SSince childhood, Martina Canuti has been descending the steep hill adjacent to the Tuscan town of San Casciano dei Bagni, known by the inhabitants as the “holy mountain”, to bathe in two ancient hot springs famous for their healing benefits. .
Little did he know that just a few meters away was a sanctuary built by the Etruscans in the second century BC, containing treasures that could change the fate of the relatively isolated town of 1,400 people near Siena.
“We also used to gather at the fountains for parties,” Canuti said. “It’s strange to think that these treasures are so close, but then again, we’ve always wondered why nothing relevant has ever been found. It is an area rich in spas built by the Etruscans and Romans, and many remains have been found in nearby towns, so why not in San Casciano dei Bagni?’
The mayor of the city, Agnese Carletti, was also interested. With financial support from the government and private donors, he helped carry out an archaeological project that led to the discovery of 24 bronze statues, mostly dedicated to gods, buried in mud and hot water in the ruins of a network of thermal springs. it was a place of worship for both Etruscans and Romans.
“It’s like we found oil,” Carletti said. “Maybe all these gods are bringing us good luck now.” He said he hoped the find would boost tourism in a city facing economic challenges due to population decline.
Bronzes are the greatest discovery of their kind Italy – includes a recumbent ephebe with a snake wrapped around her arm lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, and a statue dedicated to Apollo, the god of the sun and light.
The sculptures, which experts say were commissioned by wealthy families in the region, decorated the outside of the oval-shaped baths before being submerged in a ceremony believed to have originated in the first century AD.
During the excavations, 6,000 coins were found along with a number of vows. These include small figurines depicting the palm of a hand holding money, genitalia, a pair of breasts, and a child wrapped in swaddling clothes to be offered to gods and holy waters in hopes of conception or general good luck.
Dr. Jacopo Tabolli, associate professor at the University of the Foreigners in Siena, is leading the project, which residents have lovingly likened to a project that could have been carried out by Indiana Jones.
He said the shrine remained active until the 5th century AD, which was further enriched during the Roman era when it was visited by emperors, including Augustus, but was not destroyed during the Christian era. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars, and the divine statues rested in water rich in minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
“This water was considered great for the liver, to treat facial pain, to help fertility,” Tabolli said. “There were many ritual practices associated with pregnancy, so the theme of childbirth was extremely important. But it was not necessarily drinking water because it was poisonous.”
Tabolli said that Etruscan and Roman inscriptions were also found in the area, and that the works discovered so far are an important evidence of the transition between two historical periods, and that the baths are considered a haven of peace.
The Christian era put paid to the site being used for pagan rites, but the baths near the shrine and others around the Tuscan countryside attracted visitors from all over. Europe During the Renaissance.
In 1585, the Medici built a structure on the site and excavations uncovered remains, including altars, which were later brought to the nearby Fontaverde Roman Baths, where the Florentine banking family built a palace and today is a five-star health resort. resort
Fontaverde has captured most of the hot spring glory so far, but the discoveries in San Casciano dei Bagni are causing a buzz in the town. The remains will be recovered and further research will be carried out over the next few months and will eventually be housed in a museum to be created in a 16th-century building recently purchased by the Italian Ministry of Culture.
More treasures are expected to be found after the excavations are resumed next summer, and the site will eventually become an archaeological park.
Bathing in the thermal springs under the light of the full moon on Thursday, the presence of the adjacent fortified archaeological delights also came as a surprise to Sabrina Lepri, a visitor from Perugia.
“I was wondering what was behind the fence,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for 25 years, I love the springs for their natural wildness. Every time I get out of the shower, my skin feels incredible, like I’ve had a massage. I hope the newfound fame doesn’t change much.”
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