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Translated by Jeff Matthews

It was 7.34 on the evening of November 23, 1980, when, with a sinister rumble, the dragon awoke and shook from its spine centuries of stone and people. It took but 90 seconds to erase the memories of ancient villages, to kill 2914 persons and to scar forever 8848 others.

The beast stirred in its lair 30 km below the surface of the mountains of lower Irpinia and was “heard” throughout the nation, a nation unaware, however, of the appalling extent of the tragedy until some hours later. After the initial shock, first responders from everywhere poured in. We were once again all “brothers”. That didn't last long; the generosity of the first wave of helpers was followed, rapidly and irresistibly, by the greed of those who came later. “Rebuild” and “Give new hope” too often became vain words that concealed ulterior motives...and then time passed.

Today, after decades of oblivion, the old buried history has returned, still showing signs of the tragedy. We only had to aim a bit farther to the south, get into the hills and not stop at the new, clean streets and empty squares that have no history yet but host both those who saw it all and survived as well as those who have only heard the tales. The setting offered us the ancient town of Senerchia, one of the towns not far from the epicenter but too distant from the interests of those who might have had the duty to rebuild it; the tortured body is still visible, the wounds have scarred over but now will never heal.

In this strange summer, the idea was to explore amidst the Picentine mountains in search of pristine nature, wild earth, animals and plants seen only in books. Instead, we stumbled upon the old tale of smashed doors, stubs of crumbled walls, fallen attics and dust-filled rooms. The old village, the remains of what had been some fifty houses clinging to the mountainside in the shadow of the ruins of a Lombard fortress--all that was there and willing to show us the intimate details of life as it was when it suddenly stopped on that evening 34 years ago.

Crossing the threshold of such as this, you are filled by the same silent respect as when you enter a hallowed ground. The colors of the walls have faded, the hearths are blackened by smoke, the furnishings covered by the dust of time, the windows wide open like paintings of the valley beyond...it all tells of those moments and that  is when you see them: the elders, sensing nothing and setting places for their last supper, perhaps thinking of their children who have emigrated to distant places; the few adults are tired after another aching day of work, the still fewer children have put away their schoolbooks and are getting ready for bed, imagining the morning of a new day that will never come, while the sullen lament of the broken rock beneath them swells.

Senerchia is like a note book with the pages open, fluttered by the wind as they turn with only the decency of pity to casually reveal the drawings of a child with no future and now no time left.

Photos: The images of a journey

Videos: The ghosts of Senerchia

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