The forest of Policoro skirts the Ionian; the
railway line cleaves it into two unequal portions, the seaward tract
being the smaller. It is bounded on the west by the river Sinnc, and I
imagine the place has not changed much since the days when Keppel Craven
explored its recesses.
Twilight reigns in this maze of tall deciduous trees. There is thick
undergrowth, too; and I measured an old lentiscus - a shrub, in
Italy - which was three metres in circumference. But the exotic feature
of the grove is its wealth of creeping vines that clamber up the trunks,
swinging from one tree-top to another, and allowing the merest threads
of sunlight to filter through their matted canopy. Policoro has the
tangled beauty of a tropical swamp. Rank odours arise from the decaying
leaves and moist earth; and once within that verdant labyrinth, you
might well fancy yourself in some primeval region of the globe, where
the foot of man has never penetrated.
Yet long ago it resounded with the din of battle and the trumpeting of
elephants - in that furious first battle between Pyrrhus and the Romans.
And here, under the very soil on which you stand, lies buried, they say,
the ancient city of Siris.
They have dug canals to drain off the moisture as much as possible, but
the ground is marshy in many places and often quite impassable,
especially in winter.