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Chapter
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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Chapter

p141 Chapter XL

VOLTERRA. — VOLATERRAE.


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ETRUSCAN WALLS OF VOLTERRA, BELOW STA. CHIARA.
               — tornemo a Vultera,
Sopra un monte, che forte e anticha,
Quanto en Toscana niuna altra terra.

Faccio Uberti.

We came e'en to the city's wall
And the great gate.

Shelley.

From whatever side Volterra may be approached it is a most commanding object, crowning the summit of a lofty, steep, and sternly naked height, if not wholly isolated, yet independent of the neighbouring hills, reducing them by its towering supereminence to mere satellites; so lofty as to be conspicuous from many a league distant, and so p142steep that when the traveller has at length reached its foot, he finds that the fatigue he imagined had well nigh terminated, is then but about to begin. Strabo has accurately described it when he said "it is built on a lofty height, rising from a deep valley and precipitous on every side, on whose level summit stand the fortifications of the city. From base to summit the ascent is fifteen stadia long, and it is steep and difficult throughout."1

PLAN OF VOLTERRA, ANCIENT AND MODERN. — From Micali.

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If Volterra be still "lordly" and imposing, what must she have been in the olden time, when instead of a mere cluster of mean buildings at one corner of the level mountain-crest, the entire area, four or five miles in circuit, was bristling with the towers, temples, and palaces of the city, one of Etruria's first and largest — when the walls, whose mere fragments are now so vast, that fable and song may well report them —

"Piled by the hands of giants,
For god-like kings old,"

then surrounded the city with a girdle of fortifications such as for grandeur and massiveness have perhaps never been p143surpassed. We now see but "the skeleton of her Titanic form," — what must have been the living body?

Her great size and the natural strength of her position mark Volaterrae as a city of first-rate importance, and give her indisputable claims to rank among the Twelve of the Confederation. Were such local evidence wanting, the testimony of Dionysius,2 that she was one of the five cities, which acting independently of the rest of Etruria, determined to aid the Latins against Tarquinius Priscus, would be conclusive;3 for no second-rate or dependent town could have ventured to oppose the views of the rest. This is the first historical mention of Volaterrae, and is satisfactory evidence as to her antiquity and early importance. The only other express record of Volaterrae during the period of national independence, is in the year 456 (B.C. 298), when L. Cornelius Scipio encountered the Etruscan forces below this city, and so obstinate a combat ensued that night alone put an end to it, and not till morning showed the Etruscans had retired from the field, could the Roman general claim the victory.4 As an Etruscan city, Volaterrae must have had a territory of great extent; larger, without doubt, than that of any other city of the Confederation;5 and with the possession of the p144two great ports of Luna and Populonia, she must have been the most powerful among "the sea-ruling Etruscans," and probably also the most wealthy. Her Etruscan appellation, as we learn from her coins, was Velathri6 —


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We have no record of her conquest, but from her remoteness and strength we may conclude Volaterrae was among the last of the cities of Etruria to fall under the yoke of Rome. In the Second Punic War, in common with the other principal cities of Etruria, she undertook to furnish her quota of supplies for the Roman fleet; and it is worthy of remark that she still maintained her maritime character, being the only one, save Tarquinii, to furnish tackling or other gear for ships.7 In the civil wars p145between Marius and Sylla, Volaterrae, like most of the cities of Etruria, espoused the part of the former; for this she was besieged two years by the forces of his rival, till she was compelled to surrender;8 but though thus taken in arms against him, sepulchre escaped the fate of Faesulae and other cities which were deprived of their citizenship, and had their lands confiscated and divided among the troops of the victorious Dictator. For this she was indebted to the great Cicero, who was then Consul, and who ever afterwards retained the warmest attachment towards her, and honoured her with the highest commendations.9 She subsequently, however, was forced to receive a military colony, under the Triumvirate.10 After the fall of the Western Empire, she suffered the fate of the neighbouring cities, and fell under the dominion of the Vandals and the Huns; but was again raised to importance by the Lombard kings, who, for a time, fixed their court here, on account of the natural strength of the site. Of the subsequent history of Volterra, suffice it to say, that though greatly sunk in size and importance, she has never wholly lost her population, and been abandoned, like so many of her fellows, to the fox, the owl, and the viper; and that she retains to the present day, her original Etruscan appellation, but little corrupted.11

When the traveller has mastered the tedious ascent to the town, let him seek for the "Unione," the best inn in p146Volterra. He may know it by the sign of three naked females, the most graceless things about the house. The landlord, Sigre. Ottavio Callai, having resided several years in England, understands our habits, wants, and somewhat of our language, and his general intelligence and local information, to say nothing of his obliging disposition, will prove of real service to his guests.

Modern Volterra is but a country-town, having scarcely above four thousand inhabitants, and covering but a small portion of the area occupied by the ancient city. The lines of its battlemented wall, and the towered keep of its fortress, give it an imposing appearance externally. It is a dirty and gloomy place, however, without architectural beauty; and save the heavy, feudal-faced Palazzo Pubblico, hung quaintly all over with coats of arms, as a pilgrim with scallop-shells — so many silent traditions of the stirring days of the Italian republics — and richer still in its Museum of Etruscan antiquities; save the neat little Duomo, and the alabaster factories, which every one should visit, there is nothing of interest in modern Volterra. Her glories are the Etruscan walls and the Museum, to neither of which the visitor who feels interest in the early civilization of Italy, should fail to pay attention.

To begin with the walls. From the "Unione," a few steps will lead to the

Porta all' Arco.12

I envy the stranger his first impressions on approaching this gateway. The loftiness of the arch; the boldness of its span; the massiveness of the blocks, dwarfing into insignificance the mediaeval masonry by which it is surrounded; p147the venerable, yet solid air of the whole; and more than all, the dark, featureless, mysterious heads around it, stretching forward as if eager to proclaim the tale of bygone races and events; even the site of the gate on the very verge of the steep, with a glorious map of valley, river, plain, mountain, sea, headland, and island, unrolled beneath; make it one of the most imposing yet singular portals conceivable, and fix it indelibly on the memory.

It is a double gateway, nearly thirty feet deep, united by parallel walls of very massive character, of the same masonry as those of the city.13 This is decisive of its Etruscan origin; yet some doubt has been raised as to the Etruscan antiquity of the arch, — I think, without just ground. It has been objected that the mouldings of the imposts are too Greek in character to be regarded as Etruscan, and that the arch must therefore be referred to the Romans.14 But if this were a sufficing reason, every article found in Etruscan tombs, which betrays a Hellenic influence, must be of Roman origin. Those who hold such a doctrine must totally forget the extensive intercourse the Etruscans p148maintained from very remote times, at least as early as the Roman kings, not only with the Greek colonies of Sicily and Campania, the latter long under their own dominion, but also with Greece herself — an intercourse quite sufficient to account for traces of Hellenisms in Etruscan art, whether exhibited in a modified form in architectural mouldings, or in the frequent Doric and Ionic features of the sarcophagi or rock-hewn monuments, or displayed more palpably and purely in the painted vases, found in myriads in Etruria, which are unequivocally Greek in form, design, myths, and even inscriptions.15 The mouldings of these imposts then, were they even more strongly assimilated to the Greek, may well be of Etruscan construction, though not, of course, of the most remote epoch.

The inner arch of the gateway differs from the outer in the material, form, and number of its voussoirs, and has much more of a Roman character.

Whether this archway be Etruscan or not, it cannot be doubted that the three heads are of that character, and that they occupied similar positions in an arched gateway of ancient Volterra. This is corroborated in a singular manner. In the Museum is a cinerary urn, found in this necropolis, which has a bas-relief of the death of Capaneus, struck by lightning when in the act of scaling the gate of Thebes; and the artist, copying probably the object best known to him, has represented in that p149mythical gate, this very Porta all'Arco of Volterra, with the three heads exactly in the same relative position. What the heads might mean is not easy to determine. They may represent the heads of conquered enemies,16 or the three mysterious Cabiri,17 or possibly the patron deities of the city.18 They could scarcely be intended for mere ornament.

The masonry within the gateway is very massive, and well preserved. There are eight courses, about two feet deep each, of rectangular blocks, seven, eight, or ten feet in length. They are of panchina, a yellow arenaceous stone, as are also the door-posts of the outer arch; the imposts and voussoirs, however, are of travertine, and the three heads are of dark grey peperino. This difference in the material has, doubtless, aided the opinion of the subsequent formation of the arch.19 It is highly probable, indeed, that p150the arches are subsequent to the rest of the gateway, which I take to be coeval with the city walls, and prior to the invention of the arch; and the same plan must originally have been adopted, as is traceable in another gateway at Volterra, — namely, flat wooden architraves were let into the door-posts, having sockets in them corresponding to sockets in the threshold, in which the flaps of the doors worked. This plan is proved to have been used by the Etruscans, by certain tombs of Chiusi, where the doors are still working their ancient sockets. But as the Etruscans were acquainted with the arch for at least two or three centuries before their final subjugation by Rome, the addition of it to this gateway may still have been made in the days of their independence.

Just within the gate on each side is a groove or channel for the portcullis, or Saracinesca, as the Italians call it, which was suspended by iron chains, and let down from above like the gate of a sluice; so that if the enemy attempted to force the inner gate, the portcullis was dropped, and all within were made prisoners. This man-trap, common enough in the middle ages, was also employed by the ancients; and grooves for the cataracta are found in the double gates of their cities — at Pompeii and Cosa, for instance, where the gates are formed on the same plan as this of Volterra.20

From the Porta all'Arco let the visitor continue his walk eastward, beneath the walls of the modern town, till, leaving these behind, and following the brow of the hill for some distance, he comes in sight of the church of Sta. Chiara. Below this are some of the finest portions of the ancient walls now extant. They are in detached fragments. In the first the masonry is comparatively p151small; it is most massive in the third, which extends to the length of forty or fifty yards, and rises to a considerable height. In this fragment are two conduits or sewers — square openings, with projecting sills, as at Fiesole, ten or twelve feet above ground.21 The fifth fragment is also fine; but the sixth is very grand — forty feet in height, and about one hundred and forty in length; and here also open two sewers.22

The masonry is very irregular. A horizontal arrangement is preserved, but one course often runs into another, shallow ones alternate with deep, or even in the same, several shallow blocks are piled up to equal the depth of the larger. The masses, though intended to be rectangular, are rudely hewn, and more rudely put together, with none of that close "kissing" of joints, as the Italians say, or neat fitting-in of smaller pieces, which is seen at Fiesole. This may be called a rectangular Cyclopean style, if that be not a contradiction of terms. Nevertheless, it is esslyly the same masonry as that of Fiesole; but ere it is seen in its rudeness or infancy, while Fiesole shows its perfection. To the friability of the sandstone of which it is composed, is owing much of its irregular character, the edges of the blocks having greatly worn away; while the walls of Fiesole, being of harder rock, have suffered much less from the action of the elements. Fair comparisons, however, can only be drawn between the walls on corresponding sides of the several cities; for those which face the south, as these fragments under Santa Chiara, have always been most affected by the weather. p152As usual in the most ancient masonry, there are here no vestiges of cement. In spite of the saying,

Duro con duro
Non fa mai buon muro,

these gigantic masses have held together without it some twenty-five or thirty centuries, and may yet stand for as many more. All the fragments on this side of Volterra are mere embankments, as at Fiesole, to the higher level of the city. In parts they are underbuilt with modern masonry.

From Sta. Chiara the walls may be traced by detached fragments, sometimes scarcely rising above the ground, till they turn to the north, stretching along the brow of the steep cliff, which bounds the city on this side. At a spot called "I Menseri," are some massive portions; and just beyond the hamlet of S. Giusto are traces of a road running up to an ancient gate, whose position is clearly indicated. Here the ground sinks in tremendous precipices, "Le Balze," overhanging an abyss of fearful depth, and increasing its horror by their own blackness. This is the Leucadia — the lovers' leap of the Volterrani. But a few days before I reached the town, a forlorn swain had taken the plunge.

Beyond this, the walls may be traced, more or less distinctly, all round the brow of the point which juts out towards the convent of La Badia. In one part they are seven feet in thickness, and are no longer mere embankments, but rise fifteen feet above the level of the city. In another spot they are topt by small rectangular masonry, also uncemented, apparently Roman. They continue to follow the brow of the high ground in all its sinuosities; double the wooded point of Torricella, and again run far up the hollow to Le Conce, or the Tanyards, above which p153they rise in a massive picturesque fragment overgrown with foliage. Then they stretch far away along the lofty and picturesque cliffs on the west of the hollow, till they lead you round to the Portone, or

Porta di Diana.

This is another gateway of similar construction to the Porta all'Arco, but now in ruins. In its ground-plan, it is precisely similar, having a double gate with a connecting passage. The masonry is of the same massive character as that of the city-walls, without an admixture of different styles, except what is manifestly of modern date; so that no doubt can be entertained of its purely Etruscan construction. The dimensions of the gate very closely agree with those of the Porta all'Arco.23 The arches at either end are now gone; the inner gate does not indeed appear to have had one, for the door-post rises to the height of about twenty feet, and at twelve feet or so above the ground is a square hole in a block on each side the gate, as if cut to receive a wooden lintel. The outer gate still retains traces of an arch, for at a height corresponding with the said lintel, there are cuneiform blocks on one side, sufficient to indicate an arch; the opposite wall is too much ruined to retain such vestiges. It is highly probable that this gateway was constructed at the same time as the walls, and before the invention of the arch, both gates being covered in by wooden lintels, but that in after ages the outer gate was repaired, while the inner, needing it less, was left in its original state.

This sort of double gateway is found in several ancient towns in Greece, as well as in other cities of Italy. It is p154to be seen as elsewhere in Etruria — at Cosa, for instance, where there is more than one specimen of it.24

From the Portone, the ancient fortifications may be traced along the wooded steep to the south, and then, instead of following its line, suddenly dive into the hollow,25 crossing it in an independent wall nearly thirty feet high. The masonry here is much smaller than in any other part of the walls, the courses being often scarcely a foot in height; yet, as in other respects it precisely resembles the more massive fragments, it may be safely pronounced Etruscan.26

At the point of high ground to the east, is a fine fragment of wall, six feet thick, rising twelve feet above the level of the city, and having its inner surface as smooth as its outer. Beyond this, are two remarkable revêtements, like bastions reverted, or with their concavities towards the city. The most easterly of these crescent embankments are traces of a postern; and presently the wall, pursuing the edge of the steep, reaches the extremity of the city to p155the east, and turns sharp to the south. The path to the Seminario leads along the very top of the walls, which are here from fourteen to seventeen feet in thickness. They are not solid throughout, but built with two faces of masonry, having the intervening space stuffed with rubbish, just as in the cob-walls of England, and as in that sort of emplecton, which Vitruvius characterises as Roman.27 Just beneath the Seminari another postern may be distinguished. From this point you may trace the line of the ancient walls, by fragments, beneath those of the modern town and of the Fortress, round to the Porta all'Arco.

The circumference of the ancient walls has been said to be about four miles;29 but it appears more, as the sinuosities of the ground are very great. But pause, traveller, ere you venture to make the entire tour of them. Unless you be prepared for great fatigue — to cross ploughed land — climb and descend steeps — force your way through dense woods and thickset hedges — wade through swamps in the hollows if it be winter — follow the beds of streams, and creep at the brink of precipices; in a word, to make a fairy-like progress

"over hill, over dale,

Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,

Thorough flood —"

and only not

                     "thorough fire —"

think not of the entire giro. Verily —

Viribus utêris per clivos, flumina, lamas.

p156 There are portions of the wall which are of no difficult access: such as the fine fragments under the church of Santa Chiara; those also at Le Balze di San Giusto, whither you may drive in a carriage; the thick walls below the Seminario, which are comparatively near at hand: and from these a sufficient idea may be formed of the massiveness and grandeur of the walls of Volterra. The Portone also is of easy access; and it had better be taken in the way to the Grotta de' Marmini. With the Plan of the city in his hand, the visitor will have no difficulty in finding the most remarkable portions of the ancient fortifications.

The necropolis of Volterra, as usual, surrounded the town; but from the nature of the ground, the slopes beneath the walls to the north were particularly selected for burial. Here, for some centuries past, numerous tombs have been opened, from which the Museum of the town, as well as other collections, public and private, in various parts of Europe, have been stored with antiquarian wealth. From the multitude of sepulchres, the spot received the name of Campo nero — "Black Field"30 — a name now almost obsolete. But, though hundreds — nay, thousands — of tombs have been opened, what remains to satisfy the curiosity of the visitor? One mean sepulchre alone. All the rest have been covered in as soon as rifled; the usual excuse being — "per non damnificar il podere." Even the tomb of the Caecinae, that family so illustrious in ancient times, has been refilled with earth, lest the produce of a square yard or two of soil should be lost to the owner; and its site is now forgotten. "O optimi cives Volaterrani!" Are ye deserving of the commendation Cicero bestowed on your ancestors,31 when ye set so little store on the monuments of those very forefathers which Fortune has p157placed in your hands? Should not yours be rather the reproach that great man cast on the Syracusans, who knew not the sepulchre of their great citizen, Archimedes, till he pointed it out to them?32 Let the name, at least, of the only proprietor at Volterra who has rescued a tomb from oblivion be honourably distinguished by its association with that sepulchre, and let this in future be called La Grotta del Cinci, instead of its present appellation,

Grotta de' Marmini.

This sepulchre, which is said to be a type, in form and character, of the tombs of Volterra, lies on the hill-slope a little below the Porta di Diana, on a spot marked by a clump of cypresses. The key is kept at a cottage just outside the Gate, and torches may also be had there. Like all the tombs of Volterra, this is a hypogaeum, or sepulchre below the surface; and you descend by a few steps to the door, above which is some rude masonry. The tomb is circular, seventeen or eighteen feet in diameter, but scarcely six feet in height, with a large square pillar in the centre, and a triple tier of benches around the walls — all rudely hewn from the rock, a yellow conchiliferous sandstone, called by the natives "panchina." On the benches are ranged numerous urns, or ash-chests, about two or three feet long, miniature sarcophagi, with reclining figures on the lids, some stretched on their backs, but most resting on one elbow in the usual attitude of the banquet.33 In the southern part of Etruria, two or three, rarely more than six or eight, sarcophagi are found in one p158chamber; but here are at least forty or fifty urns — the ashes of a family for several generations.

"The dead above, and the dead below,
Lay ranged in many a coffined row."

Such is said to be the general character of the sepulchres on this site. Their form is often circular;34 while in Southern Etruria that form is rarely found, the oblong or square being prevalent. No tomb with painted walls has ever been discovered in this necropolis. Some, however, of a singular description have been brought to light.35a

Tomb of the Caecinae.

In this same part of the necropolis, as long since as 1739, was discovered a tomb of the Caecina family, illustrious in Roman annals. As described by Gori, who must have seen it,35b this tomb was very like the Grotta de' Marmini, but on a larger scale. At the depth of eight feet below the surface, was found an archway, of beautiful construction, opening on a passage lined with similar masonry, p159and leading down to the rock-hewn door of the tomb, which was closed with a large slab. The sepulchre was circular, about forty feet in diameter,36 supported by a thick column in the midst, and surrounded by a triple tier of benches, all hewn from the rock. Forty urns of alabaster, adorned with painting and gilding, were found lying, not on the benches where they had originally been arranged, but in a confused heap on the floor, as though they had been cast there by former plunderers, or "thrown down by an earthquake," as Gori suggests — more probably the former. Just within the door stood a beautiful Roman cippus, with a sepulchral inscription in Latin, to "A. Caecina."37 Most of the urns also bore inscriptions, some in Etruscan, a few in Latin, but all of the same family. They have fortunately been preserved in the Museum of the city, just then commenced, but the tomb where they had lain for at least two thousand years, has been covered in, and its very site is now forgotten.38

A second tomb of this family was discovered in 1785, containing about forty urns; none of them with Latin inscriptions.39

A third tomb of the Caecina family was discovered in 1810, outside the Gate of Diana, containing six chambers, and numerous urns with Etruscan inscriptions.40 Thus it p160would appear that this family was numerous as well as powerful. It has become extinct only in our own day.41

In 1831, Signor Giusto Cinci, to whom most of the excavations at Volterra of late years are due, discovered the vestiges of two tumular sepulchres, which had been covered in with masonry, in the form of domes. Though but slight vestiges remained, it was evident that the cone of one had been composed of small rectangular masonry.42 This is the only instance known of polygonal construction so far north in Italy, and is the more remarkable, as every other relic of ancient architecture on this site is strictly rectangular. Though the construction of this tomb betokened a high antiquity, the alabaster urns it contained betrayed a comparatively recent date,43 and seemed to mark a reappropriation of a very ancient sepulchre. These domed tombs must have borne a close analogy to the Treasuries of Atreus and Minyas, and also to the Nuraghe of Sardinia, and the Talajots of the Balearic Islands.44

p161 Excavations are still carried on at Volterra, but not p162with much regularity or spirit, since the death of Signor Cinci, a few years since.45

Within the ancient walls are the remains of two structures which have often been called Etruscan — the Amphitheatre and the Piscina. The first lies in the Valle Buona, beneath the modern walls, to the north. Nothing is now to be seen beyond a semicircle of seas, apparently cut in the slope of the hill and now covered with turf. It displays not a trace of antiquity, and seems to have been formed for no other purpose than that it is now applied to — witnessing the game of the pallone. One may well doubt if it has ever been more than a theatre, for the other half of the structure, which must have been of masonry, has totally disappeared. Its antiquity, however, has been well ascertained, and it has even been regarded as an Etruscan structure,46 but more discriminating criticism pronounces it to be Roman.

Outside the gate of the fortress, but within the walls of the town, is the so‑called Piscina. Like all the structures of similar name elsewhere in Italy, this is underground — a p163series of parallel vaults of great depth, supported by square pillars, and evidently either a reservoir for water, or, as the name it has received implies, a preserve for fish — more probably the former.47 The vaults are arched over, but the pillars are connected by flat architraves, composed of cuneiform blocks, holding together on the arch principle. There is nothing in this peculiar construction which is un-Etruscan;48 but the general character of the structure, strongly resembling other buildings of this kind of undoubtedly Roman origin, proves this to have no higher antiquity. Gori, however, who was the first to descend into it, in 1739, braving the snakes with which tradition had filled it, declared it to be of Etruscan construct,49 an opinion which has been commonly followed, even to the present day. He who has seen the Piscine or Campanian coast, may well avoid the difficulties attending a descent into this. A formal application has to be made to the Bishop, who keeps the key; a ladder of unusual length has next to be sought, there being no steps to descend; the Bishop's servant, and the men who bring the ladder, have to be fed:º so that those who consider time, trouble, and expense, le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle.

A third relic, which has erroneous been called Etruscan, is the Terme, or Baths, which lie just outside the gate of San Felice, on the south of the town. The form and disposition of the chambers, the brickwork, the opus p164incertum, the fragments of mosaic pavement, the marble slabs with bas-reliefs — everything on the site is so purely Roman, that it is difficult to comprehend how a higher antiquity could ever have been assigned to this ruin.

The traveller should not omit to pay a visit to the Villa Inghirami, and the Buche de' Saracini, in the valley to the east of Volterra; for though there is little to satisfy antiquarian curiosity, the scenery on the road is magnificent. May he have such a bright spring morning as I chose, for the walk. The sun, which had scarcely scaled the mountain-tops, looked in vain through the clear ether for a cloud to shadow his brightness. The wide, deep valley of the Cecina at my feet, all its nakedness and wrinkled desolation lost in the shadow of the purple mountains to the south, was crossed by two long lines of white vapour, which might have been taken for fleecy clouds, had they not been traceable to the tall chimneys of the Salt-works in the depths of the valley. Behind the mass of Monte Catino, to the west, shone out the bright blue Mediterranean, with the rocky island of Gorgona prominent on its bosom; and far beyond it, to the right, the snow-capt mountains of Corsica hovered like a cloud on the horizon, and to the left, rose the dark, sullen peaks of Elba, half-concealed by intervening heights. So pure the atmosphere, that many a white sail might be distinguished, studding the far-off deep; and even the track of a steamer was marked by a dark thread on the bright face of the waters.

As I descended the hill to the convent of San Girolamo the scenery on the northern side of Volterra came into view. The city, with its walls and convents crowning the opposite steep, now formed the principal object; the highest point crested by the towers of the fortress, and the lower heights displaying fragments of the ancient wall, p165peeping at intervals from the foliage. At my feet lay an expanse of bare undulating country, the valley of the Era, broken into ravines and studded with villages; softening off in the distance into the well-known plain of Pisa, with the dark mountains behind that city —

Per cui i Pisan veder Lucca non ponno —

expanding into a form which recalled the higher beauties of the Alban Mount. There was still the blue sea in the distance, with the bald, jagged mountains of Carrara, ever dear to the memory, overhanging the Gulf of Spezia; and the sublime hoary peaks of the Apennines, sharply cutting the azure, filled up the northern horizon — sea, gulf, and mountains, all so many boundaries of ancient Etruria. The weather had been gloomy and misty the previous days I had spent at Volterra, so that this range of icy sublimities burst upon me like a new creation. The convent of S. Girolamo, with its grove of ilices and cypresses, formed a beautiful foreground to the scene.

The Villa Inghirami, which lies lower on the slope, belongs to one of that old Volaterran family, which for ages has been renowned for arts and arms, —

Chi puo l'armi tacer d'un Inghirami? —

or has distinguished itself in scientific or antiquarian research; and a most illustrious member of which was the Cavalier Francesco, recently deceased. The antiquarian interest of the spot lies in the so‑called Buche de' Saracini. To see them you must beat upº the gardener of the Villa, who will furnish you with lights, and then you enter a little cave in a bank, and follow him into a long passage cut in the rock, six feet wide but only three high, so that you must travel on all fours. From time to time the passage widens into chambers, yet not high enough to permit you to stand upright; or it meets other passages p166of similar character opening in various directions, and extending into the heart of the hill, how far no one can say. In short, this is a perfect labyrinth, in which, without a clue, one might very soon be lost.

By whom, and for what purpose these passages were formed, I cannot hazard an opinion. Though I went far into the hill, I saw no signs of tombs, or a sepulchral appropriation — nothing to assimilate them to catacombs. That they have not lost their original character is proved by the marks of the chisel everywhere still fresh on the walls. They are too low for subterranean communications, otherwise one might lend an ear to the vulgar belief that they were formed to connect the Palazzo Inghirami in the town, with the Villa. They have no decided Etruscan character, yet are not unlike the tortuous passages in the Poggio Gajella at Chiusi, and in the Grotta Regina at Toscanella. The cave at the entrance is lined with rude masonry, probably of comparatively recent date. Another tradition ascribes their formed to the Saracens, once the scourges, and at the same time the bugbears of the Italian coast. Though these infidel pirates were wont to make descents on these shores during the middle ages, carrying off plunder and females, they were often creatures of romance rather than of reality; every trace of wanton barbarity and destruction is attributed to them, as to Cromwell's dragoons in England; and as they have also the fame of having been great magicians, many a marvel of Nature and of Art is ascribed to their agency. In this case, tradition represents them as having made these passages to store their plunder, and keep their captives. Twenty miles from the sea, forsooth! Hence the vulgar title of Buche de' Saracini, or "The Saracens' Dens."


The Author's Notes:

1 Strabo, V.p223. Modern measurement makes the mountain on which Volterra stands 935 Tuscan braccia (about 1800 English feet) above the level of the sea. Müller was therefore mistaken when he guessed Volterra to be probably the highest-lying town in all Italy. Etrusk. I p221. There are many towns and villages among the Apennines, and not a few ancient sites in the mountains of Sabina and Latium, at a considerably greater elevation. Cluver (Ital. Ant. II. p513) takes Volaterrae to be the Etruscan city referred to by the pseudo-Aristotle (De Mirab. Auscult. cap. 96), under the name of Oenarea, — a site of extraordinary strength, on a hill 30 stadia in height. To this view Lanzi (Saggio, II. p94) is also inclined. Mannert (Geog. p357) is opposed to it, on the ground that Oenarea had probably no existence Niebuhr (I. p124, n382), Müller (Etrusk. II.2, 10), and Arnold (Hist. of Rome, II. p530), raise the more valid objection, that from the usurpation of power by its manumitted slaves, Oenarea must be identical with Volsinii. I have hesitated to bow to these mighty three, and have suggested that Monte Fiascone may possibly be the site of Oenarea. Vol. I p518.

2 Dion. Hal. III p189, ed. Sylb. The other cities were Clusium, Arretium, Rusellae and Vetulonia.

3 It is so regarded by the principal writers on the subject. Cluver. II p511; Müller, Etrusk. II.1, 2, p346; Cramer, I. p185.

4 Liv. X.12.

5 North of Volaterrae there was no other city of the Confederation, unless Pisae may at an early period have been one of the Twelve, to dispute her claim to all the land up to the confines of Etruria, including the vale of the Arno, and the rich plains of Lucca; eastward her ager must also have extended far, as the nearest city was Arretium, 50 miles distant; westward it was bounded by the Mediterranean (Strabo, V.p223), more than 20 miles off; and southward it extended at least as far as Populonia, which was either a colony or acquisition of Volaterrae (Serv. ad Aen. X.172); and from the intimate connection of that port with Elba, it is highly probable that it also comprehended that island itself.

6 This is almost identical with the name of the ancient Volscian town Velitrae, now Velletri; and there can be no doubt that there was a close analogy, as between many other towns of Etruria, and those of corresponding appellations south of the Tiber. In fact, the coins with the legend of Velathri have often been assigned to Velitrae. Raffaelle Maffei, il Biondo, and other early Italian antiquaries indulged in idle speculations as to the meaning of the name Volaterrae, and resolved it into "Vola (which they translated urbs) Tyrrhenorum," but Volaterrae is merely the Latin form, and in our present ignorance of the Etruscan language all sound analysis is out of the question. It may be remarked, however, that the syllable Vel, or Vul, is a frequent initial to Etruscan names — Velsina, Vulsinii, Vulci, Velimnas, &c. — and the rest of the word Atri seems to have some analogy to the Hat, or Hatri, on the coins of Hatria, — the Etruscan town which gave its name to the Adriatic, and to the atrium, or court, in Roman houses. Cramer (I. p184) infers from this analogy that Volterra was founded by the Tyrrhene-Pelasgi, when they quitted the shores of the Adriatic to settle in the land of the Umbri. The same origin for the city is inferred by Millingen (Numismatique de l'Ancienne Italie, p167) from the name Velathri, which he takes to be identical with Elatria, a town in Epirus, the land whence came many of the colonists of Italy, especially the Pelasgi. He sees Elatria also in Velitrae of the Volsci, and even in Vulturnus, the original appellation of Capua; and he thinks this name was given to these three cities by the Tyrrhene-Pelasgi, during their possession of the land, in remembrance of their ancient country.

7 Liv. XXVIII.45. Tarquinii supplied sail-cloth, Volaterrae, the fittings-up of ships, and also corn.º This is (p145)according to the usual reading, interamenta; but Müller (I.2, 1, IV.3, 6) prefers that of Gronovius, which is inceramenta.

8 Strabo, loc. cit.; Liv. Epitome LXXXXIX; cf. Cic. pro Caecinâ, VII; pro Roscio Amerino, VII.

9 Cic. pro Domo suâ, XXX; ad Divers. XIII.4, 5; ad Attic. I.19. Volaterrae claims among her ancient citizens, the satirist Persius. Her claim is better founded, I believe, as regards Linus, the successor of St. Peter, as bishop of Rome.

10 Front. de Colon. p14 ed. 1588. Pliny (N. H. III.8) and Ptolemy (p72, ed. Bert.) also speak of her as a colony in their days.

11 For the post-Roman history of Volterra, see Repetti, V. pp801 et seq.

12 Dempster (Etrur. Regal. II. p286) says that certain learned men take this for a corruption of Porta Herculis. Gori (Mus. Etr. III. pp34, 44) follows them in this superfluous etymology.

13 The span of the arch is 13 ft. 2 in.; the height to the top of the impost 15 feet; so that the height to the keystone is about 2‑12 feet. Depth of the doorposts 4 ft. 6 in. The inner arch is 13 ft. 6 in. in span, and its doorpost nearly 5 ft. in depth. The length of the connecting passage is 18 ft., and its width 15 ft. 8 in., so that the total depth of the gateway, including the arches, is 27 feet, 6 inches.

14 Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. III p5) regards them as of Roman character and construction, and thinks the whole arch, except the heads, is a restoration, probably after the siege of the city by Sylla. Yet he admits the lower part of the gate to be "of true Etruscan construction": (cf. I. p141). By Ruspi, the Roman architect, the restoration has been referred even to Imperial times. Bull. Inst. 1831, p52. The connecting walls, the doorposts of the outer arch, and the heads, he alone allows to be Etruscan; the arch of the outer gate he conceives to have been raised during the Empire, the heads to have been then replaced, and the inner gateway to have been at the same time constructed. He thinks a second restoration was effected during the middle ages, in that part where the portcullis was fixed.

15 Orioli (ap. Inghir. Mon. Etrusc. IV. p162) maintains that this similarity to Greek art does not militate against the Etruscan construction of this arch, on the ground that Greek art arose and was nurtured in Asia Minor rather than in Greece Proper, and that the Etruscans coming from the East may have brought with them a knowledge of that architecture which is now characterised as Greek. But it does not seem to me necessary to suppose so high an antiquity for the Hellenisms in Etruscan art, which are more simply accounted for in the manner indicated in the text. Canina, a high architectural authority, regards this gate as one of the most ancient Etruscan monuments in this region. Ann. Inst. 1835, p192.

16 Orioli, ap. Ingh. Mon. Etr. IV.p163.

17 This is Gerhard's view. Gottheiten der Etrusker, p13; cf. p48.

18 Orioli, Ann. Inst. 1832, p38. This is also Micali's opinion (III. p5), who admits them to be Etruscan. Gori (Mus. Etrusc. III. p46) takes them for heads of the Lares Viales, placed in such a position to receive the adoration of passers by; as Lucretius (I.317‑9) describes deities in bronze placed near city-gates, whose hands, like the toes of St. Peter and other saints of modern times, were quite worn down by the frequent kisses of their votaries. Lanzi (cited by Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. I p679) in describing the said urn took the central head to represent Antigone, and the others, two Thebans, looking out from the city. He could not have carefully examined the monument; or he must have confounded it with another somewhat similar in form.

19 If the outer arch were a restoration by the Romans, they must have preserved and built up again these three heads of peperino; which is a great objection against the hypothesis. To me it does not seem at all probable that the Romans of the closed of the Republic, the epoch of the Pantheon, and the purest period of Roman art, would have destroyed the symmetry of the gate by the replacement of such heavy unsightly masses. It is much easier to conceive them to have been placed there at an earlier period, when superstition or convention overcame a regard for the beautiful. A figure or head in relief on the keystone was common enough in Roman gateways, and is in accordance with good taste, not destroying the symmetry of the arch, but serving to fix the eye on the culminating point. But it may safely be asserted that the introduction of such prominent shapeless masses around an arch, was wholly opposed to Roman taste, as we learn it from existing monuments.

20 Mention is made of the cataracta by Livy (XXVII.28), and by Vegetius (de Re Milit. IV. cap. 4), who speaks of it as an ancient invention.

21 Some of the blocks in this fragment are very large — 8 or 10 feet long, by 2 to 3 in height. The architrave of one of the sewers is particularly massive.

22 It is this portion of the wall which is shown in the woodcut at the head of this Chapter. The largest blocks here are about 8 feet long, and more than 3 in height. At this particular spot the wall is scarcely 20 feet high.

23 The total depth of the gateway is 27 ft., that of the door-posts of each gate 4 ft. 4 in. The width at the door-posts is 12 ft. 4 in., and in the passage within 15 ft. 6 in.

24 Canina (Archit. Antica, V. p96) suggests, that it is probably from this sort of double gateway that the plural form — αἱ πύλαι — applied to the gate of a city, took its rise. See Vol. I pp14, 15.

It will be observed that this gate, as well as the Part all'Arco, opens obliquely, so that the approach to it is commanded on one side by the city wall, which answers the purpose of towers whence to annoy the foe; and the approach is so planned in both cases, that an assailing force would have its right side, or that unprotected by the shield, exposed to the attacks of the besieged. This is a rule of fortification laid down by Vitruvius, I.5, 2.

25 At the bottom of the hollow, a streamlet flows out through a gap in the walls; but a drain-hole hard by seems to have been the original passage for it.

26 Here it may be remarked, that the blocks in the lower courses are small and irregular, in the upper very massive. This I have observed on other Etruscan sites. Orioli (ap. Inghir. Mon. Etrus. IV.p161) thinks it was not without a reason — that the largest blocks were placed at that height in the walls, where they would be most likely to be struck by battering-engines (cf. Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. II p294); and he even infers hence the existence of such engines in remote times. One block covering a cavity, once perhaps a sewer, I found to be 11 ft. long, 3 in height, and 4 in depth; and another block, below the cavity, was of nearly equal dimensions.

27 Vitruv. II.8, 7. Compare Vol. I p107. This style of "stuffed" walls is not uncommon in the cities of Greece.

28 Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. I p141, and II. p209. Abeken (Mittelital. p30) calls it 21,000 feet. If Micali's map be correct, which calls it 7,280·73 metres, the circuit will be more than 4½ miles. Gori (III. p32) cites an authority who ascribes to them a circuit of more than 5 miles. Old Alberti says, the city was in the form of a band, the headlands representing the fingers. But it requires a lively fancy to perceive the likeness.

29 Gori, Mus. Etrus. III. p93.

30 Cicero, pro Domo suâ, XXX.

31 Cicero, Tusc. Quaest. V.23.

32 These urns are of panchina, travertine, or alabaster, but are so blackened by the smoke of the torches as to have lost all beauty. Two large pine-cones of stone, common funereal emblems, lie one on each side of the entrance. There is a hole in the roof of the town, but whether formed in ancient times to let off the effluvium, or by modern excavators, is not very evident.

33 Gori (Mus. Etr. III. p93) says the tombs of Volterra are more frequently square than round, and are sometimes even triangular. Inghirami says they are generally circular, especially when small, but quadrangular when large (Mon. Etrusc. IV. p80); and he gives a plate of one with four square chambers (IV. tav. 16). Gori asserts that the roofs are often formed of a single stone of enormous size, sometimes supported in the middle by a pillar hewn from the rock. the entrances generally face the west. Testimony, unfortunately, is our only authority in the matter. A second tomb is sometimes found beneath the first, says Inghirami (IV. p94). In the centre of the floor of the tomb, there is often a hole, probably formed as a receptacle for the water that might percolate through the roof and walls. The vases are generally placed between the urns, or in front of them, if there be not room at the side, and the mirrors are also laid in front. Inghir. IV.p83. When the body was not burnt, as usual, it was laid on the bare rock. Sarcophagi were very rarely used.

34 A tomb was found in this necropolis, in 1738, which was supposed, from the numerous pots, pans, and plates within it, to have been an Etruscan kitchen — some of the pots being full of the bones of kids and of little birds. MS. description, cited by Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. IV.p90. But these must have been the relics of the funeral feast; a pair of gold earrings in an urn was hardly consistent with the idea of a kitchen.

35a 35b Gori, Mus. Etr. III. pp94, 95.

36 Maffei, Osserv. Lett. V. p318; Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. IV.p85. Gori's illustration makes it only 30 feet.

37 Gori (III. p94, tab. XI) and Inghirami (Mon. Etrus. VI p23, tav. D 3) call it an altar, which it resembles in form; but the inscription marks it as a cippus. It is now in the Museum of Volterra.

38 Illustrations of this tomb are given by Gori, III. tab. X, and Inghirami, IV. tav. XIV. XV.

39 Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. I p11.

40 It was discovered by Dr. Pagnini, whose description of it will be found in Inghirami's Mon. Etrus. IV.p107. The door was 12 braccia (23 feet) below the surface; the first chamber was of irregular form, having a column in the midst, with a base and capital of the Tuscan order, two rows of benches around, on which the urns were found upset and in great confusion; ten of them were well preserved, and with Etruscan inscriptions — none with Latin. The other five chambers were of inferior (p160)size. Inghirami thinks it was the early Christians who overturned the urns in these tombs, in their iconoclastic zeal.

41 See the next Chapter.

42 These monuments were only 5 feet apart. Each cone had a basement of such masonry, about 9 feet square, and beneath one of these were several courses of rude blocks, below the surface of the ground, and resting on the doorway of the sepulchre, which was composed of two upright blocks, crossed by a third as a lintel.

43 Inghirami says, as late as the seventh or eighth century of Rome, the period to which he refers most of the urns of Volterra; but he generally inclines to too recent a date. He has given full particulars of these tombs, together with illustrations. Ann. Inst. 1832, pp26‑30, tav. d'Agg. A.

44 These were genuine specimens of the tholus, or domed structure of the Greeks, such as we see it in the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae; and they are the only instances known of such tholi in Etruria, though one has been found some ages since at Gubbio, the ancient Iguvium, in Umbria, where the celebrated inscribed tablets, called the Eugubian Tables, were found. Gori, Mus. Etrus. III. p100, tab. XVIII.6. They also closely resemble the Nuraghe of Sardinia, and still more the Talajots of the Balearics, inasmuch as the latter are cones containing but one such chamber, while the Nuraghe often have several. The point of difference is, that these domed tombs of Volterra, like those of Gubbio, must have been covered with a mound of earth, while the Nuraghe and Talajots are solid cones of masonry, like one of the towers in the Cucumella of Vulci, but hollowed into chambers, and built above the surface. The Nuraghe, already referred to at page 47, still exist in great numbers in Sardinia. No fewer than 3000 are said to be scattered over the shores of that island (De la Marmora, Voyage en Sardaigne, II. p46), and the Talajots are not much less numerous in the Balearics. The former, which rise 30 or 40 feet above ground, have sometimes two or three stories, each with a domed chamber connected by spiral passages left in the masonry; sometimes several chambers are left on the same floor, communicating by corridors; the structure, instead of being conical, is sometimes three-sided, yet with the angles rounded. Some of them have basements of masonry like these tombs of Volterra; and others are raised on platforms of earth, with embankments of masonry twenty feet in height. Though so numerous, none are found in so complete a state of preservation that it can be decided whether they terminated above in a perfect or a truncated cone. They are, in general, of regular though rude masonry, but a few are of polygonal construction. They are evidently of high antiquity. The construction of the domed chambers, formed, like the Treasury of Atreus, by the convergence of horizontal strata, establishes this beyond a doubt. But to what race to ascribe them is still in dispute. De la Marmora, Micali, and Arri, assign them to the Phoenicians or Carthaginians. Petit-Radel, on the other hand, ascribes them to the Tyrrhene Pelasgi, in which he is followed by Abeken; and to this view Inghirami also inclines. Müller, however, regarded them as Etruscan, rather than Pelasgic (Etrusk. IV.2, 2). For Petit-Radel's opinion there is ancient authority; for the pseudo-Aristotle (de Mirab. Auscult. cap. 104) mentions the tholi of Sardinia, built by Iolaus, son of Iphicles, in the ancient Greek style. Diodorus (IV. p235, ed. Rhod.) speaks of them under the name of Daedalia, so called from the architect who built them. These tholi can be no other than the Nuraghe. Though Micali (Ant. Pop. Ital. II p45) does not take them to be tombs, and Canina (Archit. Ant. V. p547) thinks they were treasuries or forts, there is little doubt of their sepulchral character; for skeletons have often been found in them, and other funereal furniture, chiefly in metal. For detailed descriptions and illustrations of these singular tombs, see de a Marmora, Voyage en Sardaigne, tom. II., and Bull. Inst. 1833, p121; 1834, pp68‑70; Petit-Radel, Nuraghes de la Sardaigne, Paris, 1826‑8; Arri, Nur-hag della Sardegna, Torino, 1835; Micali, Ant. Pop. Ital. II pp43, et seq.; III. p111, tav. LXXI; Abeken, Bull. Inst. 184, pp155‑160; 1841, pp40‑2; Mittelitalien, pp236‑8.

Conical structures, roofed in exactly on the same plan as the Treasury of Atreus and other ancient tholi, have been discovered in the Valley of the Ohio. Stephens' Yucatan, I. p433. Mr. Stephens wisely forbears to infer hence a common origin, which could be no more satisfactorily established by (p162)these monuments than by the coincidence of pyramidal structures in Egypt and Central America.

45 For accounts of the excavations at Volterra in past ages, see Inghirami, Monumenti Etruschi, IV. Ragionamento, V. pp78‑110. For the more recent operations consult the Bullettini of the Archaeological Institute. In the spring of 1844, I saw at Volterra, in the possession of Signor Antonio Pilastri, a number of curious bronzes, which had just been discovered in the neighbourhood, not in a sepulchre as usual, but buried at a little depth below the surface, and on a spot where no ancient relics had previously been found. It seemed as though they had been hastily interred for concealment, but whether in ancient or comparatively modern times it was impossible to say. They consisted of six crested snakes, their sex distinguished by the comb, all evidently made to be attached as adornments, probably to helmets or shields — the hermes of a Genius, 18 inches high, with diadem and patera, as usually represented — two female figures, most ludicrously attenuated, each also with a patera — a male in a toga, about a foot high, in an excellent style of art — a horse galloping, probably a signum militare — and a large votive dove, 10 or 12 inches long, of solid bronze, with an Etruscan inscription on its wing, which is given in my notice of these articles, Bull. Inst. 1845, p137.

46 Gori, Mus. Etr. III. p59, tab. VIII.

47 It has three vaults, support on six pillars. It is said to be 37 braccia (71 feet) long, by 25 (48 feet) wide, and the vaults are elevated 16 braccia from the pavement. Repetti, V. p816. It is also known by the name of Il Castello, or the reservoir.

48 The gates of the theatre of Férento, which are most probably of that origin, are similarly formed (see Vol. I p206, and woodcut at page 201); the people, moreover, who brought the arch to such perfection as is seen in the Cloaca Maxima and certain tombs of Perugia and Chiusi, could have had no difficulty in constructing a cuneiform architrave like this.

49 Gori, III. p63. It is called by Hoare, the most perfect Etruscan work at Volterra. Clas. Tour. I. p9.


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