“Okay, well then,” our tour guide began. “Brindisi now is known for being a port to the Greek Islands, a modest fisherman’s village, a military base, and for its ancient Roman columns which mark the end of the Appian Way.” As our little tram putted its way around the quaint town marked here and there by significant historical landmarks, I wondered why Brindisi isn’t more well known. Its natural harbor has been in use since before the Roman expansion. After being conquered by the Romans in 267 BCE, it became a Naval base and huge center of maritime trade. Throughout a series of takeovers, wars, and natural disasters, Brindisi has remained true to its roots as a port and military stronghold. To a Los Angelino who thought Boston Common was old, Brindisi practically bled history.
Towards the end of the tour our guide, a pretty young woman obviously proud of each landmark and story of Brindisi’s long and meaningful history, took on a somber note. As we worked our way down a quiet and not-exactly-luxurious part of town, she sighed, “You have seen the Godfather, you think of Italy and you think of the glamorous Mafia. The Mafia is not glamorous and it is not good. The Mafia is a cancer on our society.” Her forlorn tone as she spoke of the plague of the Mafia on Italian society revealed the answer to my earlier musing: the Mafia clearly has a stronghold on Brindisi, and it’s prevented a historically significant town from becoming the cultural mecca it should be.