(a progress report preliminary to the communication on survey and recognition of the site of Vivarium for the XIV Congressus Internationalis Archaeologiae Christianae)

My paper for the XIII Congressus Internationalis Archaeologiae Christianae (CIAC) cautioned against hasty assumptions on the early demise of the monasterium vivariense of Cassiodorus ('Contra voluntatem fundatorum: il monasterium vivariense di Cassiodoro dopo il 575' in ACTA, XIII Congressus Internationalis Archaeologiae Christianae vol. II, p. 551-586, Roma-Split 1998), ruling out as not compatible with the topographical data contained in the works of Cassiodorus the twofold identification proposed by Pierre Courcelle in 1938 and then again in 1954. According to Courcelle's views, the ruins of a small church at San Martino di Copanello mark the site of the monasterium vivariense and the former church of Santa Maria de Vetere marks the site of the monasterium castellense.

These and other earlier attempts lacked key elements for the proper identification of the sites. As regards archaeological data, the location of the Roman Scolacium was unknown; as regards the authenticity of primary sources, there was as yet no way to distinguish manuscripts produced at Vivarium from those written elsewhere. As far as topography is concerned, no thorough survey of the territory from the Courcellian sites eastwards was ever undertaken. Specifically, the territory known as Coscia di Stalettì, from the crest of mons Moscius to the Alessi River, was ignored, and the "fountain of Cassiodorus" was erroneously identified with the fons Arethusa mentioned by Cassiodorus in the Variae.

Things have changed. Thanks to the excavations by Ermanno Arslan, we are now familiar with the Roman Scolacium (Parco archeologico della Roccelletta). Seven interconnecting basins have come to light near the mouth of the Alessi River, where ancient sources place the fishponds of Vivarium. A cross with an inscription datable to the mediaeval period and rests of ancient canalization were found near the fountain of Cassiodorus, in the immediate vicinity of the Casino Pepe at the Coscia di Stalettì, and a thorough survey of the territory has been carried out thanks to the availability of the Bocchino family, lifelong local residents and owners of the former church of Santa Maria de Vetere. Research by Fabio Troncarelli now makes it possible to identify codices produced at Vivarium or copied from Vivarian archetypes.

These factors call for a reassessment of the topography of Vivarium. The monastic complex appears as an estate flanked by Byzantine neighbours - the castrum excavated by the archaeologists of the Ecole Francaise to the west and Scolacium to the east. The monasterium vivariense should be situated at the Coscia di Stalettì near the Alessi River and the castellense at the modern Villa Ciluzzi, above the Roman castellum - not a castle, but the terminal point of an aqueduct.

The consequences of such localization are important for the profile of the monastic foundations of Cassiodorus. The most obvious remark is that the Vivariense was by no means a secluded retreat, but was situated on the main road between Scolacium - still active, as Arslan has shown, in the seventh century under Byzantine administration - and the highways leading south to Reggio and Sicily, and north to Rome. More importantly, the proposed topography places the Vivariense in control of one of the few landings of the Gulf of Squillace, a dangerous stretch known since antiquity as navifragum Scyllaceum. Thus, the monastery was situate directly on the maritime route to Sicily, Africa, Spain (to the west) and Crotone, Greece, and Constantinople (to the east). With land and sea routes, communication was wide open, and the same ships that carried oil and wine could also carry visitors and manuscripts to - and from - Vivarium.



Calabrian Tales: Contract for a Ghost

If you walked along the Viaranda (the old Roman road, partly hidden by asphalt, that leads from the Torrefazione Guglielmo on the old Highway 106 to the hilltop village of Staletti), you used to see the silhouette of the Casino Pepe, an example of Calabrian country residence with architectural and historical value in its own right. In addition, the building is situated on the grounds of the monasterium vivariense of Cassiodorus, quite close to the Ionian shore and the fishponds. The structure, now a shell, was to be restored with funds from the European Community. Work on the site began on September 24, 1998, and is to be completed by September 24, 1999, or else all monies have to be returned.

We shall see. In February, when I last visited the site, I was told that work had stopped since November, and none too soon, I hasten to add, because one of the inner arches, which I remembered standing tall in happier times, when the only inhabitants of the Casino were chicken and pigs, had collapsed. Beneath the arch, the ground had been dug up, and then covered again. What's worse, the ancient masonry which made the Casino attractive has been covered with something that looks like greysh cement. Thus, we can no longer see the fragments of late antique material re-used for the construction of Casino Pepe, or the openings in the outer walls, useful to fire a few shots on briganti and other unwelcome guests. Restoration, demolition, or white-washing? It's hard to tell, because the person responsible for the works, whose name - ANTONIO MOSCA - was conspicuously displayed at the site, has been dead for a while (so I am told), and other persons, whose names do not appear in print, have been doing the work. Meanwhile, Emanuela Bocchino, who wants to restore the former church of Sancta Maria Dei Genitrix (Santa Maria de Vetere), whose roof collapsed long ago, is still awaiting a building permit.

* Click on Site of Vivarium for the text of the letter of inquiry sent to Giorgio Ceraudo, of the Soprintendenza ai Beni AA. AA. AA. SS. of Cosenza.