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Sovana, a history sculpted in the volcanic tufa rock


Sovana, a hamlet of the municipality of Sorano, remained an Etruscan town also during the phase of the romanization of the region. The vast necropolis that mark the urban area are characterizes by numerous monumental tombs featuring façades with different fronts like columns, aedicula , cubic and semi-cubic and can be reached following paths that are dug deeply in the tufa rock and hidden in the thick vegetation. These are the  so called sunken roads, vie cave in Italian.

In the heart of the ancient fortified village of Sovana, during the restauration works conducted by theSoprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e per il Paesaggio” of the provinces of Sienna and Grosseto for the structural refurbishing of the church of San Mamiliano and its transformation into a museum, in the last decade an archeological investigation has been taken place that has brought to the discovery of a site of great interest.

In 2004 during the excavation activities, besides the recovery of a Roman thermal bath, there was the discovery of an extraordinary treasure of late-antique coins consisting of 498 gold coins dating back to the 5th Century A.D. This find prompted the Superintendent and the local Municipality to modify the original exhibition project of creating an Etruscan museum. In fact, what has been done, is the transformation into a museum of what was previously a church, leaving in plain view a big portion of the excavation, in addition to an exhibit of archeological artifacts relating to the Roman phase of the town and leaving a large portion of the exhibition space to the coin treasure.

The discovery of the small treasure is important not only for the numismatic value of the ensemble, that can be counted as one of the few repositories of 5th Century gold coins in Italy, but also because it forms the only archeological evidence pertaining to the late-antique era that we have been able to acquire until now for Sovana.

The itineraries immersed in the thick vegetation take us to the extraordinary Etruscan Necropolis: the monumental tombs feature façades with columns like the Pola and the Ildebranda tombs, the aedicula tombs of the Thyphoon and the Winged Demons and the extraordinary vie cave (sunken roads).

The well-known rock architectures of Sovana, a homage to the departed ancestors, feature a rich decorative system formed by painted figures, sculptures, bas-reliefs and engravings charged with auspicious meanings that are true monuments to life. Walking along the via cava named “Il Cavone” (a path cut into the tufa rock) engraved on the wall is a particularly curious symbol: it is an engraving in the shape of a swastika, the symbol of the rotating sun. The swastika originated in the Asian regions and it is an auspicious sign, the symbol of a good existence, of a right path and it is therefore not surprising to find it in one of the most important communication routes of the Etruscan town of Sovana. These very suggestive paths have never stopped to be used and also during the Middle Ages the inhabitants of the area have continued to engrave the tufa walls creating small altars with sacred images (called scacciadiavoli from “scacciare” – to banish, and “diavoli” – devils) with the purpose of protecting the wanderer.