Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Etruscan holy city discovered

By Aussiegirl

A very interesting article about the Etruscans -- if they had been able to subdue the Romans, rather than being subdued by them, we'd be saying "When in Etruria, do as the Etruscans do". The Etruscan influence on the upstart Romans, as you learn from this article, and also from the lengthy Wikipedia article on the Etruscan civilization, was very pronounced. Why, the Latin word for "people", populus -- as in populus Romanus -- was the name of an Etruscan deity. Even in antiquity Etruscan art was widely praised, especially their bronzes (see the top photo) and their frescoes (see the bottom photo).
For those who wish to keep up with Etruscan studies, there's always Etruscan News Online, the Website of the American Section of the Institute for Etruscan and Italic Studies.

ANSA.it - News in English - Etruscan holy city discovered

(ANSA) - Rome, September 7 - Italian archaeologists believe they have found the mysterious sanctuary which was the religious and political centre of the Etruscan civilisation. The Etruscans were an ancient people known to have lived in the area of Italy between Rome and Florence from the 8th century BC until they were absorbed by Rome about 600 years later. For centuries they dominated the fledgling city on the Tiber and even supplied its first kings. But most traces of the Etruscan civilisation, which produced sophisticated art, were obliterated as Roman grew into an empire .

The Etruscan world was organised around a federation of 12 city states. Each spring the political and religious leaders from the cities would meet at a holy place called the Fanum Voltumnae to hold a council. Here they would discuss military campaigns, civic affairs and pray to their common gods. Chief amongst these was Voltumna, god of the underworld. Until now it has never been clear where the Fanum, which means sanctuary, was located and historians have been looking for it for at least six centuries .

Now, after extensive digs at a site near the hill town of Orvieto, 60 miles north of Rome, a team of archaeologists from Macerata University is sure the mystery has been solved. They have found the walls of a central temple, two important roads and part of the perimeter wall of an extensive shrine, all built in the tufa stone used by the Etruscans. They have also uncovered fragments of 6th century BC ceremonial vases used for religious rites. "It has all the characteristics of a very important shrine, and of that shrine in particular," said Simonetta Stopponi, professor of Etruscan studies at Macerata University. Listing some of those characteristics, she mentioned "the scale of the construction, its intricate structure and layout, the presence of wells and fountains and the central temple building".

So far the team has not found an inscription referring to the god Voltumna. This would prove beyond all doubt that the place is the famed Fanum Voltumnae. In the meantime, excavations continue and Stopponi thinks such an inscription could be found when digs resume next summer .

Also supporting the claim that this is the Fanum Voltumnae is the fact that the area was used continuously for religious purposes right from the 6th century BC up to the 15th century. In fact Roman temples were built on it in later centuries and the last church was erected there in the 12th century. Roman historian Livy mentions the Fanum Voltumnae several times in his works. He describes the meetings that took place there between Etruscan leaders. He refers in particular to a meeting in which two groups applied to assist the city of Veio in a war it was waging. The council's answer was no, because Veio had declared war without first notifying it. Livy also says that Roman merchants who travelled to a huge fair attached to the meeting acted as spies, reporting back on Etruscan affairs to authorities in the fledgling city state of Rome. "When the Etruscan League met, people in Rome - which was still quite small - began to tremble," Stopponi said .

Italy's Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli believes the Etruscan sites dotted around the countryside north of Rome offer an important opportunity to develop tourism in the area .

The Etruscan city of Veio, one of Italy's most spectacular but neglected archaeological treasures, is now part of a government bid to focus interest on the ancient Etruscans .

On September 19 Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli is scheduled to visit the digs at Veio, where archaeologists recently brought to light the oldest examples of painting in Western civilisation .

Experts unearthed a tomb dating to the seventh century BC, the oldest ever to have emerged from the ground at the buried Etruscan city north of Rome. It contained wall paintings of five red, roaring lions and a flock of yellow-tinged waterbirds .

Rutelli intends to work closely with local administrators to boost tourism in the area .

"If any other country in the world had a site like Veio, it would feature as their star attraction. Italy has so much artistic wealth and, too often, we just take this for granted," he said .


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