The Vetulonia museum

Where all that glitters is gold!

There is a place in Maremma where everything that glitters is gold and it is in a tiny, sleepy, hill top town. The Vetulonia museum. For it was here, at the top of this hill and on its terraced sides that, incredibly, thirty centuries ago more than 20,000 people lived in the most important city of the vast Etruscan civilisation of Etruria in Italy.

And it is here in this museum, called the Museo Civico Archeologico Isidoro Falchi di Vetulonia, that you can see not only reconstructions of the huge tumulus tombs that are to be found in the macchia and woods beneath the town. But also the treasures that archaeologists excavating in the late 19th century, and just a few years ago, found.

For, despite tomb raiders in the centuries before, Vetulonia's city - lost under soil and forgotten for 700 years - had still managed to keep hidden some of its treasures. Waiting for the hands of those who would love them with a passion that had nothing to do with their monetary value.

 

Three lions - made from incredibly fine grains of gold (granulation) in the mid-seventh century BC - adorn a solid gold brooch.

Etruscan jewelry: gold fibula brooch with granulation.

 

 

Visit Vetulonia's museum. And wonder.

What I have photographed and included in this page is just a taster of the treasures from those finds. There is so much more to see in this small museum.

Go visit. It is lovely. And wonder.

Wonder how generations of local farmers and their children must have felt when they dug up pieces of gold whilst tilling the earth ready for seeding.

How the archaeologists must have felt when they opened Vetulonia's tombs for the first time.

And wonder again. On what else still lies - for it surely does - below the soil you walk on today when you are out and about around Vetulonia and in Maremma.

 

When you arrive you will be told that, unusually, the route around the museum starts with a room on the first floor and ends downstairs. I have mixed-up my photographs into the way that they naturally came together for me whilst I was compiling this page. Not in the order of the displays.

But whatever way you explore the museum - if your children take off here or there because they have seen something - is fine. It won't spoil their pleasure, or yours. There is something to capture everyone's imagination.

 

 

The bronze treasures from the most important city in Etruria

 

The Etruscan armour

A 7th century BC Greek-style bronze helmet from the tomb at Pellicce. The holes would have been threaded with leather laces to hold secure it's leather lining.

Etruscan bronze helmet.

 

In 1905, whilst excavating the citadel at the highest point in town, the archaeologists found the remains of a ditch filled with more than one hundred and twenty bronze Negau helmets belonging to the army of the Haspna family.

Everyone of which had been crushed and pierced by weapons to render then unusable.

Etruscan armour.

 

The weapons

In bronze, the tip of a spear and the tip of a sword scabbard.

Etruscan weapons

 

The metalwork in bronze

Seahorses decorating a horse-bit that accompanied a cavalry soldier in his tomb.

Etruscan artifacts: seahorse horse-bits foind in the tomb of a cavalry soldier.

 

The fragments of a large bronze bowl decorated with horses.

Etruscan horse art.

 

Etruscan metalwork

 

Etruscan bronze horse head belt closures.

 

 

From the tiny to the huge

Four beautiful miniature bronze lions.

Etruscan bronze lions

 

A 550 - 550 DC appliqué horse in bronze.

Etruscan bronze horse

 

To the huge 2nd century BC, one metre long and twenty-four kilograms heavy, bronze club that was found in 1895.

Etruscan bronze Hercules club

 

The bronze statue to which it belonged - for there is an identical club in the hands of a bronze Hercules in the Foro Boario in Rome - would have looked like this.

But it hasn't been found. Yet!

Poster of an Etruscan bronze Hercules statue

Take a walk along one of the many easy-going trekking routes around the hill on which Vetulonia sits and you never know what might shining hand might be sticking out of the undergrowth one day!

 

Grave goods.

Etruscan bronze vessel

 

 

Vetulonia's gold treasure

The Etruscan gold jewellery that even the finest Florentine goldsmiths would have trouble replicating its delicateness today.

 

The Etruscan gold earrings

This beautiful solid gold box earring was made by an artisan's hand two thousand seven hundred years ago! With fine with fine filigree decoration and floral motifs from the third quarter of the 6th century BC.

Etruscan gold earrings

 

This one was made two centuries later (4th century BC) from a sheet of fine gold and has a dangling pendant in the shape of an amphora.

Etruscan gold earrings

 

 

The brooches

The 625 - 600 BC gold Etruscan fibula. Another example of incredibly detailed and exquisite granulation work.

Etruscan fibula with fine gold granulation detail. Dated 625 to 600 BC.

 

The exhibit behind.

Etruscan fibula in gold

 

And this pale beauty.

Etruscan gold granulation: a fubula

 

 

 

The Etruscan gold necklaces

There are two outstanding pieces made from incredibly thin sheet gold.

Etruscan gold necklace

 

Etruscan gold necklace

 

 

The Etruscan gold bracelets

I've rotated my photograph of these two amazing fine bracelets so that you can better see the sets of three female faces that adorn both ends of each one. And the Phoenician palmettes.

They belonged to a girl in the 7th century BC and were found in the circular Silver Lion Cubs tomb - the "tomba a circolo dei Leoncini d'Argento" - in Vetulonia.

Etruscan gold bracelets

 

 

The gold rings

A tiny, but finely crafted gold ring.

Etruscan gold ring

 

 

And more gold

Nearly paper thin, these heads would have also adorned a necklace.

Etruscan gold

 

A gold leaf sun with the head of a mythological Greek "Gorgone" (Gorgon) in relief at it's centre. It was attached to 5th century BC clothing in Vetulonia.

Etruscan gold

 

 

The faces. Looking at you. As you look at them.

The faces of the Etruscan civilisation that loved and lived on the land that is Maremma between thirty and eighteen centuries ago.

Etruscan civilisation

 

Etruscan civilisation

 

Etruscan bronze sculpture

 

In terracotta. Faces of real people. The ancestors of my neighbours here in Maremma!

Etruscan face

 

In bucchero pottery. A fragment, but nevertheless stunning.

Etruscan bucchero pottery

 

In bronze. This gentleman adorned the top of an incense burner.

Etruscan figural sculptures

 

Etruscan female face

 

Etruscan pottery face

 

Etruscan pottery museum

 

Etruscan terracotta head

 

Etruscan man

 

Etruscan terracotta head

 

And then, the "what did you say!?" face.

Etruscan pottery face.

 

 

Greek mythology in Maremma

The Etruscans brought Greek mythology to Maremma. And as myths go, one of their favourites was a rather notorious one. For we are talking the Greek god of wine-making and drunkenness, Dyonysus. And his never sober companion, Silenus.

Together with a second antefix in the shape of Maenad's head, this one of Silenus' head decorated the roof of the Costa Murata temple in Vetulonia's lesser - 4th century - citadel.

Etruscan Silenus head antefix

 

 

And the unusual

And this bronze 5th century BC kattabos of Silenus dancing was found in a votive deposit near the ancient Etruscan walls, called the "Mura dell'Arce", in the town centre of town.

Etruscan bronze Kattabos Silenus

 

It is tiny and stands atop a metre plus bronze rod. And would have been the centre of attention during a game of kottabos, when those invited to a house to banquet were served wine and the real partying began.

In this Greek game, the drinkers would vie to be the one to fling - using their right hand only - the wine remaining in their kylix cup at him to dislodge the small tray that he is holding high. So that it fell into a larger one lower down the rod.

As with all games, varieties existed from one place to another - sometimes filling the small saucer with the most wine was the aim of the game - but what was common to all was a sweet reward and wagers amongst the participants. This was a men only game (until the time came to give the favours that is!)

 

Vetulonia's Etruscan pottery

The magnificent horse.

Etruscan horse sculpture

 

The eagle's head. A vessel from the island of Rhodes or Samos. Two thousand years old, it was found in the Poggio Pelliccia tumulus chamber tomb and would have contained aromatic spices.

Etruscan art pottery

 

The mournful duck.

Ancient Etruscan pottery

 

 

The 9th century BC cinerary urns

Etruscan cinerary urns in the form of a hut. Made of "ceramica di impasto", these two urns are as close as you can ever get to "seeing" a Villonovan Etruscan house. For they are modelled on those that would have stood here between 9th and 8th centuries BC.

When the very first Etruscan people arrived on this hillside in Maremma.

Etruscan impasto pottery: 9th century BC cinerary urn in the shape of a hut from Vetulonia.

 

Isidoro Falchi, the amateur archaeologist who excavated here for 17 years, found these inside a tomb of the archaic era. A time when the dead were cremated, rather than buried.

Etruscan impasto pottery

 

 

The bucchero pottery

A pitch dark pitcher.

Etruscan bucchero pottery

 

And a luminous black bucchero bowl.

Etruscan bucchero pottery images

 

 

The kylix with a story to tell

This 6th century BC cup had two handles and is the work - it is signed by them - of two illustrious ceramic artists of ancient Greek. Euphronios and Onesimos.

Etruscan kylix

It formed part of an international hunt for stolen antiquities and counterfeit reproductions that ended down the road in Lazio in an artisan's ceramic oven. Go read the story!

 

Etruscan black figure pottery

This 6th century BC Kantharos wine cup was made in Athens. It is painted with a mythological scene of the God of Dyonysus and his revelling followers.

Found down the road in Castiglione della Pescaia - where some archaeologists believed for a long time that the ancient city of Vetulonia was located - in a tumulus tomb of the Val Berretta necropolis.

Etruscan black figure pottery

 

 

The Etruscan vases and pitchers

Simpler fayre, but nonetheless beautiful.

Etruscan vases pottery

 

Etruscan pitcher pottery

 

 

The legend of Medea in the Domus of Medea

Downstairs, there is a room at the far back of the building that is home to some statues and a frieze. If you don't hover long - there is nothing shiny in the room to compare with the gold upstairs! - you will miss something special.

Because it isn't any ordinary frieze. With an intuition that only those who live, sleep, and dream tiny niches of archaeology could possible have, the fragments revealed themselves to one of Vetulonia's archaeologists for what they were.

Etruscan terracotta sculpture

 

A frieze that tells the entire legend of the love-torn and murderous Medea. Dated at around the year 150 BC, it comes from an atrium of a splendid two-story house in the Poggiorello Renzetti district, along the Via Ripida.

 

The night of the wedding between Jason and his soon to be second bride, young Creusa. Who is being bathed.

Vetulonia museum

 

Part of the frieze depicting Medea slaying her own children on an altar.

Etruscan terracotta sculptures: the legend of Medea

 

 

Museum opening times

Vetulonia's museum - the Museo Civico Archeologico Isidoro Falchi di Vetulonia - is open from:

October to February, from 10:00 to 16:00

March to May from 10:00 to 18:00

June to September, from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00

Between September and June the museum is closed on Mondays, except for Bank Holiday Monday's.

During July and August it is open every day of the week.

 

Tickets

Ticket cost €5,00 for adults (under 60 years of age), €2,50 for children and adults aged over 60 years.

 

Contact

The museum telephone number is +39 0564 948058

Email address is museovetulonia@libero.it

 

Parking

There is ample parking in the town right alongside the museum.

 

 

Take a walk around the lost city of gold

As you drive up the hill from the expansive plain below that was once the extensive Lake Prile, you will be doing so along the same tracks that, on Friday 27 May 1880, the young doctor and amateur archaeologist rode on a mule. And then walked on foot to discover the unmistakable mounds of tombs in the woods, and the stones and walls of the lost city.

Maremma's metalliferous hills: view from Vetulonia

Where now you will pass discrete signs to those same tombs.

The remains of the city's Hellenistic roads and shops where it's residents brought their daily food and household goods. Their spacious houses and taverns. Taverns in which wine was elegantly served with two parts water and spices.

The workshops of the goldsmiths that came and stayed to teach for free their skills of granulation.

Go lean on the cyclopean wall that medieval builders used as foundations for a fortified castle and towers.

And peer over the wall below to what would have been a bay and port full of merchant ships, loaded with riches of the finest cloths, art, and objects from the East.

Vetulonia. The lost city of gold.

 

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