|Il Cerriglio some years ago|
Many years ago I remember walking around Massa Lubrense and by pure chance going into what looked liked the entrance to an ancient mansion, attracted by the pillars in tuff and marble busts lining the short avenue leading to something green. This turned out to be a nymphaeum fountain covered in moss and maidenhair. Two marble masks inscribed with the date 1681 spewed out water at either side of the main spring and it was all rather special.
I did my homework and discovered that the house used to be the home of the De Martino family and that the ancient villa was probably built in the 14th century by a certain Giovan Giacomo De Martino, secretary to Queen Joan II. Towards the end of the 16th century Ferrante De Martino lived there. His nickname was Il Rachione, and even now this particular area of Massa and one of its streets still bear this name. To the right of the entrance is the chapel of St. John the Baptist (seventeenth century), once accessible directly from the main avenue.
More recently I went back to Il Cerriglio and found it in total abandon. The water had dried up, the maidenhair had died and the fountain's basin had become a rubbish dump. It was frankly quite awful. I never went back and had little hope that things would change.
For once I have been proved wrong, and last week the fountain was cleaned and the water is now flowing again.
However there have been some surprises along the way.
As they were cleaning the basin, removing the layers of limescale that had formed over the years, little columns emerged composed mainly of tuff and once covered in plaster that had evidently supported something. Next came a piece of terracotta which turned out to be part of a hollow tile that covered another and was topped by a spout, all completely clogged and positioned relatively recently on the limescale deposits. It was clear from the start that these elements did not belong to the original structure from the fact that they
received water from a furrow dug into the central mass covered in moss. This theory was confirmed a little later by the presence of a white PVC tube emerging from beneath the furrow. The removal of the tube and the cement around it created a hole revealing a cavity which, once big enough to put a hand in, disclosed a smooth and wavy surface almost free of limescale. From then on it was simple to remove the rest, uncovering the shell and straight afterwards the little niche above it.
There is still a lot of limescale to remove, especially on the sides, and who knows what else could emerge.
Whilst we may regret no longer seeing the green, moss and maidenhair clad Cerriglio of before, the discovery of the bowl-shaped shell certainly compensates, and we can now begin to imagine its original splendour. Numerous shells (real ones) decorate both the lateral columns and the vault of the niche and no doubt this is how it was before the limescale took over.
Now it is up to the experts to decide if and how to proceed. It would be interesting to discover where the water originally flowed through, (the hole in the upper part of the apse is off-centre and was definitely an after-thought), what there was between the shell-shaped basin and the apse, how this was decorated, and if it is in fact older than was thought.
Meantime, Massa Lubrense has re-acquired part of its history and an added attraction for its many visitors.
Photos courtesy of Giovanni Visetti (Blog) and Comune di Massa Lubrense.