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Bill Thayer

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Vetulonia: a small village surrounded by Etruscan tombs

A town in southern Tuscany, a frazione of Castiglione della Pescaia: 43°22.3N, 12°14E. Altitude: 280 m.

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Two slightly overlapping views of the remains of what is currently thought to be the arx — the Latin word means "citadel" — in this small village, once a powerful Etruscan town. The Romans themselves thought that Rome owed to Vetulonia its ceremonial symbols of power (the fasces, the curule chair, and the toga praetexta).

[image ALT: a small rectangular space defined by low stone walls; in the center, a stone pillar about one and a half meters high]

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Vetulonia continues to be excavated — so much so, in fact, that it's just about impossible to visit: green metal fences and locked gates everywhere. In January 1997 I did, however, get to see this Etruscan tomb about 500 m N of town: named by archaeologists the Tomba della Fibula d'Oro, because they found a gold fibula in it.

[image ALT: A stylized representation of a metal hand-mirror, taken from the binding of a book. It is an Etruscan mirror motif representing that book, George Dennis's 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria'.]

The serious student with an interest in the Etruscans will not want to miss the chapter of George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. It's a fairly detailed account of what we would call today a salvage excavation, of a large Etruscan settlement. The account is also of particular interest to students of historical archaeology, since the site in question, by modern lights, is not Vetulonia at all, rather a necropolis SW of Magliano in Toscana! You'll therefore have to read carefully, untangling information about Vetulonia from information about that site.

The book to read is online, fortunately: Vetulonia e la sua necropoli antichissima by Isidoro Falchi, who singlehandedly over several years of documentary studies in musty Tuscan archives, tracked down this ancient Etruscan city, the last of the famous "Twelve Cities" to be found, to the little hamlet of Colonna; then excavated — successfully, if not with the utmost rigor by modern standards. In a first stage his excavations yielded a number of tombs and their contents; later, some of the buildings of the living city. His finds, augmented by others in the area since, are now exposed to the public in Vetulonia itself, in a handsome, recently renovated museum named for him: the Museo Civico Archeologico Isidoro Falchi.

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Page updated: 26 Apr 19