, so I will make a tentative start soon. In my usual fashion I will probably work on three at the same time, but no promises at this stage.

I'm looking forward to it. I have a few ideas already. I can even picture a cartoon... Romans in togas swimming along the stream. This came to mind when someone wrote on the facebook page: "Was there always water running under the arch?" and another replied "I don't think the Romans swam through it" or words to that effect. Mmmm... now what can I do with that?

Today I am grateful for people who respect their history. 

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