‘Extraordinary’ treasure of 24 ancient statues found submerged in Tuscan spa | Italy

“Extraordinary” bronze statues preserved for thousands of years by mud and hot water have been discovered in a network of Etruscan baths in Tuscany.

Among the 24 partially submerged sculptures, which date back 2,300 years and have been hailed as the most important find of their kind in the last 50 years, is a sleeping ephebe with a serpent wrapped around her arm, reclining next to Hygeia, the goddess of health.

Archaeologists found the statues during excavations at the ancient resort of San Casciano dei Bagni, near Siena. The state-of-the-art spa with 42 hot springs is close to the ancient site and is one of Italy’s most popular spa destinations.

A well-preserved statue lying in the mud.
The ancient Etruscan spa was developed by the Romans and visited by emperors including Augustus. Photo: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

Near Ephebe (usually a 17-18-year-old adolescent male) and Hygeia was a statue of Apollo and many others representing sailors, children, and emperors.

Believed to have been built by the Etruscans in the 3rd century BC, the baths, which contained fountains and altars, were made more opulent during Roman times, when emperors, including Augustus, frequented the springs for their health and medicinal benefits.

Along with 24 bronze statues, five of which are nearly a meter tall, archaeologists have found thousands of coins, as well as Etruscan and Latin inscriptions. Visitors are said to throw coins into the bath as a gesture of good luck for their health.

The remains are the most significant of their kind since two full-size Greek bronzes of bare-bearded warriors were found on the Calabrian coast near Riace in 1972, said Massimo Osanna, director general of museums at the Italian Ministry of Culture. “This is undoubtedly one of the most important discoveries of bronzes in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna told Italy’s Ansa news agency.

Partially submerged remains of an ancient structure with the bottom of a column visible.
The ancient resort functioned until the fifth century, when the pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars that archaeologists removed. Photo: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

The excavation project at San Casciano dei Bagni has been led by archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli since 2019. In August, several artifacts were found at the site, including fertility statues believed to have been used as offerings to the gods. Tabolli, a professor at the University of Siena Foreign Studies, called the latest discovery “absolutely unique”.

The Etruscan civilization flourished in Italy, mainly in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, 500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic. The Etruscans had a strong influence on Roman cultural and artistic traditions.

A preliminary analysis of 24 statues believed to have been made by local artists between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, as well as numerous votive offerings discovered at the site, suggests that the remains may have belonged primarily to elite Etruscan and Roman families, landowners, local lords, and Roman emperors.

Two archaeologists holding a statue of a boy.
The discovery of the well-preserved statues is considered to be the most significant of its kind in the last 50 years. Photo: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs, rich in minerals including calcium and magnesium, remained active until the fifth century, when they were closed during the Christian era, but did not disappear. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars, and divine statues rested in the holy water.

The treasure was found after archaeologists removed the cover. “This is the largest repository of ancient Italian sculptures and the only one where we can fully reconstruct their context,” Tabolli said.

Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s recently appointed culture minister, said the “exceptional discovery” reaffirmed that “Italy is a country full of enormous and unique treasures.”

The remains are an important evidence of the transition between the Etruscan and Roman periods, the baths are considered a haven of peace.

“Even outside, inside these pools and on these altars, during the historical periods of the most terrible conflicts, it seems that the two worlds, the Etruscan and Roman worlds, coexisted without problems,” said Tabolli.

Excavations at the site will resume next spring, and the winter period will be used to recover remains and conduct further research.

The artifacts will be housed in a 16th-century building recently purchased by the culture ministry in San Cassiano, near Florence. The place of ancient baths will be turned into an archaeological park.

“All these will be improved and adapted and can be another opportunity for the spiritual growth of our culture as well as the cultural industry of our country,” Sangiuliano said.

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