Homepage         Site of Vivarium         S. Maria de vetere         Fontana di Cassiodoro


For a modern map featuring the Fountain of Cassiodorus, go to wikivoyage (courtesy of © OpenStreetMap contributors)

Three medieval manuscripts have illustrations of the "Monastery of the Fishponds" (monasterium Vivariense) founded by Cassiodorus, located in the area known as Coscia di Stalettì, limited by Highway 106 between the tunnel of Copanello and the Alessi River, and reaching to the top of the hill (435 meters) known to Cassiodorus as Mount Moscius and to the local populace as Stalettì Mountain; Stalettì being the picturesque hilltown perched on top of Mount Moscius.
The manuscripts are:
(1) Bamberg, Stadtbibliothek Patr. 61 (Bamberg Patr. 61),
(2) Kassel, Gesamthochschul-Bibliothek Kassel-Landesbibliothek Theol. Fol. 29 (Gesamthochschul-Bibliothek Kassel-Landesbibliothek,Theol. Fol. 29, carta 26v)
(3) Würzburg, Universitaetsbibliothek M.p.th.f. 29. M.p.th.f. 29.
The Bamberg codex is the most ancient of the three (end of the 8th century), from southern Italy. It derives from a Vivarian archetype.

All three codices show one or two churches belonging to the monastery and the vivaria (fishponds) to raise fish. Cassiodorus informs us that the fishponds were on the Ionia coast, at the foot of Mount Moscius, hence at a short distance from the Coscia di Stalettì. All three codices show one church quite close to a stream that flows into the fishponds. The proximity of a stream is a fundamental piece of information for any reconstruction of the physical environment of Vivarium, and common sense tells us that water, both from the sea and from rivers, was necessary for the fishponds that had to provide fish for the monks' daily food, for the hospital/spa (balnea) annexed to the monastery, and for sale. There are no baths without water, and those who wish to identify the ruins of the monastery of Cassiodorus with those of a small church at San Martino di Copanello would do well to remember this elementary fact.

The Bamberg codex (illustration to the right) only shows one river and gives it a name: FLUVIUS APELLENA (Apellena River). Apellena or Pellena was the ancient name of the Alessi River, and Cassiodorus informs us in his Institutiones that the monastery was close to that river. We must remember, however, that for the Romans the name of a river also included its tributaries, and consequently APELLENA could mean Alessi, but also one of its tributaries in the terminal segment (the fishponds were on the coast, where is now Villaggio Guglielmo): the Fosso della Coscia or the Fosso Gullà. The Würzburg codex also calls the river fluctus pellena.

The features common to all three illustrations are the fishponds and a church near a stream that flows into the fishponds. Since the three codices derive from two different manuscript traditions, we must think that the common features go back to the archetype, which was a codex produced at Vivarium.
The Kassel and the Würzburg codices agree with the Bamberg one about the church being near the river, but add another river to the picture. It also flows into the fishponds; thus, one of the two churches is placed between the rivers. Like the Kassel codex (illustration below to the left), the Würzburg one (illustration to the right below) portrays the church between two rivers, but closer to one than to the other.

If we now compare these data with the survey map of the Land Registry for the area, we find on the map, besides the Alessi River, the streams Fosso della Coscia (to the south) and Fosso Gullà (to the north). The Viaranda (or, in Italian, Via Grande) runs between these two streams, both tributaries of the Alessi: this is the old Roman road that joins Highway 106 at the point where the Torrefazione Guglielmo now stands. The Via Grande and Highway 106 are marked in red in the illustration, the streams are marked in blue. The fountain of Cassiodorus is also marked in red, at the point where the Fosso della Coscia stream is closest to the Via Grande.

If we take sheets 7 and 8 of the Land Registry map and look at the Fosso della Coscia from the fountain of Cassiodorus down (i.e. toward the point where the Fosso flows into the Alessi) and at the other two rivers, we see that the rivers are traced on the map in the shape of a horseshoe, as in the ninth-century codices. For a contemporary view, click on the link to wikivoyage and you'll find a remarkable agreement with the eighth- and ninth century manuscripts. According to all three codices one of the churches was situated near the Fosso della Coscia, between it and the Fosso Gullà; and since we know from the Institutiones of Cassiodorus that the monastery was near a well-travelled road, we may speculate that the church was near the Viaranda. Thus, it is a reasonable hypothesis that one of the two churches, called Sanctus Martinus in the Bamberg codex, was in the vicinity of the present day "Fountain of Cassiodorus."

The photos below compare the illustration of the Würzburg codex (click here for the catalogue description) with a detail of Stalettì's Land Registry map, sheets 7 and 8. The horse-shoe configuration of the area between the two streams is the same in both illustrations. Thus, according to the codices one of the churches was near the fountain of Cassiodorus.

The fountain of Cassiodorus

What has been said so far is necessary to understand that the fountain of Cassiodorus (which, it must be said, has nothing to do with the Arethusa fountain mentioned by Cassiodorus in the Variae, just read on) is fully situated in an area that written evidence shows to be that of the grounds of the monasterium Vivariense and close to one of the two churches of the monastery. The fountain itself and its immediate surroundings show that the site was considered sacred, first to the silvan gods of the Romans, according to a cult still flourishing at the end of Cassiodorus' life, who discussed it in Inst. 1.32.2. The Roman phase of construction is attested by the water conduits near the fountain, the water spout in the annexed cebbia (water tank), the plaster covering the walls inside the natural grotto behind the fountain. Oral tradition - to be verified, of course - recounts that in the grotto underneath the fountain, now obstructed by sand and debris dumped there some 20 years ago, there were four stone statues; but the entrance to the grotto was blocked by a wall built for that specific purpose.

The shrine was eventually christianised with the addition of two large crosses in clay, one above the fountain and one, with an inscription, above the ancient water spout in the cebbia. A graffito on the wall inside the grotto may also attest to this phase of construction. Thus, the really important data are not the comparatively modern façade of the fountain, but the surrounding constructions and the grotto behind and below it; those, precisely, consistently ignored and by the local civil service servants of the Soprintendenza and their consultants.
The fountain of Cassiodorus should not be identified, as has occasionally been done, with the Arethusa spring described by Cassiodorus in Var. 12.32, written in 527-534 in the reign of Athalaric. The location of the Arethusa spring and its characteristics both speak against it. According to Cassiodorus, the spring was situated "at the foot of the hills, above the seashore", i.e. at the beginning of the ascent that leads to the summit of Mount Moscius. The spring resembled a pond surrounded by reeds, and its usually quiet water suddenly became agitated, as if boiling:

King Athalaric to the distinguished Severus

While hastening to the most august court in fulfilment of his duties, the distinguished Severus, exhausted by the long travel and wishing to restore the strength of his tired animals, chose to rest by the Arethusa spring situated in the territory of Squillace, because that spot is fertile for the abundance of pastures and embellished by flowing waters. For there is, as they say, at the foot of the hills and above the seashore, a fruitful plain where a plentiful spring covered the borders of its banks with reeds in the image of a crown.

[Cum Nymphadius v.s. pro causis suis ad comitatum sacratissimum festinaret, itineris longinquitate confectus animalia fessa reparare contendens, ad fontem Arethusam in Scyllatino territorio constitutae elegit ponere mansionem, eo quod ipsa loca et pasturarum ubertate fecunda sint et aquarum inundatione pulchrescant. Est enim, ut dicitur sub pede collium, supra maris harenam fertilis campus, ubi fons vastus egrediens cannis cingentibus in coronae speciem riparum suarum ora contexit]

A spring with these characteristics did exist, but it is not the fountain of Cassiodorus. It was a spring located behind the abandoned cement factory on Old Highway 106: the old-timers of the area remember that by the spring there was a cave large enough to give shelter to twelve mules. The site, at the start of the ascent toward Stalettì, was an apt rest area for muleteers; today it is a rest area for ladies of the night and clandestine couples. According to the old-timers, the Arethusa spring must have been situated under the stones generously dumped there during the construction of the Guglielmo coffee roasting plant. When I visited the site a meager streamlet of water was the lonely survivor.

The façade of the fountain of Cassiodorus is comparatively modern and, judging from its style, contemporary with the little chapel, now in ruins and turned into a shed used as a garage, across from the Viaranda and facing the Casino Pepe. The chapel was dated by an inscription - 1807 - placed above the altar. Nor can the mask of the fountain claim any antiquity; it is an imitation in typical nineteenth-century taste, and if its nose, now discreetly covered up with moss, has been truncated, this is not due to the ravages of time, but to one local person who on a fine evening came home intoxicated and chopped the mask down with a club.

The really important data from an archaeological and historical perspective are to be sought inside the fountain, in the annexed cebbia (water tank), and in the surrounding water conduits, all ignored by the local population and, so it seems, by the local Soprintendenza.
Inside the fountain there is a natural grotto, visible through a rectangular opening. In 1960 the opening was still covered by a panel with a large Latin cross in clay; a photo of it was published by Rosario Casalenuovo in his Guida storico-turistica di Stalettì, p. 74. The natural grotto behind the facade is obviously older than the facade itself, and now partially filled with sand and debris. In the upper part and on the ceiling the walls are covered with bricks, and the bricks and walls are coated with what looks like plaster. The water, filtering down from the rock, is collected in a small quadrangular basin and flows into the external (modern) basin through a circular opening in the inner quadrangular tank. Inside the grotto, written on the wall, is an inscription: IO ou III, where "ou" is written as an "o" with supra script "v", all in a rectangular frame. IO is a known abbreviation for IO(annes), and a John (Ioannes) bishop of Squillace is well attested in the letters of Pope Gregory I (590-604). In addition to the letters, the more or less welcome involvement of the bishop in the monastery's affairs is attested by the codex Reg.lat. 2077 of the Vatican Library.

Codex Reg.lat. 2077, written at Vivarium after the death of Cassiodorus, has on f. 1v the note of possession:


which can be read: EP(iscopus) +IO(annes) V(ir) C(larissimus) [The Right Honourable Bishop John]

or, according to Fabio Troncarelli, EP(iscopus) +IO(annes) V(i)C(arius) [Bishop John, Vicar]

In either reading IO means John, bishop of Squillace. It is therefore possible that IO(annes) of the fountain is the same John of Squillace. III is a Trinitarian symbol expressing faith in the Blessed Trinity and o+u is a monogram used for huios, Greek for "the Son" (of God), meaning that Christ is one of the Trinity. Both crosses and the inscription witness the christianisation of a pagan shrine situated in the vicinity of the monastery of Vivarium.

A rectangular cebbia (water tank) for watering the grounds is annexed to the fountain. According to the oral tradition, water conduits made of bricks conveyed the water from the fountain to the cebbia; now the whole area is a swamp, and I don't remember anyone lamenting the fate of the cebbia, which would indeed deserve some sympathy.The east wall of the cebbia may be late antique or early medieval. The south wall, with a spout to water the fields, was redone in modern times. The west wall is invisible, because covered by thick brush; to the north there is the hillside.
On the east wall there is a niche framed by a border in clay, above the niche a cross and an inscription whose first letters are A D (the rest is beyond me, except for the monogram o+supra-script u).

The niche can be dated generically in the early Middle Ages. Here, too, as in the fountain, there was a pre-existing construction: the east wall of the cebbia is built directly on the rock and in the rock a circular opening had been cut to let the water flow down. In the photo below a little lizard enjoys the autumn sun where the water used to flow; niche, cross, and inscription were placed above that opening in a later construction stage.

The fragments of water conduits a few meters uphill from the fountain also seem to belong to the spring-cebbia context. The conduit brought water from the Fosso della Coscia to the fountain, taking advantage of the natural slope of the hill. Though clearly visible (see photo), the water pipes have never been published by students of local history. All these fragments are at a short distance from the Viaranda, a Roman road still preserved in its pristine state in its upper part, near the town of Stalettì. In addition, there are numerous ancient fragments of construction material found in the meadows below the fountain and near Casino Pepe. Ancient (Roman) fragments were also recycled as building material for the construction of Casino Pepe, and are still quite visible in its walls, except those portions that the Town of Stalettì, in its ill-advised restoration project founded by the European Community, saw fit to cover with cement.

An archaeological study is long overdue, but the slightest hint of such a possibility falls on hopelessly dead local ears. It is a plain fact that historically the site was always considered that of the monastery of Cassiodorus. The local people called the spring "fountain of Cassiodorus" and one of the gorges of the Stalettì Mountain facing directly the Casino Pepe is still called by the locals "gorge of Cassiodorus". The last of the Pepe family who owned the place in the early 1800's was convinced that the ruins by his house had belonged to the monasterium Vivariense. These were simple facts of life and did not create any particular commotion. When the Lucifero family acquired the property things changed: nothing ancient had ever been found at the Coscia, wrote Marquis Armando Lucifero in his annotations to a book of Lenormant.

Before him, the memory of Cassiodorus lingered, and not only among the rustics. Some twenty years ago the Zaccone-Vitale family acquired and restructured an old farmhouse, known locally as "Casino Russidu" near the Alessi River and the Coscia di Stalettì. On the walls of the farmhouse there were frescoes; their chronology is uncertain, perhaps 16-17th century. One fragment is still preserved. It shows the seashore such as could be seen from the Casino, with monks in a black cowl and farmers working in the fields, and there was one arch, evidently the lone survivor of what could have been the portico featured with the fishponds in the codices representing Vivarium.

"Occhio non vede e cuore non duole" (what you don't know won't hurt you), says an old Italian proverb. There have been some attempts to protect the site, but by and large, there is the impression that the Italian Soprintendenze do not see, do not hear, and do not speak - and that they don't read, either. On the positive side, on 21 December 1999 the part of the Coscia di Stalettì corresponding to sheet 8 of the Land Registry map was declared object of public interest and as such subject to preservation measures (Decree of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali of 21 December 1999 published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale of 14 March 2000). The area corresponding to sheet 7, however, is not included in the decree.
In or about 1996 the photographer Franco Businelli, of the Soprintendenza of Cosenza, took excellent photos of the cebbia, fountain, and surroundings. But, to my knowledge, no copies were released and no inspection of the site took place until 13 March 2013 and (again to my knowledge) there has been no report on it; if this is not correct, I shall be very happy to have been proven wrong. In reply to my request in date 2 April 2015, conveyed to the Soprintendenza of Calabria through the Office of Public Relations of the MIBACT (Ministero dei beni e dell attività culturali e del turismo) in Rome, came the email transcribed in the Addendum below.

Why the lack of interest? There has been talk of the ancestral attachment of landowners to their land. But this does not explain the remarkable anti-Catholic character of certain projects, nor instances of desecration. Place-names that remember Catholic saints have systematically been abolished; thus, the fountain of Cassiodorus was renamed Arethusa (Cassiodorus was also considered a saint), Serra della Croce, on the Stalettì mountain, was renamed Villa Ciluzzi, and the church of Mary Mother of God was renamed in the bland Mary of the Sea. As for desecration, the large cross on the fountain published by Rosario Casalenuovo disappeared, and so did the painting of Mary the Virgin with a little shepherdess above the altar in the little chapel now turned into a shed.

These episodes are expressions of anti-Catholic feelings, and probably also the expression of local Masonic groups. Free-masonry has been historically strong in Calabria particularly among the intellectual and the aristocracy that supported the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy. Masonic lodges are present in the Squillace-Stalettì area. Certainly the destruction - not a violent one, but one simply due to negligence, as in the case of the Fountain of Cassiodorus - of any artefact of Catholic origin is consistent with a program still inspired by the "Ecrasez l'infame" of Voltaire.

Addendum - Almost twenty years later: My poor - shorn fountain...

...shorn of the shrubs that made it such an idyllic place, that is, and without drainage system, because the family that rented the place to raise their sheep at the Coscia di Stalettì and used the fountain daily - the sheep drank very happily from it, which is why an old bathtub was placed in front of the fountain, to create an extension for the animals - left in 2005 and since then the area has been abandoned. That's what the cebbia looked like on 13 March 2013:

And this is the update on the survey that took place on that day, received on 21 April 2015:

From: BONOFIGLIO ADELE (adele.bonofiglio@beniculturali.it)
To: dcsaki@yahoo.com
Cc: ufficio relazioni con il pubblico (urp@beniculturali.it)

Dear Professor Luciana Cuppo,

Unfortunately, I have no significant updates subsequent to the inspection done jointly to the above-referenced site, about which I would have indeed informed you in a timely manner.
Archival research done by me at the Archivio di Stato of Catanzaro did not yield positive results. At the present state of knowledge, the only things left are place-names and the presumed identification of the places, yet not corroborated by irrefutable archaeological evidence, as also inferred in the course of the inspection.
I hope, instead, that your studies may provide the scientific community with important results in the matter.
Kind regards
Adele Bonofiglio

This is the original text:

From: Bonofiglio Adele (adele.bonofiglio@beniculturali.it
To: dcsaki@yahoo.com
Cc: Ufficio relazioni con il pubblico (urp@beni.culturali.it)

Gentile Prof.ssa Luciana Cuppo,
purtroppo non ho aggiornamenti significativi successivi
al sopralluogo svolto congiuntamente sul sito in oggetto,
di cui peraltro l'avrei tempestivamente informata.
Le ricerche archivistiche da me svolte presso l'Archivio di
Stato di Catanzaro non hanno dato esito positivo.
Allo stato delle nostre conoscenze rimane solo la toponomastica
e il presunto riconoscimento dei luoghi non avvalorato però da evidenze
archeologiche inconfutabili, come del resto dedotto nel corso del
Spero che i suoi studi possano fornire, invece, alla comunità scientifica
importanti risultati in merito.
Distinti saluti
Adele Bonofiglio

The Soprintendenza of Calabria has a long and undistinguished record of not seeing, not hearing, and not talking - and, we might add, of not reading the basic historical records.