‘It’s as if we found oil’: Tuscan town savours discovery of spa trove | Italy

SSince she was a child, Martina Canuti has been diving down a steep hill near the town of San Cassiano dei Bagni, known as the “holy mountain” of the country’s inhabitants, to two ancient hot springs known for their therapeutic benefits. .

Little did he know that a few meters away was a sanctuary built by the Etruscans in the second century BC, which contained a treasure trove that could turn the fortunes of the relatively isolated town of 1,400 near Siena.

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“We also used to gather at the springs to party,” Canuti said. “It’s strange to think that these treasures were so close, but then we always wondered why nothing related was found. This is an area rich in spas built by the Etruscans and Romans, and so many relics have been found in nearby towns, so why not in San Cassiano dei Bagni? ?

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Mayor Agnese Carletti was also curious. With funding from the government and private donors, he helped launch an archaeological project that uncovered 24 bronze statues, mostly of deities, buried in mud and boiling water in the ruins of a hot spring network. It was a place of pilgrimage for both the Etruscans and the Romans.

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“It’s like we’ve found oil,” Carletti said. “Maybe all these gods brought us luck.” He said he hoped the find would boost tourism in the city, which has been struggling with depopulation and economic problems.

San Cassiano dei Bagni.
San Cassiano dei Bagni. Photo: Fani Curti / Getty Images / iStockphoto

The largest find of its kind in Italy, the bronze includes a statue of Apollo, the god of sun and light, with a sleeping ephebe lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm.

According to experts, the statues were commissioned by wealthy families in the area to adorn the rim of an oval bath before being immersed in a ceremony believed to have taken place in the 1st century AD.

In addition to bronze, more than 6,000 coins and numerous offerings, including small figurines, were found.
In addition to bronze, more than 6,000 coins and numerous offerings, including small figurines, were found. Photography: Beni Kulturali / Sintesi / Sipa / Rex / Shutterstock

During the excavations, 6,000 coins were also found, along with numerous offerings. These include small figurines of palms holding money, genitalia, a pair of breasts, and a child wrapped in a blanket that would be offered to gods and holy water for childbirth or general good luck.

The project, which residents have compared to Indiana Jones, is led by Dr. Jacopo Tabolli, assistant professor at the Foreign University of Siena.

Some bronzes from the site.
Some bronzes from the site. Photography: Beni Kulturali / Sintesi / Sipa / Rex / Shutterstock

According to him, the sanctuary, frequented by Emperor Augustus during Roman times, remained active until the 5th century AD and was not destroyed before it was closed during the Christian era. While the pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars, the divine statues remained in water rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium.

“This water was considered very good for curing liver and facial pains and for increasing fertility,” says Tabolli. “There were many rituals associated with pregnancy, so the theme of birth was very important. But it was definitely not potable water because it was poisonous.”

Etruscan and Roman inscriptions have also been found at the site, and Tabolli said that the finds so far are an important witness to the transition between two historical periods, and the baths are considered a haven of peace.

During the Christian era, the land was used for pagan rituals, but the baths and other places near the sanctuaries around the Tusna countryside attracted visitors from all over Europe during the Renaissance.

Excavations at the Etruscan-Roman sanctuary of San Cassiano dei Bagni.
Excavations at the Etruscan-Roman sanctuary of San Cassiano dei Bagni. Photography: Beni Kulturali / Sintesi / Sipa / Rex / Shutterstock

In 1585, the Medici built a building on the site, and during excavations they found relics, including an altar, which were later brought to the Roman baths near Fontaverde, where the Florentine banking family built a palace, which today is a five-star health resort. camp.

Fontaverde has received most of the fame for its hot springs so far, but the discoveries at San Cassiano dei Bagni are making the town buzz. The relics will be restored and further researched over the next few months before being placed in a museum to be created in a 16th-century building recently purchased by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

More treasures are expected when excavations resume next summer, and the site will eventually be turned into an archaeological park.

Bathing in the hot springs under the full moon on Thursday, the delights of the adjacent besieged archeology came as a surprise to Sabrina Lepri, a visitor from Perugia.

“I was wondering what was behind the fence,” he said. “I’ve been here for 25 years and I love the natural wilderness of the springs. Every time I take a shower, my skin feels amazingly massaged. Hopefully the newfound fame won’t change that much.”


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