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The International Writers Magazine: Italia Archives

Raymond K. Clement

Nestled beneath a rock formation that eerily resembles the five fingers of an upraised hand lies a small town. It is located at the farthest reaches of southern Italy in the Region of Calabria, twenty-five kilometres east of Reggio Calabria.

No one lives there anymore. It is deserted. The inhabitants were ordered to move, by the state, over a quarter of a century ago. The only resident these days is a caretaker. it is an abandoned town. It has earned a reputation as a ghost town; similar to those that dot the landscape of the western United States. it is called, appropriately enough, Pentidattilo, Five Fingers.

It was closed because of the eminent possibility of destruction by either landslide, or the fear that even a minor earthquake (frequent in this area of Italy) could bring the "Five Fingers" crashing down upon the town. The devastating quake of 1783 foretold the town’s eventual demise, and the existence of these twin threats dictated the drastic action of evacuating the locale and forbidding future habitation.

The history of this remote village, founded in about 1273, and the ruins of a castle, are the stuff of pulp fiction; full of intrigue and a smattering of mayhem. The murder of almost the entire family of the Marquis of Pentidattilo over Easter in 1680 (Supposedly for the love of a women), is but one example. Local legend fancies the red sandstone rock formation seemingly represents the bloody hand of the assassin that perpetrated the murders.

There is also political intrigue, and an attempted assassination of a national hero. Apparently the Italian patriot, Vittorio Garibaldi, chose Pentidattilo for a clandestine meeting of local supporters. The French found out about it, shelled the town from warships below, a cannonball struck the house in which he was having his meeting, barely missing him. (The actual cannonball is now a center of attraction at a local restaurant.)

The wind whistles through the abandoned streets, a wooden shutter bangs against a window sill, giving one a start. A weathered, hand-lettered sign stands at the head of the main street into the town. The words of the noted author, Italo Calvino state, quite cryptically:
"If you are of good character, Pentidattilo is a good town.
If you are of bad character, then Pentidattilo is a bad town."

One wonders if any have chosen to venture no further upon reading these words of warning.
Calvino, a writer of international renown, who wrote engaging fables of whimsy and imagination visited the town during a tour of Italy gathering more than two hundred folk stories that were later published in a book entitled Italian Folktales (Harcourt-Brace 1980 (English Edition). Pentidattilo would have been the kind of place that appealed to his appreciation of the surreal, as his words above reflect.
No birds trill in Pentidattilo, one is moved to remain silent, and when one does speak it is in hushed tones Such is the affect of these surroundings. The buildings are of various hues of gray, as is the rock, except for the aforementioned sandstone formation that towers perilously, hundreds of meters above the vulnerable village. It becomes obvious, even to the casual observer, why it was ordered closed.
At one time the town probably took comfort with the sheer cliff at its back, obviating an attack from that quarter. The view away to the coast where the waters of the Ionian and Mediterranean seas mix is in marked contrast, calm and serene.

Back in the narrow cobblestone confines of the town one can become lost in a maze of alleys, dead-ended byways, and small streets, choked with weeds and rubble. The houses contain nothing but years of accumulated rubbish and dust. An occasional broken chair or a chard of pottery are the only "treasures" that this doomed town offers the visitor. it sits, awaiting what fate has in store for it, brooding and silent as the five fingers contemplate when they will descend to clasp the town in their death grip.
One last thing. As your writer was leaving on the narrow one lane road that heads out of the town a coal black cat darted from the brush at the side of the road and started to cross. The driver braked and brought the car to a stop. The black cat back-tracked to the brush to the relief of my driver. It is bad luck to have a black cat cross your path (in Italy at least).
©  Raymond Clement December 2006
Verba volant, Scripta manent. (Roman proverb)

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