Scattered among the hilltops of Lazio in strategic positions with vast views of the lower slopes and plains to the sea, are towns that date back well over 3000 years, with solid archaeological evidence of continuing occupation through to this day. One such town is cyclopean Segni.
What is amazing is that Segni, like most of the other cyclopean towns relatively nearby have not been seriously explored and excavated, probably due to the continuing occupation, unlike the Forum in Rome or the Acropolis in Athens.
One Friday afternoon, just before dusk in early autumn, we drove up to visit friends in cyclopean Segni, from Colleferro, a city created for war and space. Segni is a busy and tightly packed town with the old city typically on the ‘acropolis’. We parked at the entrance to the old town just below the cathedral.
It is a surprisingly fine structure, with a unique speckled marble throughout and a relatively modern stained glass window. The cathedral was gradually filling with old ladies of the town, so we made a quiet exit and noticed that the stairs to the entrance slope down away from the church.
The streets and alleys (vicoli) are all paved with Roman cobblestones which in the early evening drizzle appeared as a black sea in a light wind, the peaks and troughs of the sea haphazardly flowing under our feet.
I recalled my younger years in Sydney where a favourite eating establishment was Il Vicolo below China Town, and remembered that it had appropriately been in an alley.
Many of the buildings, all stone, are built in Roman style with small square stones. Some buildings show architectural features and decorations, but most appear utilitarian. Certainly the narrow streets seem to predate Roman times as they drift haphazardly across the hill.
I came to one conclusion when we stepped to the side against a wall to let a Fiat Panda pass, and watched it navigate between the walls with just a few centimetres to spare, that the design of this car must certainly have included a period of assessment of the demands of Segni.
Walking to the top of the acropolis required many turns and navigation of several short streets until we came out in the open. On our right we looked over Gavignano a long way below the forested hills. We were taken another fifty metres up the path and shown on our left, marching up the hillside, a short section of the cyclopean walls of Segni, the full length of which is about 5 kilometres.
Yes, the rocks each weighs several tons; yes they are carved even though roughly, to fit into a dense and balanced matrix, and no, it would not have been an easy task for 100 masons to construct in a lifetime. Please come and decide for yourself how these walls of cyclopean Segni were built over 3000 years ago.
Our host, Bruno Sopino, is a retired chemist and expressionist artist. He and his wife, Manuela, escaped from Colleferro up into the ancient walls of Segni. Their house hidden in the old city rises rapidly from the street several levels, including a second apartment seemingly climbing on top of their house. Like other passionate artists, his love for his work prevents him from excessive commerciality.
The walls and furniture of their home are all covered with paintings: by his master, Ferrari, two artist friends who we will meet another day, and an occasional purchase from an antique fair.
Most of his own works are stacked beside, on top of, or under furniture, in a humble gesture, yet he has an specific style that is ultra-expressionist, and his approach to still life and the ‘belle donne’ capture the viewer.
Among his many artistic works in the main bedroom is a small framed document, one of Bruno’s four patents from 1980 for invention of a new low viscosity epoxy resin, an achievement of which he is justly proud.
Now his pride returns to artistic creation and music that fill his heart.