The main road from the motorway at Frosinone to the Tyrrhenian seaside resort of Terracina is a continuous stream of cars and trucks on a summers day, and nearly all the travellers give not a second thought to the towns of the Lepini Mountains spread and dotted over the low hills and higher mountains.
But on this very warm summer’s day just before Ferragosto, our objective is not the seaside, but the old town of Priverno, with its medieval old centre and its archaeological history of the Volsci and the Romans.
There are three stone benches on the left hand side as you drive through the old town square (Giovanni XXIII), each bench at least partially protected from the late morning sun by old trees standing at the edge of the road. Seek a parking place. A coffee in the bar is followed by the chance to relax on one of the benches facing the cathedral and, slightly to the right, the city hall. Behind us are the local police station and the Archaeological Museum.
Mothers and children and businessmen walk past each giving a friendly welcome to the officer of the local constabulary standing near the kerbside. He knows his job and eyes off the few cars parked irregularly in the square, but grants an ‘indulgence’ to the one with a disability pass.
We seek to know just a little more of this square that is dominated architecturally by the cathedral and the Antonelli Palace (now the City Hall), so we move into the sun, cross the ‘corso’ and climb the 31 steps to the church.
The first impression is of walking into a dark room, as eyes adjust to the ambience, and of a welcome cool air in the calmness underneath the organ loft and choir. A slow circumnavigation of the church reveals an altar on the left of the nave, but a better lit chapel is at the end of the side aisle on the right, with bas relief statues of St Thomas Aquinas and St Sebastian. On the left hand side aisle is a statue of Madonna Assumption into Heaven.
There are many paintings, a little difficult to discern in the unlit environment, and a modern circular stained glass window is centred in the facade above the portal.
Two youngish teenage girls are seated on the floor in a side chapel, maybe just relishing the cool, and respecting the peace of the cathedral. We ‘light’ three candles and offer a silent prayer. Then, outside again we experience that the heat of the day seems to have expanded. Immediately a few metres to our left a stairway rises to the inner workings of the city hall.
We return to our ‘base camp’ and enter the Archaeological Museum of Priverno. It has three levels and derives all its display ‘wealth’ from the ‘diggings’ around Privernum. It is an excellent museum, without peer, that, in about 20 rooms covers the history, mythology and archaeology of the city from the time of the Volsci and their Queen Camilla to the end of the Roman empire. Every item in every themed room is declined and explained and relationships are presented.
There are unfortunately only a few benches where you can rest and absorb the ambience. It is obvious that this exhibition has been carefully planned in every detail. The director proudly declares the museum of Priverno to be a centre of, and for, women, though I notice but one room dealing exclusively with the feminine gender. Maybe the present is making up for millenia of failure to adequately recognise the power and roles of the second sex.
For the international traveller, there is only one challenge, all the detailed descriptions are elucidated only in Italian – so there is one project still available to further enhance the attractiveness of this museum and the old town of Priverno to the experiential tourist. Yet for the many thousands of Italians who tour past Priverno to the sea, there is a wonderful memorial to your Roman past standing in the Giovanni XXIII cathedral square in Priverno.