SAEPINUM, a ruined Roman town to the south of Campobasso, is arguably the most interesting sight in Molise. Surrounded by a lush plain fringed with the foothills of the Matese mountains, it’s the best example in Italy of a provincial Roman town.

The main reason Saepinum is so intact is that it was never very important: nothing much happened here, and after the fall of the Roman Empire it carried on as the sleepy backwater it had always been – until the ninth century when it was sacked by Saracens. Over the centuries its inhabitants added only a handful of farms and cottages, incorporating the odd Roman column, and eventually moved south to the more secure hilltop site of present-day Sepino. Some have now moved back and rebuilt the farms and cottages on Saepinum’s peripheries, contributing if anything to the site’s appeal. Their sheep graze below an ancient mausoleum, chickens scratch around the walls, and the only sound is the tinkling of cowbells.

Depending on whether you arrive by bus or by car, the entrance to Saepinum is through the Porta Terravecchia or the Porta Tammaro, two of the town’s four gates. The site is bisected by the cardo maximus (running north–south), still paved with the original stones and crossed by the decumanus maximus, once home to the public buildings and trading quarters.

On the left, grass spills through the cracks in the pavement of the forum, now used by the few local kids as a football pitch, bordered by the foundations of various municipal buildings: the comitium (assembly place), the curia (senate house), a temple, baths, and in the centre a fountain with a relief of a griffin. Beyond the forum, on the left of the decumanus, the Casa Impluvio Sannitico contains a vat to collect rainwater.

Back down the decumanus on the other side of the crossroads is the well-preserved basilica that served as the main courthouse. Beyond is the most interesting part of the town – the octagonal macellum (marketplace), with its small stone stalls and central rain-collecting dish, and a series of houses fronted by workshops, with small living quarters behind.

The macellum leads down to the best-preserved gate, the Porta Boiano, flanked by cylindrical towers with a relief showing two barbarians and chained prisoners. There is also a small museum with artefacts and artwork recovered during excavation.

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