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Bill Thayer

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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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 p410  Chapter LIV


Reliquias veterumque vides monumenta virorum.

— Virgil.

These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
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Scenic beauties  — Chianciano  — The Casuccini collection  — Montepulciano  — Etruscan relics in the Palazzo Buccelli  — The Manna of Montepulciano  — Val di Chiana  — Royal farms and cattle  — Etruscan tombs

From Sarteano to Chianciano it is a drive of seven miles amid glorious scenery. This range of heights, indeed the whole district of Chiusi, is prodigal in charms — an earthly paradise. There are so many features of beauty, that those which are wanting are not missed. Here are hill and vale, rock and wood, towns and castles on picturesque heights, broad islet-studded lakes, and ranges of Alpine snow and sublimity; and if the ocean be wanting, it has no unapt substitute in the vast vale or plain of Chiana — a sea of fertility and luxuriance; while all is warmed and enriched by the glowing sun of Italy, and canopied by a vault of that heavenly blue, that

Dolce color d'oriental zaffiro,

which reflects beauty on everything beneath it. It is the sort of scenery which wins rather than imposes, whose grandeur lies in its totality, not in particular features, where sublimity takes you not by storm, but retires into an element of the beautiful.

Chianciano, like Sarteano, stands on the brow of a hill, girt with corn,º vines and olives — a proud site, lording it over the wide vale of the Chiana, and the twin lakes of Chiusi and Montepulciano. It is a neat town of about  p411 two thousand souls, and is much resorted to in summer, for the hot springs in its neighbourhood. Here are two little inns, kept by Faenzi and Sporazzini; in neither will the traveller have much occasion to complain.

There are no local remains of high antiquity at Chianciano, yet it seems very probable, both from the nature of its position, and from the discovery of numerous sepulchres in the neighbourhood, that an Etruscan town occupied this site. In truth the modern name is indicative of the ancient appellation.​1 Many Etruscan tombs have been opened at a spot called Volpajo, near the mound of I Gelli, half a mile from Chianciano.2

The only gentleman who at present makes excavations in this necropolis is the Signor Carlo Casuccini, cousin of the Casuccini of Chiusi. From the collection in his possession, I learned that besides the peculiar black ware of this district — the ciste mistiche, the focolari, and cock-crowned jars — vases painted in the finest Hellenic style are sometimes brought to light, together with bronzes of various descriptions. I remarked a novelty in a steel dagger, with a ring at the hilt, for fixing it like a bayonet to a pole.3

 p412  Chianciano is only four miles from Montepulciano. The road skirts the brow of the hills, which are covered with oak-woods; about half-way it crosses the Acqua Boglia, a sulphureous and ferruginous spring; and, on the approach to Montepulciano, passes a bare, conical hill, called Poggio Tutoni, or Tutona — a name, which from its affinity to the Tutni or Tutna, often found in Etruscan inscriptions in this district, appears to be very ancient.4

Montepulciano is a city of some three thousand inhabitants, girt by walls of the middle ages, and cresting a lofty height at the northern extremity of this range of hills. It is built on so steep a slope, that it would seem the architects of the Cathedral had leagued with the priests to impose a perpetual penance on the inhabitants by placing it at the summit of the town. The most interesting building is the church of San Biagio, without the walls, a modern edifice after the designs of Sangallo, which owes its existence to a miracle of a Madonna, who is recorded to have winked "her most holy eyes" at two washerwomen, in so fascinating a manner as to bring even a herd of cattle to their knees before her image.

Montepulciano is supposed to be an Etruscan site. Its situation and the remains discovered in its neighbourhood, favour this opinion. Some have ascribed its foundation to Porsena;​5 others more modestly have regarded it as the  p413 Arretium Fidens of Pliny,​6 or as the Ad Novas of the Peutingerian Table.​7 The earliest record we have of it is in the year 715 after Christ, when it was called Castellum Politianum.​8 Its ancient name must remain a matter of conjecture, till fortune favours us with some local description, throwing light on the subject. No vestiges of ancient walls are now extant, nor are there any tombs around the town. The only evidence of antiquity is in the collection of monuments, Etruscan and Latin, discovered in the vicinity, and preserved in the Palazzo Buccelli.​9 Here are sepulchral inscriptions, and reliefs from sarcophagi and urns, embedded in the façade — a prodigal display of antiquarian wealth, which is lost on the eyes of the natives, but has the advantage of attaching the relics to the spot. In the reliefs are centaurs, gorgons, souls on horseback — but nothing of extraordinary interest. Some  p414 of the inscriptions are remarkable for having Etruscan names in Roman letters,​10 as —



A . . . ABASSA

Let not the traveller omit to pay his devoirs to the liquid "manna of Montepulciano," the monarch of Tuscan, if not of all other wines, as Bacchus and Redi have pronounced it —

"Montepulciano d'ogni vino è il Rè."

Hark to the extatic jolliness of the god! —

"Sweet Ariadne —
Fill me the manna of Montepulciano!
Fill me a magnum, and reach it me. — Gods!
How it slides to my heart by the sweetest of roads!
Oh, how it kisses me, tickles me, bites me!
Oh, how my eyes loosen sweetly in tears!
I'm ravish'd! I'm rapt! Heaven finds me admissible!
Lost in an ecstasy! blinded! invisible!
Hearken all earth!
We, Bacchus, in the might of our great mirth
To all who reverence us, and are right thinkers; —
Hear, all ye drinkers!
Give ear and give faith to our edict divine —
Montepulciano's the king of all wine."

Montepulciano commands a most extensive view of the vale of the Chiana, which, after lying in confined luxuriance between this range and the triple paps of Chiusi, here swells out and unfolds its beauties in a wide expanse of fertility; stretching northward to the walls of Arezzo and the tower-crowned height of Cortona; and eastward beyond the twin lakes, to the broad and bright-bosomed  p415 Thrasymene, and to the very base of hoary Apennines. This was for ages a dreadful swamp, proverbial for pestilence;

"But that is past, and now the zephyr brings
Health in its breath, and gladness on its wings."

It is now one of the most fertile tracts in Europe, scarcely less healthy than the heights around it. This surprising change, which had been aimed at in vain for two centuries, has been effected in the last sixty years by filling up the swamp with alluvial deposits;​11 and instead of slime and putrid water, it now overruns with oil and wine, and all the wealth of a southern soil, and in place of the fish and wild-fowl, for which it was famed of old,​12 are milk-white oxen, fair as the steers of Clitumnus, and flocks of sheep, tended by dark-eyed Chloes and Delias, who sit spinning by the road-side.

A great portion of the plain belongs to the Grand Duke, who has a small palace at Bettolle, eleven miles from Montepulciano, and much of the land is parcelled off into small poderi or farms, all built on one plan, and titled and numbered like papers in a cabinet. In appearance the plain is much like Lombardy, the produces are similar, the fertility equal, the road almost as level. The traveller who would journey across it to Arezzo may find accommodation at Bettolle or Fojano.13

 p416  Every one must be struck with the beauty of the cattle on these royal farms. They are either purely white or tinged with grey, which in the sun has quite a lilac bloom; and their eyes are so large, soft, and lustrous, that one ceases to wonder that Juno was called "ox-eyed," or that Europa eloped with a bull.

At various spots in the Val di Chiana,​b Etruscan tombs have been found; and it would seem that some of the eminences which vary its surface, must have been occupied in ancient times by towns, or villages, though much of the low ground was under water.14

The Author's Notes:

1 The derivation from Chiana (Clanis) is very obvious; but the very name of this town has been found in an Etruscan inscription, which contains that also of Clusium — Clunsia." The form in which it occurs is Clanicianisth." Mus. Chius. II p222. This is probably an adjective, the last syllable answering, it may be, to the Latin adjectival termination, — estis — as à coelo, coelestisab agro, agrestis — an inflexion common also in modern Italian.

2 Among the antique treasure here brought to light was a large vase, containing no less than seven axe-heads, and forty-three spades, of bronze, weighing altogether 100 lbs. Bull. Inst. 1830, p63; 1831, p38. These were, till lately, in the possession of the Signori Conti of Chianciano. In the same neighbourhood, at a spot called Le Fornaci, was found, half a century since, the remains of an ancient factory of vases and tiles, of Roman times, belonging to a certain L. Gellius. On two of the tiles was inscribed the name of that Sisenna, who was consul in the year of Rome 769, sixteen years after Christ; but though of so late a date the word is written from right to left, in the Etruscan style. Bull. Inst. 1832, p33.

3 In the neighbourhood of Chianciano (p412)has been found one of the rare bilingual inscriptions, in Etruscan and Latin. The former would run thus in Roman letters —


which is translated by


See Bull. Inst. 1841, p14, cf. p80. The last letter in the second word of the Etruscan epitaph, was probably T, a character which in the Etruscan may easily be mistaken for an U.

4 In the Museo Chiusino (II. pp124, 133, 226) will be found Etruscan inscriptions with this family-name; and I have observed them both at Chiusi and Cetona.

5 Auctores ap. Dempster. Etrur. Reg. II. p422.

6 Dempster. II. p423.

7 Cluver. II p569; Cramer, Ancient Italy, I p247. If this be the case, the VIIII of the Table is probably a miscopy of XIIII; but Montepulciano seems to lie off the direct road.

North of Clusium the Tables give us the following stations, on the ancient Via Cassia.

Antonine Itinerary

Ad Statuas XII
Arretium XXV

Ad Fines, sive

Casas Caesarianas

Florentiam XXV
Pistorium XXV
Lucam XXV

Peutingerian Table

Ad Novas VIIII
Ad Graecos VIIII
Ad Joglandem XII
Bituriha X
Ad Aquileia XIIII
Florentia Tuscorum  —
Arnum fl.  —
In Portu IIII
Valuata XVII
Pisis VIII

From Clusium a second road ran more to the west to Sena, and apparently to Florentia, according to the same Table; but the distances are very incorrect.

Ad Novas VIIII
Manliana VIII
Ad Mensulas XVIII
Umbro fl. XVI
Sena Julia VI
Ad Sextum XVI

8 Repetti, III. p465.

9 Gori, Mus. Etrus. I. tab. 191‑5; Lanzi, II. p269; Inghirami, Mon. Etrus. I p14.

10 Those in the native character mention the families of Varna (Varius), Trespu (Trebius), Tlesna or Tresna (Telesinus), Latini (Latinus), Seianti (Sejanus), Velthur (Veturius), Pethni, &c., but the greater part belong to the families of Lecne (Licinius) and Tetina (Titinius).

11 In the Roman portion of the Val di Chiana, the opposite system of draining has been pursued, and with little success. Repetti, I. p685. The Clanis or Chiana originally fell into the Tiber, but is now made to fall into the Arno. This change in its course was contemplated as long since as the reign of Tiberius; but the Florentines of that day sent a deputation to Rome deprecating such a change on the ground that their lands would be flooded and destroyed; and the project was abandoned. Tacit. Annal. I.79.

12 The λίμνη περὶ Κλούσιον of Strabo (V. p226) must refer to this swamp, then under water, rather than to either of the small lakes near the town, which were probably hardly distinguishable.

13 Montepulciano is 13 miles from Chiusi by the direct road, 7 from Pienza, 18 or 19 from Cortona, and 32 or 33 from Arezzo. A so‑called diligence runs to the latter city several times a week. (p416)There is a good road through Pienza to San Quirico, 13 or 14 miles distant, on the high-road from Rome to Siena and Florence; and there is another road to Siena by Asinalunga​a1 and Asciano.

14 Near Asinalunga,​a2 and also on a hill near the farm of Fonte Rotella, tombs have been found with curious articles in bronze. Bull. Inst. 1834, p200; 1835, p126. Near Lucignano, in some hills, called "Poggi Grassi," or "delle Belle Donne," a Roman urn of marble and some red Aretine vases have been discovered. Bull. Inst. 1832, p54. And also at the foot of the "Poggio de' Morti," or "Dead Men's Hill," some Etruscan urns, of the families of "Spurina" and "Thurice," with female ornaments of gold and silver, and painted vases in the latest and best style, have been brought to light. Bull. Inst. 1843, pp37, 38; cf. Micali, Mon. Ined. p213, tav. XXXV.2. At Marciano, a village on the heights by the road-side, a few miles from Fojano, tombs have been opened, containing numerous urns. Bull. Inst. 1830, p202.

Thayer's Notes:

a1 a2 The official modern spelling is Sinalunga; historically, though, Asinalunga was the name of the town was for many centuries, deriving not from asinus, "donkey", but probably from ad sinum longum, "near the long creek".

b the Val di Chiana: Also seen spelled in one word, Valdichiana.

Page updated: 5 Nov 18