An Etruscan City in Tuscany

Read the latest about this discovery from The Economist, linked following this item.

London Sunday Times, 18 April, 2004: Lost Italian city dug up in Tuscany by Rossella Lorenzi IN the rolling hills of Tuscany, scholars believe they have uncovered one of the great lost cities of the ancient world. The ruins are believed to be those of Chamars, the leading city state of the Etruscan civilisation that dominated much of Italy before the emergence of Rome.
The find raises the possibility of locating the tomb of Lars Porsena, the Etruscan king who reigned over Chamars in the 6th century BC. Porsena’s tomb was said by the historian Pliny the Elder to consist of a labyrinth 300ft square. According to legend, it was adorned with a golden carriage, 12 golden horses and other treasures. Giuseppe Centauro, a professor of urban restoration at Florence University, said: “I believe Chamars has at last been found. This was the biggest Italian city before Rome and it represents the entire Etruscan civilisation from the beginning to its decadence. “It was a huge city that controlled various settlements within its walls. Walking among these ruins is every archeologist’s dream.”


Etruscan civilisation reached its peak in about the 6th century BC, when its territories stretched from what is now the Italian-Swiss border to south of Rome. Some historians credit the Etruscans with the transformation of Rome from a series of villages across seven hills into a city with a walled boundary and central administration. It was from Chamars that Porsena is said to have launched his most successful attack upon Rome. From 500BC, the Etruscans’ fortunes started to wane. They were defeated by the Greeks in a big naval battle in 474BC and over the next three centuries their city states fell to the Romans. After they were vanquished, many of their records were lost. Even their origins are obscure, with some historical sources claiming they fled Troy after its fall in the 12th century BC and other experts believing they were an indigenous people.

Three years ago workmen excavating foundations for a goods yard found the remains of what is one of the most complete Etruscan settlements to be discovered in Tuscany. Gabriella Poggesi, the archeologist who announced the find last week, would not herself comment on the theory that the ruins were those of Chamars, but said: “This city was abandoned. One hypothesis is that it was flooded by the river.” Centauro and a team of experts have been detailing all the finds in the area around the newly discovered city on the banks of the Bisenzio river. He believes the settlement so far found is merely one of several within the walls of Chamars. His team has already discovered that stone walls encircle an area of seven square miles. Within this area there are several tombs, extensive house foundations and a sophisticated water system of canals and artificial basins.

In one stretch, defensive walls 10ft thick emerge from the vegetation for 700 yards. The remains lie between the Calvana mountains near the town of Prato, and Mount Morello, near Florence. The remote countryside was once used by Sardinian crime gangs to hide victims of their kidnappings. It has been a difficult area to excavate because it is mainly on privately owned estates.
The most precious find in the area to date has been a bronze statuette of a young man dating from about 500-480BC. It was discovered more than two centuries ago and is now in the British Museum.

In an area near the eastern flanks of the city walls is Chiuso, which Centauro believes is Clusium, a settlement within Chamars attacked by the Roman general Sulla in 89BC. If Centauro is correct, this could bear out Pliny’s clue that Porsena’s body was buried beneath the city of “Clusio” with hanging chains and bells “which played when the wind moved them”. Larissa Bonfante, professor of classics at New York University and an authority on the Etruscan civilisation, said the newly excavated settlement would provide important information about an obscure period of ancient history. “This is certainly an important discovery, quite aside from the possible identification of Chamars,” she said. Many experts disagree that the ruins are those of Chamars, believing the city was located in what is now Chiusi, southwest of Florence. But Centauro insists they are wrong. “Chamars and Clusium have often been mistaken with modern Chiusi because of the similarities in the names,” he said. “That’s why until now nobody has found it.”