yesince a child, Martina Canuti has ventured down the steep hill that flanks the Tuscan town of San Casciano dei Bagni, known to residents as “the holy mountain,” to take a dip in the two ancient hot springs famed for their therapeutic benefits . .
He did not know that a few meters away there was a sanctuary built by the Etruscans in the 2nd century BC. C., containing a treasure trove of treasures that could now reverse the fate of this relatively isolated town of 1,400 near Siena.
“We also used to get together at the springs for parties,” Canuti said. “It is strange to think that these treasures were so close, but we were always curious as to why nothing relevant had ever been found. This is an area rich in spas built by Etruscans and Romans, and many relics have been found in nearby towns, so why not San Casciano dei Bagni?
Agnese Carletti, the mayor of the town, was also curious. With the support of government funds and private donors, he helped launch an archaeological project that led to the discovery of 24 bronze statues, mostly dedicated to gods, buried by mud and boiling water in the ruins of a network of thermal sources. it had been a place of worship for both the Etruscans and the Romans.
“It’s like we’ve found oil,” Carletti said. “Perhaps all these gods are now bringing us good fortune.” She said she hoped the find would spark a tourism boost in a city facing economic challenges due to depopulation.
The bronzes – the largest discovery of its kind in Italy – included a sleeping ephebe lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm, and a statue dedicated to Apollo, the god of sun and light.
The statues, which experts say were commissioned by wealthy families in the area, once adorned the rim of oval-shaped baths before being plunged into the water in a ceremony believed to have taken place in the 1st century AD.
Excavations have also unearthed 6,000 coins, along with a number of votive objects. These include small figurines depicting the palm of a hand holding money, a penis, a pair of breasts, and a swaddled child who would have been offered to the gods and holy water in the hope of bringing conception or general good luck.
The project, which residents have fondly compared to one that might have been carried out by Indiana Jones, is led by Dr. Jacopo Tabolli, an assistant professor at the Siena University for Foreigners.
He said that the sanctuary, which grew more opulent during the Roman period, when it was frequented by emperors such as Augustus, remained active until the fifth century AD, before being closed, but not destroyed, during the Christian era. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars, while divine statues were left in the water, which was rich in minerals, including calcium and magnesium.
“This water was considered excellent for the liver, to treat facial pain, to help with fertility,” said Tabolli. “There was a lot of ritual practice related to pregnancy, so the issue of birth was extremely important. But it was definitely not drinking water, as it is poisonous.”
Etruscan and Roman inscriptions have also been found at the site, and Tabolli said the artifacts discovered so far represent important testimony to the transition between the two historical periods, and the baths are considered a haven of peace.
The Christian era ended the use of the site for pagan rituals, but the baths next to the sanctuary and others scattered throughout the Tuscan countryside attracted visitors from all over the world. Europe during the Renaissance era.
In 1585, the Medici created a structure on the site and during excavations they found relics, including altars, which were later taken to the nearby Roman baths of Fontaverde, where the Florentine banking family built a palace, which is now a wellness center five star complex.
Fontaverde has captured most of the hot springs fame to date, but the discoveries at San Casciano dei Bagni are creating quite a stir in the city. The relics will be restored and further studies will be carried out in the coming months before they are finally housed in a museum to be created in a 16th-century building recently bought by the Italian culture ministry.
More treasures are expected to be discovered when excavations resume next summer, and the site will eventually become an archaeological park.
While bathing in the hot springs under the light of a full moon on Thursday, the existence of the adjacent roped-off archaeological delight also surprised Sabrina Lepri, a visitor from Perugia.
“I was wondering what was behind the fence,” he said. “I have been coming here for 25 years, I love springs because of their wild nature. Every time I get out of the bath my skin feels amazing, like I’ve been given a massage. I hope the newfound fame doesn’t change things too much.”
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