Fonte Pliniano (Scegnu)

THE FONTE PLINIANO

This monument, symbol of the city, arises in the archaeological area, at the south of the monastery of S. Antonio. It surely traces back to the Messapic epoch; it is set in the area of the ancient centre , near the city walls. Its name derives from the fact that the famous Roman historian Plinio il Vecchio described it in his “Historia Naturalis” , after he had visited it or after he had received its description by others. It has became the emblem of the town since 1572, when the archpriest Lupo Donato Bruno put it on the frontispiece of the “Librone Magno”(The Great Big Book ) about the families of Casalnuovo. The Fonte Pliniano is a natural grave, 18 metres of diameter and 8 metres high; it is possible to enter it by two 20-steps- stairs engraved in the rock in olden times.

On the top of the vault there is a quadrangular skylight, partly composed of blocks of the Messapic period. It lighten the grave, and on the surface it has an accurate circular wall, rebuilt in an unknown period. An almond- tree has taken roots in it ,according to the tradition, since old times. In the interior of the grave there is a basin encircled by a wall, in front of it stands a little quadrangular well where the water still flow from the same subterranean spring which was described by Plinio with wonder and surprise. The author told that the level of water was constant and never decreased, even if the inhabitants of Manduria always drew it. In reality, this happens because the grave floor is at the same level of the spring , so the water enters through the rock and preserves an everlasting level. If Plinio visited the “ Fons Mandurinum” himself, he probably felt the suggestion the place transmits, as something magical and mysterious. Today, the broad light-and-shadow grave still let us imagine the flitting presence of the ancient Messapi. As similar graves in several centres of Salento, in the past the Fonte Pliniano was almost surely used for the cult of an unknown divinity belonging to the Pantheon of Messapi, probably a god of water. In fact, the Fonte is still called “Scegnu” in the local dialect, which is believed to derive from “Genio” ( Genius) , a beneficent and guardian divinity.

In describing the Fonte of Manduria, Plinio collocates it by but not in the ancient town, which could seem to be a mistake. So, many local writers suppose that the author referred to one other similar hypogeum among those existing in Manduria. They stand close by boundary walls, natural graves or engraved by Messapi in the subterranean rocks, provided with entrance stairs and a skylight above the room containing the spring , as the Fonte Pliniano is. In fact, other four springs are known: one Northwards, out of the boundary wall, in the place which was known as “Barcospina”. Another one stands in front of the railway station, hardly visible because it was interred during the works for the construction of the railway. The other is set in the contrada “Campofreddo”, almost adjacent to the tracks, too. The last seems to be the most interesting because of the way it is made, at the entrance of Vico Corcioli: it is embodied in the chapel of the Misericordia and has a flight of stairs going down to more than 10 metres to two little contiguous rooms, in the second of which it is told to be the spring. Probably, there is also the beginning of an underground communication trench extending for a few km out of Manduria, used during the long periods of siege. Its unusual structure was at first collocated in the ditch of the Messapic city-wall, behind one of the gate of the ancient town, sometimes mentioned as “Porta Marina e di Nettuno” ( Sea and Nettuno gate). Being the last hypogeal structure , it has recently been put under the care of the Archeo Club of Manduria .