Venafro in Molise
Venafro in Molise is an idyllic town with a mythological origin.
According to legend, it was founded by the Greek superhero Diomedes, seeking redemption for his role in the Trojan War. When there’s will, his influence can still be spotted around the city.
Situated on a hilltop halfway between Rome and Naples overlooking a fertile valley, Venafro in Molise seems like the ideal place to settle. Apparently I’m not the only one to think this way. The narrow streets surrounding the castle are lined with scaffolding. Shirtless masons run around with heavy tufi and buckets full of plaster in the midday heat. And the newly renovated houses look welcoming in vibrant colours surrounded by an ocean of potted plants and flowers. Apparently, people are investing a lot of love and money in Venafro.
Fish in a Sea of Green
We started our tour of Venafro at a deserted building known as Palazzina Liberty. The towered mansion had crumbled to a grey ruin that was contrasted by a surrounding lake of a poisonous green colour. The palazzina was originally an electricity producing water mill, and it had also served as a cinema, before being left to its own devices. Now the only living creatures to enter the edifice were fish bred in an open fish farm, and perhaps the man in wellies sprinkling foul smelling fish food over the waters.
From there we climbed up to the duomo and briefly considered doing the 5,5 km hike to Conca Casale. It’s a moderately challenging five hour tour up a mountain, but even so a walk that need to be planned in advance, so we headed for the centro storico instead. My quest was to find traces of Diomedes.
The Iliad in two Paragraphs
According to Greek mythology, Diomedes was a regular superhero in the 12th or the 11th century BC. At the ripe old age of 4 he decided to revenge his father, who had been killed in war. Ten years later he was part of the Epigoni, who won the battle of Thebes, and soon Diomedes became King of Argos and one of the most powerful and respected rulers of Hellas. A complicated story of stolen wives and sworn allegiances ensued, and Diomedes fought in the Trojan War alongside Achilles. He also went on covert military operations with Odysseus and received help through divine interventions. With the superpowers of strength, wisdom, cunning, and courage, Diomedes killed an awful lot of people and was considered the perfect embodiment of heroic values.
Though one of the one fighters to return safely from the Trojan War, Diomedes was locked out of his kingdom and he retired to a place near Lucera in Puglia, where he spread peace and civilization by building new cities, where he taught people to worship and serve the gods. About ten Italian cities are said to have been founded by the Greek superhero, and though most of them are concentrated around northern Puglia he also manage to establish settlements in Vasto in Abruzzo, Benevento in Campania and Venafro in Molise.
Superhero on a Mission
Apparently, the founding of cities was an endeavour in the literal, practical sense. Diomedes was reported to have been found laying the foundations of new cities and digging canals, but when he died he still had a mysterious apotheosis. One legend claims that albatrosses got together and sang a song for him. Another maintains that his mourning men were transformed into birds that would guard his grave. And still others claim he was granted immortality and lived on as a divine being.
Though I did see a couple of builders in Venafro in Molise, I don’t think any of them had Diomedes’ superpowers. There were no albatrosses either, but a few swans and lots of peace and civilization. In this sense the mythical Greek hero can be said to have left his mark. I only wished he had been given a wall plaque like the one commemorating King Vittorio Emanuele II’s night in Venafro in October 1860. Superheroes are so much easier to envisage, if they have left some kind of trademark hint behind.