[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
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.


[image ALT: link to next section]

 p480  Chapter XXVI


[image ALT: missingALT]
Novella dall' Etruria porto.


La gente che per li sepolcri giace
Potrebbesi veder? — già son levati
Tutti i coperchj, e nessun guardia face.


We are apt to regard Italy as a country so thoroughly beaten by travellers, that little new can be said about it; still less do we imagine that relics of the olden time can exist in the open air, and remain unknown to the  p481 world. Yet the truth is, that vast districts of the Peninsula, especially in the Tuscan, Roman, and Neapolitan States, are to the archaeologist a terra incognita. Every monument on the high-roads is familiar, even to the fireside traveller; but how little is known of the bye-ways!​a Of the swarms of foreigners who yearly traverse the country between Florence and Rome, not one in a hundred leaves the beaten track to visit objects of antiquity; still fewer make a journey into the intervening districts expressly for such a purpose. Now and then an excursion is made to Chiusi; or a few may run from Civita Vecchia to Corneto to visit the painted tombs, but not a tithe of that small number continue their route to Vulci or Toscanella — still fewer to Cosa. Parties occasionally make a pic‑nic to the site of Veii; but considering the proximity to Rome, the convenience of transit, and the intense interest of the spot, the number is very limited. That wide district on the frontiers of the Tuscan and Roman States, which has been the subject of the last two chapters, is so rarely trodden by the foot of a traveller, even of an antiquary, that it can be no matter of surprise that relics of ancient art should exist there, and be utterly unknown to the world — gazed at only with stupid astonishment by the peasantry, or else more stupidly unheeded. In a country almost depopulated by malaria, inhabited only by shepherds and husbandmen, and never traversed by the educated and intelligent, the most striking monuments may remain for ages unnoticed. So it was with the magnificent temples of Paestum. Though they had reared their mighty columns to the sunbeams for at least three and twenty centuries, isolated in an open plain where they were visible for many a league, and standing on the sea-shore, where they must have served for ages as a landmark to the mariner; yet their very existence had  p482 been forgotten by the world, till in the middle of last century a Neapolitan painter discovered them afresh, rescuing them from an oblivion of fifteen hundred years.​1 So in Etruria, the interesting cemeteries of Norchia and Castel d'Asso were brought to light not forty years ago by some sportsmen of Viterbo. I am now about to describe some other remarkable relics of Etruscan antiquity, which owe their rediscovery to the intelligent enterprise of an Englishman.

In the spring of 1843, Mr. Ainsley, my former fellow-traveller in Etruria, was making a third tour through this interesting land, and, not content with beaten tracks, he penetrated to Pitigliano, and thence made an excursion to Sovana, in quest of antiquities. Being aware that that place was known only as the site of the Roman Suana, he had no reason to expect relics of Etruscan times; yet, having established such an antiquity for Pitigliano, he shrewdly suspected the same for the neighbouring site. Here he inquired for antiquities. Antiquities! — "che roba è?" Nobody had ever heard of such "stuff" at Sovana. From the provost to the hind, all were alike ignorant. But his curiosity was excited by some columbaria and rock-hewn tombs of familiar character, and he proceeded to explore the surrounding ravines.

His suspicions were soon confirmed. Here were tombs with rock-hewn façades as at Norchia and Castel d'Asso, — and, following the range of cliffs, he came to a monument in the form of a temple, in a style both unique and beautiful. His surprise and delight at this discovery explained  p483 to the villagers who accompanied him the nature of the objects he was seeking. They were no less astonished to find a stranger display such interest in what to their simple mind was meaningless, or was regarded as a mere "scherzo" — a freak of Nature imitating Art, or a fanciful work carved in an idle or wanton mood by the "rude forefathers of the hamlet." "Scherzi, scherzi! — is that the roba you want? there are plenty of such whims!" cried they; and they led him on from one rock-hewn monument to another, which excited his surprise and admiration more and more by their multitude, variety, and novel character, and afforded him convincing evidence of the Etruscan origin of Sovana. He returned day after day to the spot, and in defiance of a midsummer sun, and its noxious influences, persevered till he had made finished drawings of the most remarkable monuments, and taken their dimensions with the fullest detail. He forthwith sent a description of this necropolis to the Archaeological Institute of Rome, together with drawings, plans, and sections of the principal tombs for publication. In truth, he has left little to be done by future visitors to Sovana, so detailed and accurate are his notices and drawings, and such the zeal with which he prosecuted his researches for the benefit of antiquarian science.

The discovery is of the highest importance, for these sepulchres, while in general character resembling those of Norchia, Castel d'Asso, and Bieda, have novel and striking features peculiar to the site. Mr. Ainsley justly observes, that after "having visited nearly all the antiquities of this kind known to exist in Etruria, I can truly say that I have seen no place which contains so great a variety of sculptured tombs as Sovana."2

 p484  Sovana is but two miles and a half from Pitigliano, and appears to the eye still nearer, but in these glen-furrowed plains distances are deceptive.​b You ascend from the ravine of Pitigliano by an ancient rock-sunk road, fringed with aloes. On the surface of the plain above, you may trace the road by ruts in the tufo, partly formed perhaps in more recent times.​3 This is elevated somewhat above the general ll of the great Etruscan plain, and commands a wide sweep of it to the south; but on every other hand the horizon is bounded by heights, here clothed with wood or verdure, any towering into Alpine peaks, for half the year diademed with snow.

Sovana stands on a tongue of land, scarcely half a mile in length; at one end rises the square tower of the Duomo, and at the other the mediaeval castle, which, with its tall masses of yellow ruin, and crumbling machicolated battlements, forms the most prominent and picturesque feature in the scenery of the spot.

It is obvious from the strength of these fortifications that Sovana was a place of importance in the middle ages. This city — for such it is in name — "this city, which governed itself by its own laws, even after the arrival of the Lombards, which for a long period was the residence of bishops and of a powerful race of Counts; this city, which in 1240 was able to make head against Frederic II, and to sustain a siege, is now reduced to such a miserable state, that in 1833 its population was not more than sixty-four  p485 souls;"​4 and is now still further diminished. It is the see of a bishop, but for six centuries past this dignitary has not resided there, delegating his duties to a proposto, or provost. Such is the summer scourge of "ariaccia", that even the wretched hamlet to which the city has dwindled is well-nigh depopulated, and most of its houses are ruined and tenantless. It may well be called, as Repetti observes, "The city of Jeremiah." It is but the skeleton, though a still living skeleton, of its former greatness. Pestilence, year after year, stalks through its long, silent street.​5 I visited it in the healthy season, when its population had not forsaken it, and on a fête-day, when every one was at home; yet hardly a soul did I perceive, and those few seemed to have scarcely energy enough for wonderment. The visit of a stranger, however, is an epoch in the annals of the hamlet. I learned from the provost, Don Francesco Bulgherini, that the monotonous, death-like calm of Sovana had not been disturbed by a single visitor since Mr. Ainsley left it nearly a year previous.

Nothing is known of the ancient history of Sovana. Till now it was not supposed to have an Etruscan origin. The Roman colony of Suana is mentioned in the catalogues of Pliny and Ptolemy;​6 and that it occupied this site is proved by the preservation of the ancient name, which has remained almost unchanged — being called indifferently Soana or Sovana.​7 The only historical interest it possesses  p486 lies in its being the birth-place of Hildebrand, Gregory VII, the great ecclesiastical reformer of the eleventh century, the founder of the Papal supremacy over all secular power. Of Roman remains I observed only her cippi in the Piazza, with inscriptions of no general interest. Below the Duomo, on the descent to the western gate, are portions of the ancient wall, of emplecton, as at Sutri and Falleri. The Etruscan town must have been of very small size, little more than a mile in circumference. Yet the multitude and character of its sepulchres would indicate considerable importance, though this test is often fallacious. Suana can never have been of much weight in the Etruscan State; and must have been dependent on some larger city, probably on Volsinii.

Should any one be tempted to follow me to this desolate site, which, during the winter months, may be done with perfect impunity, let him leave Sovana by the western gate. As he descends into the ravine he will observe the opposite cliffs hewn into a long series of architectural façades, among which one with a recessed arch stands conspicuous. At this distance, indeed, he might take it for a new stone building; but let him force his way through the thick copse on the slope, and he finds its whiteness is but the hoariness of antiquity. This monument is called

La Fontana,

from some fancied resemblance to a fountain.​8 It is hewn from the tufo cliff, and in general size and form  p487 resembles the tombs of Norchia and Castel d'Asso, but instead of Etruscan cornices has a Doric-like frieze, surmounted by a pediment with singular reliefs; and in place of the door-moulding on the façade, it has an arched recess, with an inscription carved on the inner wall,​9 and a couple of steps below it, which give it some resemblance to a modern way-side shrine. The general features of the monument, even without the open tomb beneath,​10 would prove it to be sepulchral.

The projecting fascia bears much resemblance to a Doric frieze,​11 but the pediment is very un-Hellenic in character. In the centre is an Etruscan mermaid, or marine deity —

Prima hominis facies, et pulchro pectore virgo
Pube tenus. postrema immani corpore pistrix
Delphinum caudas utero commissa —

Her face has been utterly destroyed; her body is naked, but over her head float her robes inflated by the breeze, and she is striving to confine them with her hands.​12 The huge coils of her fishes' tails roll away on each side almost to the very extremity of the pediment. On either hand, flying from her with wings outspread, is a male genius; the one on her left bears a shield on his arm, and has some traces of a helmet on his head.

 p488  These figures, from the prominence of their relief, have sustained much injury, and are by no means distinct. They have further suffered from a huge beech, which has taken root on the summit of the rocky mass, springing from above the head of the female, which it has almost destroyed, and riving the monument to its very base. The antiquary may complain, but the artist must rejoice; for the tree overshadowing the monument renders it eminently picturesque.13

I agree with Mr. Ainsley in regarding this monument as of a late period in Etruscan art. "There is a freedom of design, a certain flow of outline in the figures, together with a boldness of execution in the whole composition, which differ widely from the primitive style of Etruscan art." The subject is one which is not to be seen elsewhere in Etruria, on the façade of a tomb, though frequent on the cinerary urns of Volterra, Chiusi, and Perugia. These marine deities are of either sex, and are often represented with wings outspread, and with a small pair at their temples, which are bound with snakes. Sometimes they  p489 are brandishing harpoons or anchors, sometimes oars, swords, or even snakes, like the Furies. They are commonly called Glaucus or Scylla, according to their sex; but these terms are merely conventional, and it is possible that they may have no relation to those beings of the Greek mythology. Mysterious symbols of a long-forgotten creed, thus prominently displayed, they cannot fail to stir the imagination of the beholder.

In the same line of cliff, called Poggio Prisca, is a long range of sepulchral monuments, in general form, size, and character, like those of Norchia and Castel d'Asso, but in their details differing from any others yet discovered in Etruria. For, besides the Egyptian character of the outline and of the horizontal mouldings, which these tombs have in common with those of the sites mentioned, here we find cornices not receding but projecting, and actually taking the concave form, with the prominent torus beneath, so common on the banks of the Nile; and this not in a solitary monument, but repeated again and again, so as to remove all suspicion that this striking resemblance to Egyptian architecture was the result of accident. The Etruscan character is seen in the moulded door on the façade, and in the inscription within it; the dentilled fillet below the torus, and the rock-hewn pedestal which often surmounts the monument, are rather Greek and Roman features.

The upper chamber, so common at Norchia and Castel d'Asso, is unknown at Sovana, but there is some analogy to it in a recess hollowed in the façade of a monument, and having a bench at the back; either for a sarcophagus, for the cippus, or for the accommodation of mourning friends.  p490 This is a feature not uncommon on this site; it is seen, in fact, in the Fontana.14

These façades are separated as usual by flights of steps, hewn in the rock, and leading from the base of the cliff to the level of the plain.​15 In front of each monument is a long pit, the deep narrow passage to the tomb, which lies at an unusual depth, and has a moulded door precisely like that on the façade. Even where the roofs of these passages have not fallen in, there is a large oblong pit at the base of the monument, the mouth of a vertical shaft, like those at Falleri and Civita Castellana. The sepulchres are in general spacious, surrounded by benches of rock, but with no internal decoration, as far as I could perceive.

Following the range of cliffs northward, I came upon another group of tombs of similar character, and many with inscriptions, more or less legible. This part of the necropolis is called Sopraripa.

It were vain to attempt a visit to these tombs unarmed with a hatchet, so dense are the tangled thickets; and all care must be had in crossing the yawning pits with which the slopes are furrowed; for the ground is kept moist and slippery by the overhanging foliage, and a false step on the brink, would, in every case, be a step into the grave. Mr. Ainsley was obliged to get the peasants to pioneer him a way from one monument to another with their  p491 wood-bills, and to clear the foliage from the façades; and I also reaped unequivocal benefit from their labours.

From the Sopraripa I perceived the cliffs on the opposite side of the wide ravine to be full of tombs, and crossing the stream by a bridge of some antiquity, I reached the

Grotta Pola,

one of the most singular monuments in this necropolis, and the only one of the sepulchres of Etruria which bears any resemblance to the celebrated temple-tombs of Norchia. Here is Mr. Ainsley's description of it:—

"It has the form of the portico of a temple, cut out of the solid tufo. One column only remains, supporting a corner of the pediment, and behind it is a square pilaster, attached to the surface of the rock, representing the body of the temple. Both column and pilaster are fluted, and adorned with corresponding capitals, which seem to have been very similar to one that I have seen in Signor Campanari's museum at Toscanella, having foliage running round its base, and springing boldly up to the corners, somewhat in the manner of the Corinthian, but with large human heads placed in the middle of each face of the capital, between the foliage. The effects of time are too great to allow one to judge of the character of these heads. It is apparent that the column, the pilaster, and the face of the rock have been covered with stucco and coloured; and this is most manifest in the latter, where a broad fascia of the usual deep red colour has run along the bottom. The portico seems to have consisted of four columns, but not equally distant from one another, being coupled at the two ends, so as to leave a wider space between the two pairs than between each column and its fellow. The pediment is too much injured to allow one to  p492 judge it there has been sculpture in it; but the soffit of that part which remains is decorated with medallions. The whole monument is elevated on a base, without any traces of steps, and must have had an imposing appearance when perfect; whilst in its ruin, decorated as it is with the trees which grow out of the crevices, and have partly occasioned its destruction, it presents one of the most picturesque objects which my portfolio contains."16

The style of this monument marks it as of no very early date, and it is probably of the time of Roman domination in Etruria. No tomb is seen below it, because the passage to it is not cleared out; yet there can be no doubt of its sepulchral character. This portico seems but a small portion of a much mightier monument; in truth it is highly probable, from the traces of art on the adjoining rocks, that there has been on this spot, as Mr. Ainsley observes, "an union of objects of architectural grandeur, not to be seen in any other part of Etruria."17


[image ALT: An engraving of a more or less square stone wall with some low-relief carved mouldings, and capped with a squat, roughly anvil-shaped stone. It is the façade of an Etruscan tomb at Sovana, Tuscany (central Italy).]
Façade of tomb at Sovana

The height in which the Grotta Pola lies is called Poggio Stanziale. In the same line of cliffs are many tombs in curious variety. Some are purely Egyptian in outline and mouldings, as shown in the annexed woodcut. Some are surmounted by two long masses of rock, as a pedestal for a figure or cippus, but in most of it is of more artificial form. In some of the façades are two or three long body-niches, recessed one above the other; which must be of subsequent formation to the monuments, and may be of Christian date.

But the most remarkable sepulchres in this part of the necropolis are what may be termed house-tombs, as they are detached masses of rock hewn into the form of houses. They have a sort of portico in antis, in one instance flanked by pilasters with simple capitals, and surmounted by pediments, with a cornice below, and the beam-end of the roof above, in obvious imitation of wood-work. The house-character is seen also more clearly in the roof, which in one instance is rounded, and ribbed with parallel ridges, like joint-tiles, apparently in representation of a hut arched over with hoops, and covered with skins;​18 indeed, there is much primitive character in  p494 these tombs, and they recall the singular hut-urns of the Alban Mount. In this instance, there is a moulded door within the portico, indicating the entrance to the abode.

One of these house-tombs has its pediment decorated with a colossal head, in high relief, of very bold and imposing character. It represents the Etruscan Typhon, or Principle of Destruction, and has long serpent-locks, one of his usual attributes.​19 The soffit of the portico is coffered with a diamond pattern.

As types of Etruscan domestic architecture, these tombs of Sovana have a peculiar interest. That most of the other monuments on this and kindred sites, which have moulded doors in their façades, represent dwellings there can be little doubt; but these few in question are too palpably imitations to admit of a moment's scepticism. I know no other instances of gabled tombs in Etruria, save one at Bieda, which does not bear so close an analogy to a house, except in having the sepulchral chamber within the body of the monument, instead of beneath it, as in those just described. No Etruscan necropolis more truly merits that name, or has the character of a "city of the dead" more strongly expressed in its monuments, than this of Sovana.20

 p495  In the cliff below the town opposite the Fontana, is a singular tomb with a vaulted roof, with something like a large Maltese cross in relief. The inner wall is recessed like the apsis of a church, and there are niches around the chamber.

The tombs described are the most remarkable among the countless numbers around Sovana. The glens on the east of the town are also full of sepulchres, but of more ordinary character — simple chambers surrounded by rock-hewn benches, without decoration, inside or out. It might be inferred that there was some separation of classes in this necropolis — that in these glens lay the commune vulgus, while at the west-end were interred the patrician and sacerdotal dead of Sovana.

I agree with Mr. Ainsley in consider in general the monuments in this necropolis to be generally less archaic in character than those of Castel d'Asso and Norchia, saving the temple-tombs on the latter site, though there is by no means an appearance of uniform antiquity. At the same time there is here a much larger number of cliff-hewn sepulchres than on any other Etruscan site; and a far greater variety of architectural decoration. Nowhere are the mouldings so singular and so varied; for they show the characteristics widely remote countries, and of very different ages. Egypt, Greece, Etruria, and Rome, have all their stamp here expressed.​21 In the general character of its sepulchres there is here the same variety; for to its own peculiar features Sovana unites the characteristics of other Etruscan cemeteries widely distant from it, and from one another. Norchia, Bieda, Castel d'Asso, Falleri, Sutri, Cervetri — all find here their representatives. Yet I did not perceive  p496 one tumulus like those of Tarquinii, Vulci, and Cervetri. Nowhere are sepulchral niches in greater abundance and variety.​22 There are niches for urns, and niches for bodies — the large conical niches, surmounted by small ones, so common at Civita Castellana — shelf-niches in double or triple tiers — port-hole niches, and loop-hole niches — and of columbaria there are as many as on any other site, except Sorano. Nowhere, moreover, are inscriptions on the exterior of the monuments so abundant; and of the Poggio Prisca and Sopraripa it may almost be said —

nullum est sine nomine saxum.

Nearly every rock here speaks Etruscan.23

The neighbourhood of Sovana abounds in ancient roads cut through the tufo. The most remarkable of these are to the 29, behind the Madonna del Sebastiano, where two ways are ut through the rock up to the level of the plain. They are not more than eight or ten feet wide, though about seventy or eighty feet deep, and the thin strip of sky overhead is almost shut out by overshadowing trees. Traces of a few tombs, and water-channels, indicate the Etruscan origin of these clefts. The profound perpetual gloom of these mediterranean roads has invested them with a superstitious awe, and no Sovanese ventures to enter the Cave di San Sebastiano without signing the cross and committing himself to the care of the Virgin and his favourite saint. The Virgin is within hearing, for her shrine stands at the foot of the slope; and she is reminded of her tutelary duties by a prayer inscribed on the portico. "Santa Maria! proteggete Sovana, ຠte devota!"

 p497  Sovana presents a new field to the excavator. The tombs in the cliffs have been rifled ages since; but the plain above must also be full of sepulchres, to which the spade and mattock are the only keys. The richness of architectural decoration in this necropolis seems to augur a corresponding wealth of sepulchral furniture; but this remains to be proved by Campanari, François, and Co.

Such is the necropolis of Sovana, such the treasures it offers to the antiquary. Let no one who feels interest in the past, enter this district of Etruria without paying it a visit. It is better worth a pilgrimage than one half of known Etruscan sites. In point of sepulchres, what is there at Falleri — what at Castel d'Asso — what at Toscanella — what at Bieda — to rival its interest? In exterior attractions, its tombs will bear comparison with those of any other necropolis in Southern Etruria; even Norchia cannot surpass it. everything, however, be it remembered, yields in interest to the "shadow-peopled caves" of Tarquinii and Chiusi.

Sovana may be reached from three sides; from the east, leaving the high-road to Siena at Acquapendente, or S. Lorenzo; from the west by the road from Orbetello through Manciano; and from the south, from Montalto or Toscanella, through Farnese, Ischia or Valentano; and it should always be borne in mind that Pitigliano, not Sovana, is the point directly to be aimed at, as the latter is utterly destitute of accommodation, and at the former "the Baby" welcomes the traveller with open arms.


Note I. — Mouldings of Tombs at Sovana.

[image ALT: missingALT]

It must be understood that these mouldings are those of the façades of tombs, seen in profile, varying from 12 to 20 or 25 feet in height. The upper part recessed in figs. 5 and 6, is the pedestal of the cippus or statue which surmounted the tomb; it is shown in the woodcut at page 493. The lower member of the cornices in figs. 1, 3, 5, 6 is dentilled. These mouldings are unlike those on any other Etruscan site; and probably have their counterparts in no other land; though certain of them have a strong Egyptian character. The most singular is that of fig. 4; and next, perhaps, fig. 2. But further comment from an unprofessional man is uncalled for. I give these mouldings rather in the hope of exciting curiosity in the unstudied subject of Etruscan architecture, than with any expectation of satisfying it.

 p499  Note II. — Etruscan Inscriptions.

The inscriptions at Sovana, though unusually numerous, are in many case quite illegible, owing to the decay of the surface of the monument on which they are carved. The tufo here is of a deep red hue, which indurates better perhaps than the lighter sorts, but it is filled with large lumps of carbon, which, decaying sooner than the earthy matter by exposure to the weather, leaves holes in the surface of the rock. There are other difficulties in the way of making correct transcripts of these inscriptions. Unless the sun fall on the façade, it is often impossible to read from below, and the inscription must be felt — in all cases the surest means of arriving at accuracy; for the finger can distinguish the indentation formed by the chisel from that effected by accidental causes, and thus will often correct the eye. But to reach with the hand letters which are generally at the upper part of the façade of a smooth-faced monument, is not always an easy matter. Often have I reclined on the top of a tomb, with my body hanging half over its face, clinging for support to some projection of the rock, or some friendly bough, while I endeavoured, too frequently in vain, to feel my way through an inscription or bas-relief; and often, as at Sovana, have I been forced to assume a more perilous position, standing on tip-toe, spread-eagled against the front of the monument, with nothing to save me from the yawning pit at my feet, some thirty or forty feet deep, but the ledge of rock on which I stood, only two or three inches wide, and ever slippery with moisture, and the grasp of one hand on the angle of the façade, or in some shallow hole in the smooth-hews tufo. Yet thus have I hung many a while,

"Spelling out scrolls of dread antiquity."

The inscriptions instead of being, as at Castel d'Asso, on the principal fascia of the cornice, are here invariably under the cornice, as shown at page 493.

The inscription within the arch of La Fontana has already been give on page 487, and in its Etruscan form is seen in the illustration of that monument at the head of this Chapter.

On a tomb, in the same line of cliffs, I read "THPNSEHVRINE," which is but a fragment.

On the next tomb is —

[image ALT: missingALT]

Or, in Roman letters, "Thestia: Velthurna . . . necna."  p500 The first letter in the lower line is doubtful; the former part of it may be a natural indentation in the rock, and the rest may have been an "L". The inscription is the epitaph of a female, Thestia. Her gentilitial name Velthurna is equivalent to Volturna, or Voltumna, the great goddess of the Etruscans. Leona is the Etruscan form of Licinia.

On another tomb, hard by, is —

[image ALT: missingALT]

or "Ecasuthilathi alcilnia," which I would divide thus, "Eca Suthi Lathial (for Larthial) Cilnia." The latter word is the great Etruscan gens, so celebrated in the annals of Arretium, and to which Maecenas belonged; though it is not generally so written in Etruscan, but is metamorphosed into Cvelne, Cvenle, or Cvenles —

[image ALT: missingALT]

See the Chapter on Siena. The strange star above this inscription has been conjectured by an antiquary of celebrity to be a numeral.

In the Sopraripa is a tomb with "sa rantha," which is probably but a fragment. Rantha or Ramtha is an Etruscan female name.

Of one inscription I could only trace the letters . . "thra" . . and of another of two lines, only "lartha" was distinguishable.

In the Poggio Stanziale, near the house-tombs, I read this fragment, "trias.p. ." On an adjoining monument is the simple word "cal," which formed the entire inscription.

In the same line of cliff this epigraph — "cetc evel.nes." The letters, however, are by no means distinct. If, as Mr. Ainsley reads it, there be no stop before the last syllable, we have cevelnes, which betrays a strong affinity to the Cvelnes, or Cvenles, mentioned above, and strengthens the probability of the great Cilnian gens having been located at Suana, as well as at Arretium.

The Author's Notes:

1 I give the current story, which I believe, however, to have been disproved as regards the discoverer, — a description of the temples having been published at Naples, by Antonini, in his work on Lucania, ten years before the date assigned to the painter's discovery, which was 1755. See Delagardette, Ruines de Paestum, p15. It is at least established that those marvels of Greek art have only been known to Europe for about a century.

2 Bull. Inst. 1843, p159; Gentleman's Mag., Oct. 1843, p419.

3 Similar traces of ancient roads in Greece are supposed to have been formed purposely, the ruts or furrows being channelled in the rock to facilitate the passage of vehicles, on the principle of tram-roads, — forming, in fact, a sort of stone railway. Mure's Tour in Greece, II. p251. How far they may be of intentional construction, and how far the result of reiterated transit, in any particular case, can only be determined by careful examination. The softer character of the rock in Etruria renders it still more difficult to form a satisfactory opinion; but ancient roads indicated by parallel ruts, cut or worn in the tufo, are of very common occurrence.

4 Repetti v. Soana.

5 It would be interesting to trace the cause of its unhealthiness. It cannot be entirely owing to its situation in the plain, for it is raised about 960 feet above the level of the sea; yet Pitigliano, which stands some 150 feet higher, is comparatively free from malaria, and Sorano, on still loftier ground,º is always healthy. The evil would seem to be in its peculiar locality, for other sites on much lower ground, and nearer the sea, are only "suspected" of, not infected by, malaria.

6 Pliny (III.8)º mentions the Suanenses. Ptol. Geog. p72, ed. Bert.

7 Repetti always speaks of it as Soana; but in the country it is generally called Sovana — which is more consistent with the Italian mode of corrupting Latin names, as exemplified in Mantova, Padova, Genova — and with the vulgar tendency to insert v. — Pávolo for Paolo

8 The hole in the rock at the top of the recess, shown in the woodcut at the head of this chapter, has given rise to this name, but it is evidently the result of mere accident.

9 The inscription is in letters ten inches high. Though much defaced, it appears to be a proper name, and in Roman letters would be


10 The sepulchral chamber to which this monument is the tomb-stone, is entered by a passage opening in the hill-side, at an unusual depth below the façade. It is spacious, but empty, and in no way remarkable.

11 It is divided into metopes, and what resemble triglyphs in outline, but not being channelled, are not entitled to the name; there are no guttae.

12 Mr. Ainsley took her robes to be wings, and in truth the resemblance is not slight, and the analogy of similar figures on Etruscan urns, leads you to expect wings; but here, the folds of the drapery are distinctly seen covering the left arm. She holds no instrument in her hand, as usual in such figures.

13 Mr. Ainsley's descriptions of this monument will be found in Bull. Inst. 1843, p157. Gentleman's Mag., Oct. 1843, p418; Ann. Inst. 1843, pp227‑229. His drawing, plan, and section of the same, are published in the Mon. Ined. Inst. III. tav. LVI. What difference exists between his observations on this monument and mine (Ann. Inst. 1843, p234) is explained by the seasons in which we respectively visited the spot. The shade of the summer foliage must have greatly impeded his investigation; while I found the tomb exposed to the full glare of a vernal sun.

The dimensions of La Fontana are:— Width at the base 17 ft. Height to the apex of the pediment about 17 feet — the height to the frieze being 10 feet, and that of the pediment 7 feet. Height of frieze 18 inches; its projection 8 inches. The recess is 8 feet 9 inches in height; 7 feet 5 inches in width at the bottom; and varying in depth from 3 feet 8 inches below, to 2 feet 8 inches above. There is a sort of buttress of rock on each side of the arch, now much defaced; which Mr. Ainsley suggests may have supported figures of lions, or some other decorative sculpture. There are similar buttresses attached to a tomb at Castel d'Asso. See Chapter XV. p237. Steps anciently cut in the rock by the side of the monument lead to the summit of the cliff; as shown in the wood-cut at page 480.

14 In the Sopraripa is a monument with a recessed arch, as in the Fontana, but without inscription or sculptured pediment; and in the cliffs on the opposite side of the glen, such an arch contains a sepulchral column or cippus, hewn out of the rock; and it is probable that all these arched recesses held cippi, portable in some cases, fixtures in others.

15 An instance is shown in the woodcut at the head of this Chapter. Such steps as these are regarded by Orioli (ap. Inghir. Mon. Etrus. IV.p181) as a proof that the Etruscans had an external staircase, leading from one story to another of their houses. But it would be fairer to infer that such staircases led to the roofs of their abodes.

16 Bull. Inst. 1843, p155; and Gentleman's Mag., Oct. 1843, p418. I can add little to this accurate description; yet as I am the only traveller who, beside Mr. Ainsley, has visited the spot, it may be well to remark, that I am by no means certain that the decorations of the column and pilaster represent human heads. The surface of the tufo, out of which the entire monument is hewn, is so decayed, that it is difficult to determine the point, but to my eye there was some resemblance to large pinecones, a common sepulchral emblem among the Etruscans; yet analogy would rather favour the heads. See Bull. Inst. 1830, p136; Mon. Ined. Inst. II. tav. XX. No volutes are now remaining in these capitals, and it can only be from analogy that Mr. Ainsley deems them to have existed. Mr. Ainsley's accurate plans and sections of this monument will be found in the Mon. Ined. Inst. III. tav. LV., and a further description in Ann. Inst. 1843, pp224‑7.

The dimensions of the portico, according to my measurement, are:— Height of the column and pilaster 15 feet 6 inches; of the capitals, 2 feet 6 inches; of the head, 1 foot 4 inches. Diameter of the column nearly 3 feet. Breadth of the pilaster, the same; its relief, 1 foot 6 inches. Distance between the capitals at the hypotrachelium, 3 feet 1 inch. The height of the podium, or base, varies from 7 to 8 feet. The portico is 7 feet deep; but its width is not easy to determine, owing to the injured state of the monument. Mr. Ainsley thinks it about 26 feet wide. Of the second column but a stump now exists; the intercolumniation is 2 feet 8 inches.

17 The rocks adjoining retain traces of the chisel and of stucco, and there is a wide artificial passage behind the monument, as shown in Mr. Ainsley's plan. Mon. Ined. Inst. III. tav. LV. fig. 6. One cornice is very distinct. I have little doubt that there has been a second portico adjoining, for I remarked traces of four columns, somewhat in advance of the Grotta Pola. This must have given the monument, in its original state, a very close analogy to the temple-tombs of Norchia.

18 There are traces also of antefixae at the extremities of these ridges, just as on many Etruscan urns and sarcophagi — that from Bomarzo, now in the British Museum, for instance, described at page 227. Orioli speaks of a tomb at Norchia roofed with cylindrical beams (Ann. Inst. 1833, p42), which must have much resembled this at Sovana; but I did not observe it.

19 Mr. Ainsley took these snake-locks for "flowing hair." I think he is mistaken. Nor could I perceive any signs of wings on the brows, which he fancied he perceived. The angles of the tympanum are filled with foliage, whose flowing and elegant character, as he remarks, seems to mark the monument as of a late epoch. He has given an elevation and section of this tomb in Mon. Ined. Inst. III. tav. LVII.1, 2. In size it is rather inferior to La Fontana, but the recess of the portico is much more spacious.

20 Orioli (ann. Inst. 1833, p41) conceived that the similar cemeteries of Norchia and Castel d'Asso represented cities in the mountains — each row of monuments imaging a street, and each sepulchre a dwelling — the whole, at the same time, having a symbolical reference, as the city of Mantus, Mania (the Pluto and Proserpine of the Etruscans) and the Manes. The tombs he further regarded as so many temples, where the deified spirits of the deceased — dii Manes — took up their abode, and received divine honours.

21 See the Appendix, Note I.

22 These niches have generally grooves in front for the upright slab which anciently closed them.

23 The inscriptions that are legible are given in the Appendix to this Chapter, Note II.

Thayer's Notes:

a It's hard to say whether the situation has improved or deteriorated. Vastly improved means of transportation have made travel, both to Italy from every part of the globe, and within Italy, far easier and more convenient; yet, far from knowing every monument on the high-road, it seems that today's tourists have only a very scant repertoire. In Tuscany for example, most will only be aware of Florence and Siena — meaning really only the Duomo and the Uffizi in the one, and the Duomo in the other — (oh and Pisa for that blasted tower), but even such phenomenal sights as Fiesole, the cathedral of Arezzo, the Roman theater of Volterra, or indeed the extraordinary Etruscan remains at Sovana that are the subject of this very chapter, might as well be on the back side of the Moon.

b This is a straight-line distance (and see my note in the previous chapter); as for seeing Sovana from Pitigliano, I don't think one can: at least I cannot remember seeing any other town at all from any of various vantage points in Pitigliano on top of its hill.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 18 Jul 02