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Siponto Archaeologial Park
Photo: Raboe

Siponto Archaeologial Park

Siponto Archaeological Park in Manfredonia is the location of the ruins of the ancient city of Siponto, an important centre in Roman times. Also located at the site is an Early Christian Basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Maggiore, the Holy Virgin of Siponto (the ancient name of Manfredonia).

Ancient Siponto was founded by the Daunians sometime between the Bronze and Iron Ages. Although the exact date is unknown, archaeologists have uncovered many artefacts in Siponto dating from this period. It blossomed as a Greek colony until the 2nd century when it became under the ownership of the Romans. The Romans helped the town to thrive, turning it into a colony of citizens and erecting many roads such as the one leading from the town to the famous Via Appia trail. As such, Siponto become one of the main ports and dioceses of the region.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Siponto fell into many hands; including that of the Slavs, followed in succession by the Saracens and Normans. As Siponto moved through the years, the previously-flat land was becoming ever more dedicated to agriculture and crop cultivation. Olive trees and vineyards were also aplenty in the area for the production of high-quality olive oil and wine.

During the Middle Ages, the town was abandoned to find the nearby Manfredonia, just 3km away. A series of natural disasters forced the move. By then, the port had turned into a bog and the town had been almost destroyed by two devastating earthquakes in the middle of the 13th century, which flooded the lagoons. Rather than face the cost and effort of reversing the damage, the town was moved. The new location was given the name of Manfreda after the current King, Manfred.

The preservation of the church and its ground is a fascinating incentive for visiting tourists. The early Basilica, built in the 4th century, is contained inside the Medieval basilica, built between the late 11th and early 12th century. The basilica is a fantastic example of Puglian Romanesque architecture. The building’s three naves with a central apse and a beautiful mosaic floor remind us of Siponto’s ecclesiastical importance at the time.

The Siponto Archaeological preservation site is run by Direzione regionale musei Puglia. Underground chambers show the remains of an Ancient Roman amphitheatre, remains of the Roman settlement and some of the original city walls. Archaeologists also discovered examples of hypogeums (underground tombs) and medieval burials.

In 2016 a project was installed by local artist Edoardo Tresoldi, entitled, "Where art reconstructs time”. This features 4,500 metres of galvanised mesh and reconstructs how the original structure of the 4th-century basilica would have looked.

At 14 metres high, the installation is impressive. The mesh reconstruction looks more like a hologram than a wire mesh structure and gives the church a ghostly effect that is much more effective in the flesh than on camera. It is a fascinating meeting of ancient times and the modern, and serves as a faithful representation of the church’s previous grand status.