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Poggio Civitate

Listed under Ancient Settlements in Tuscany, Italy.

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The trinket vendor finished setting out his wares and glanced up at the seated statue of the God on the ridge pole. Water still dripped from the lion's head drain spouts, and he smiled, knowing that the night's rain would keep the day cool despite the sun. Comfortable visitors buy more souvenirs. He heard a shout and turned, frowning at the swiftly advancing soldiers. When the first spear flew up into the sky, he grabbed what he could and fled, through the freshly rolled tiles set out to dry in the tile works, and into the woods...

This is all conjecture: The Etruscans left few written records, and nobody knows what the complex at Poggio Civitate, a hill south of Siena near the town of Murlo, was. However, the footprint our man left in an unfired roof tile is dramatic proof of the suddenness with which destruction came: life size terracotta statues of gods and sphinxes, roof tiles, frieze plaques with horse race and banquet scenes, pottery, jewelry, all was smashed and buried.

And so it remained until my father, who hoped to find an Etruscan town, began excavating Poggio Civitate in 1966. The first day a wall was discovered, but instead of being part of a house, it proved to be part of a huge, fabulously decorated early 5th century building. Over the years an earlier, Archaic complex (which appears to have simply burned down) emerged, as did kilns, a foundry, and tombs. Though many archaeologists have interpreted the site, by analogy with modern Tuscan estates, as the palace of a prince, my father thought otherwise. In ancient times princes had armies of both slaves and soldiers, and there are no traces of either at Poggio Civitate.

He finally decided the hill was the meeting place of a North Etruscan league of some sort. This would explain the site's wealth, because each member city would have contributed to its construction, and the absence of a garrison, because there would have been no need to defend what was owned by all. It would also explain why the hill is named Poggio Civitate, the hill of the cities, and the ritual nature of the complex's destruction, which my father suspected was carried out by Chiusi, who wanted to eliminate a political rival.

To be quite frank, the site itself is a long walk, and all that remains in the excavated areas are foot high dry mortar walls slowly being reclaimed by the forest. Murlo's museum, on the other hand, is fascinating. Built in the keep of what was once a fortress of the Bishop of Siena, and is now one of Tuscany's best preserved walled towns, it has an impressive reconstruction of the roof of the Poggio Civitate building, and you really do feel like an Etruscan as you look up at the sphinx on the ridge pole, or shrink back from the row of gorgon antefixes that hang off the ends of the tiles. There are also smaller objects, everything from delicate Greek vases to coarse earthenware colanders, bronzes, and tiny, exquisitely carved jewels, including a griffin that would look just fine in Cartier's.

Written by  seetuscany.

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