Carol Faenzi

Walks in the foot­steps of her Tus­can an­ces­tors

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Imag­ine driv­ing on coun­try roads in Tus­cany, the green vis­tas of sheep­graz­ing pas­tures and open blue skies all around you. The road gets steeper and then gets nar­rower, curvier and a bend in the road seems to go on for a long time, be­fore open­ing up onto a page from a Me­dieval fairy tale: Pit­igliano.

Also known as Pic­cola Gerusalemme (Lit­tle Jerusalem, due to a long his­tory of its Jewish cit­i­zens), the set­tle­ments in this city and sur­round­ing area, the Tus­can Maremma, go back thou­sands of years, even to the Bronze Age.

Three thou­sand years ago from the 8th cen­tury BC to the 4th cen­tury BC, lived one of the world’s most in­tel­li­gent, pow­er­ful and civ­i­lized peo­ples. The Etr­uscans were the first Ital­ians and some of them lived in the vicin­ity of Pit­igliano and two other nearby cities of im­por­tance, So­rano and So­vana.

It is also my an­ces­tral home­land, where in 1913, my grand­fa­ther, Ot­tavio Faenzi left be­hind his mother and nine sib­lings to come to Amer­ica. A serendip­i­tous set of cir­cum­stances sev­eral years ago put me on the path to en­coun­ter­ing not only a lost part of my fam­ily, but also the Etr­uscan civ­i­liza­tion, both of which have kept me en­thralled.

My grand­fa­ther, Ot­tavio, lived on a farm near Pit­igliano and his sib­lings’ de­scen­dants, my cousins, still do. The tombs are a very short dis­tance away. What had once been a play­ground for my cousins as chil­dren, is now an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park that con­tains some of the most sig­nif­i­cant Etr­uscan dis­cov­er­ies in all of Italy.

The Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park of the City of Tufo is ac­ces­si­ble only dur­ing March to Novem­ber. Lost for mil­len­nia, the tombs’ dis­cov­ery emerged dur­ing the 19th cen­tury when the Etr­uscan civ­i­liza­tion had a re­nais­sance. Un­for­tu­nately, this re­sulted in tomb rob­bing which stripped the tombs of pre­cious ob­jects along with clues that would help de­mys­tify their lan­guage and cul­ture.

The Ilde­branda Tomb (3rd to 2nd cen­tury BC) is the largest in the Park, but the name is mis­lead­ing. This is not the tomb of the no­ble fam­ily, the Ilde­branda. The dis­cov­er­ers of the tomb knew they had found some­thing im­por­tant and the most prom­i­nent cit­i­zen from this part of Tus­cany was a Pope and mem­ber of the Ilde­branda fam­ily. We don’t know whose tomb this was, but the dis­cov­ery in 1924 was sig­nif­i­cant in that noth­ing like it had been dis­cov­ered any­where else in ex­ca­va­tions. To this day, this tomb that re­sem­bles more a tem­ple, is of any Etr­uscan mon­u­ment that sur­vives, the grand­est.

One of the rea­sons the tombs found in this part of Tus­cany are so note­wor­thy, is that they are carved into the ex­ist­ing tufo rock. Noth­ing was added to the ex­te­rior ex­cept bril­liantly painted stucco, now mostly eroded. The Tomb of the Winged Demons (also dat­ing from the 3rd to 2nd cen­tury BCE) was only dis­cov­ered in 2005, while a path of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal park was be­ing re­stored, and the well­p­re­served fig­ures are due to their hav­ing be­come de­tached from the wall of the tomb, land­ing face down for the past three hun­dred years.

The winged fig­ure is thought to be Scylla, a Greek sea mon­ster which in their mythol­ogy was a pretty hor­ri­fy­ing crea­ture. How­ever, be­cause of the Etr­uscan be­lief in a rosy coloured eter­nal life, she is a pro­tec­tive pres­ence, there to ac­com­pany the soul on its jour­ney.

Lions guard and we are able to see the carv­ing of the gen­tle­man whose tomb it was. In typ­i­cal Etr­uscan plea­sure-lov­ing fash­ion, he is lying on a comfy sofa, drink in hand. There are many other tombs and carv­ings to see in the vicin­ity such as The Siren, The Typhon, The Halfcube, the La­cu­nary, the Pola and the Hand of Or­lando. As stun­ning as they are to gaze on to­day, can you imag­ine what these must have looked like when they were new, brightly painted and bathed in moon­light?

Also nearby are the Vie Cave which means ‘sunken roads’ and like the tombs, were carved into the tufo rock, some of them 25 me­tres high (over 80 feet). These roads, of which there are many, con­nect So­vana, So­rano and Pit­igliano and have ori­gins that pre-date the Etr­uscans. There are sev­eral the­o­ries around why these roads ex­ist, from the prac­ti­cal to the sa­cred.

In this area, the Pa­gan and Chris­tian blur and blend beau­ti­fully. On March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day, a torch­lit pro­ces­sion em­anates from a bon­fire, the sin­gle file of walk­ers repris­ing an an­cient jour­ney through the Via Cava di San Giuseppe. They cel­e­brate the ‘Re­turn of the Light’, and it is no co­in­ci­dence the date falls very close to the Spring Equinox.

It is an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence to be in this deep, nar­row and wind­ing place, a sen­sa­tion of be­ing sus­pended be­tween life and death, as crevices and fo­liage above al­ter­na­tively shut out and let in the light.

I am just an­other person walk­ing through on my own jour­ney, as my grand­fa­ther did be­fore mak­ing his own to Amer­ica.

It is also my an­ces­tral home­land, where in 1913, my grand­fa­ther, Ot­tavio Faenzi left be­hind his mother and nine sib­lings to come to Amer­ica. A serendip­i­tous set of cir­cum­stances sev­eral years ago put me on the path to en­coun­ter­ing not only a lost part of my fam­ily, but also the Etr­uscan civ­i­liza­tion, both of which have kept me en­thralled

Carol is the au­thor of The Stone Cut­ter’s Aria. You can travel with Carol to see these tombs and other Tus­can de­lights. For more in­for­ma­tion see www. my­tus­ca­naria.com/tours

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