Etruscans at the 2015 Milan Expo

Etruscans at the 2015 Milan Expo Etruscan Corner

‘’2015 Year of the Etruscans’’ at the 2015 Milan Expo will be one of the initiatives hosted completely dedicated to the Etruscans and Etruria. This world event will be followed by all Italian provinces that lie amongst the wonderful landscapes of the ancient Etruscan territories. Each province is waiting excitedly for this world event, a unique opportunity to let visitors know about a region and a unique culture. Italy is usually visited and well-known by tourists for its cities of art, although there are areas such as Etruria rich in art, archaeological sites and natural treasures discovered but not yet fully known. In the 19th Century, the English explorer George Dennis visited Etruria and fascinated by these magical places wrote a wonderful book of his experience “The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria-1883“, where he describes all the Etruscan cities, the necropolis, and the monuments. A work of over a thousand pages, still considered today the Bible of the Etruscan Studies, which introduced the Etruscan culture to the British. The book, a masterpiece, has not yet been beaten by others for his detailed accuracy. This was the first modern exploration of the ancient Etruria. In the summer of 1842, accompanied by his friend, the artist Samuel Ainsley, arrived to Italy. From here the two men visited the cities of Tarquinia and Vulci, Tuscania, Bolsena, Montefiascone, Orvieto and Bomarzo. During autumn would pass by Isola Farnese, Veio, Sutri, Ronciglione, Castel d’Asso, Norchia, Blera. In the spring of 1843 they reached Cerveteri, Bracciano, Nepi, Falerii, Civita Castellana, Todi, Perugia, Siena, Volterra, Populonia, Sovana, Chiusi, Cortona, Florence, Arezzo and Fiesole. The exploration reached its best during the stay in the areas of Perugia and in Tuscia that at the time were centre of the most exciting discoveries. Taking notes and drawing scrupulously what the two explorers were experiencing resulted in a unique masterpiece, containing inestimable information accompanied by a veil of romantic emotion; unfortunately some of their descriptions disappeared. Dennis was in Canino exactly when Prince Lucien Bonaparte started his excavations of some of the tombs discovered in the area. His description this time will be full of anger, Dennis will live the rest of his days with the regret of not being able to have stopped the destruction that took place in front of his eyes:

At the mouth of the pit in which they were at work, sat the capo, or overseer—his gun by his side, as an in terrorem hint to his men to keep their hands from picking and stealing. “We found them on the point of opening a tomb. The roof, as is frequently the case in this light, friable tufo, had fallen in, and the tomb was filled with earth, out of which the articles it contained had to be dug in detail. This is generally a process requiring great care and tenderness, little of which, however, was here used, for it was seen by the first objects brought to light that nothing of value was to be expected… Coarse pottery of unfigured, unvarnished ware, and a variety of small vases in black clay, were its only produce; and as them drew them forth, the labourers crushed them beneath their feet as things “cheaper than seaweed”. In vain we pleaded to save some from destruction … the capo was inexorable; his orders were to destroy immediately whatever was of no pecuniary value… It is lamentable that excavations should be carried on in such a spirit ; with the sole view of gain, and with no regard to the advancement of science.

Nothing seems to have changed. We continue to consider the Etruscan artifacts things to be commercialized when we should learn from foreigners the passion and care towards priceless treasures; these have an enormous importance that goes beyond any economic/commercial scope. Very interesting is the description of the landscapes and the inhabitants of Etruria. During his excursions Dennis often met typical individuals of our Italian counties looking at them absolutely amazed. Encountering shepherds in the Italian Maremma portrays a rural Italy disappeared by now, ruled by simple gestures, in close contact with nature, at the time their deity for peace. A world that we can recall through the words filled of wonder of the English explorer.

Occasionally, in my wanderings on this site, I have entered, either from curiosity or for shelter, one of the capanne scattered over the downs. These are tall, conical, thatched huts, which the shepherds make their winter abode… A little boldness is requisite to pass through the pack of dogs, white as new-dropt lambs, but large and fierce as wolves… a huge fire roared in the middle of the hut ; but this was for the sake of the ricotta, which was being made in another part of the capanna. Here stood a huge caldron, full of boiling ewes’-milk. In a warm state this curd is a delicious jelly, and has often tempted me to enter a capanna in quest of it, to the mazement of the pecorai, to whom it is “vilior alga“… In such huts: they dwell all the year round, flaying lambs, or shearing sheep, living on bread, ricotta, and water, very rarely tasting meat or wine, and sleeping on shelves ranged round the hut, like berths in a ship’s cabin. Thus are the dreams of Arcadia dispelled by realities!