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CASTEL D’ASSO TOWN AND NECROPOLIS
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AREA OF CASTEL D’ASSO – Text by Archeotuscia Onlus.
On the provincial road that leads to the Terme dei Papi (Strada Bagni), heading west starting from Viterbo, continuing along Strada Montarone and Via Procoio, just 8 km away you can reach the archaeological area of Castel d’asso, rich in testimonies ranging from from the Etruscan period to the Middle Ages. The archaeological area includes both the remains of a medieval castle (13th century), built on the ruins of the ancient Etruscan Roman city of Axia, and the monumental Etruscan rock necropolis. (IV – I century BC).
Since December 2011 the Archeotuscia Onlus Association, thanks to an agreement with the Province of Viterbo, the Municipality of Viterbo and the owner of the necropolis area of Castel d’Asso, is the body entrusted with the management of the area, ensuring the maintenance of the green, the maintenance and cleaning of the archaeological spaces, and above all the possibility of making the necropolis accessible to visitors. In fact, in concert with the Superintendency, the Association has developed a whole series of scientific and cultural activities and initiatives that make the archaeological area alive and usable. As for the knowledge of the site, a large bibliography allows us to have a clear and outlined picture starting from the 4th century BC. C., until the fifteenth century AD. C. The first part of the area that can be visited is the area that encloses the Etruscan necropolis. As soon as you arrive, a large sunny parking lot allows you to leave the car, and in just 100 m you can reach the monumental development of the necropolis and then continue across the bridge over the Freddano river, up above the medieval town where the ruins of the castle are located.
The necropolis is presented in an extremely suggestive environment with a large concentration of rock tombs of the semi-nut type with false doors and a compartment under the façade, ranging from the 4th to the 2nd century. B.C. We have news of the necropolis of Castel d’Asso as early as the first half of the nineteenth century, when in 1848 the travel of George Dennis The cities and Cemeteries of Etruria was published in 2 volumes of 1200 pages (?) Each. The nineteenth-century studies of Orioli and those of Rosi in the 20s of the last century led to the knowledge of this important funerary complex, but it was above all in the sixties, thanks to the activity of the Center of Studies for Etruscan-Italic Archeology of the CNR , led by G. Colonna., that excavations and fundamental researches were carried out for its full understanding. From 1991 to 1999 the voluntary activities of the GAR section. of Viterbo made it possible to rediscover and revive interest in the monumental area through a cleanup and maintenance of the greenery done in concert with the proposed bodies (Superintendence of Southern Etruria). Still today there are tags on the facades of the tombs with the number corresponding to each tomb, identified through the numbering conceived by Colonna in the 1960s. This work remains useful for identifying any tomb, without the possibility of error, also calculating the enormous amount of tombs concentrated in the area. The burial ground is scenically developed along the northern slope of the Freddano valley, facing the western end of the ancient acropolis. The tombs with monumental façades are 69 in all and are concentrated in a rather limited area, spread over various levels. The most common type is that of the semi-nut-shaped tomb with an under-façade compartment, which only in one case has a colonnade. Access to the necropolis currently takes place along a valley crossed by a dirt road that descends to the plain and follows an ancient Etruscan path. The Orioli Tomb (letter A) stands out among the first tombs on the right, named after its first illustrator. It is a semi-nut with an under-facade compartment: to the half-nut, decorated with a false door in relief, an under-facade compartment is added in the lower part of the front, covered by a sloping roof and with a false door on the bottom. , as in others documented in the same necropolis, numeral signs (corresponding to number 41) are engraved in the mirror of the false door, which refer to the size of the respect area around the burial. The Orioli Tomb has a suggestive room inside with numerous niches arranged in a herringbone pattern. The room is 17 m long and 31 transverse pits have been created in the large side docks on each side, some of which are smaller for children. The complex dates back to between the middle of the III and the middle of the II century. B.C,
A little further on you come across a group of three tombs (letter B) with an under-façade compartment, dating back to the III century BC, C.These funerary monuments originally exhibited the name of the owner engraved in the tuff, today almost completely disappeared. The frame of the first half nut contained the inscription “eca suthi nesl” (this is the tomb), which continued with the name of the client family, that of the Tetnie, already attested in Vulci, and which can be reconstructed thanks to the remains of letters preserved on some boulders rolled downstream, The next tomb also had a similar formula, but it is not possible to reconstruct the name of the owner family, The third funeral monument instead belonged to Vel Urinates, as the usual inscription in the frame informs us, while on the left of the fake door are engraved with numeral signs, indicating the area of respect. The rooms in this sector are often underground and therefore not accessible to visitors.
The part of the necropolis that takes place towards the east, basically begins with some semi-nuts in front of the Orioli Tomb. Among them stands out a vestibule tomb with a rough false door (letter C), next to which is a false nut, the Tomb of Arnth Ceises (letter D), recognizable by the inscription on the facade with the name of the owner, The tomb is one of the best known and dates back to the 4th century, BC, The original room must have been rather small with bed-shaped docks, subsequently a side corridor was built and various transverse pits were inserted. A short distance away, a beautiful half nut (letter E) also bearing an inscription, concludes a series of rather well preserved facades. Following the path that cuts the dromos of the rooms below, there are some half-nuts side by side with an under-facade compartment (letter F), some of which had a roof carved with parallel joists. The most interesting tomb in this sector is also the last one of which you can see the facade, since the two subsequent complexes have a collapsed façade.
The importance of the archaic phase, the particularity of the Hellenistic rock tombs and the testimony of the dominant Etruscan gens.
The ancient Axia, mentioned by Cicero in 68 BC to locate the funds owned by the Caesennii di Tarquinia, it stood on a tufaceous spur between the Rio Secco and Freddano ditches, extending to the east for a total of about eleven hectares, ten km from Viterbo. Rediscovered in 1817, its rocky necropolis was the first to be known and discussed in the world of culture. Moreover, its monumental facade tombs arranged on two or three levels and concentrated in a restricted area, were presented in a very scenographic way. In the Etruscan period, precise urban planning choices were certainly made, also in order to offer demonstrations of opulence by the great families, as their tombs were easily visible from the town just opposite. The most important routes also passed from there, such as the one directed towards Musarna and Tuscania, but also the other oldest road route that took the direction of Surna and Volsinii. The city flourished and fortified itself starting from the 4th century. B.C. within the ager Tarquiniensis until the second century. B.C. but it already existed and prospered in the Archaic period, as shown by the grave goods of the VII and VI century. B.C. excavated in the twentieth century and now lost, with the exception of a part of the Bazzichelli excavations, at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. From the same period are the “cuccumelle” once visible on the Vaccareccia floor and the monumental tomb of the Ceretan type with a vestibule with three rooms at the bottom, in Pian della Fame. Between the fifth and fourth centuries. B.C. the small and modest necropolis of Casale la Pigna, also on the plateau of Axia (?), is dated, thanks to the survey of some Doric frames of coarse workmanship with an embossed architrave, with tombs equipped with a sort of open-air vestibule with rooms with simple docks. Also the discovery of some fragments of a Doric frame allow us to date to the end of the sixth century. B.C. the small sepulcher of Casale Sterpaio. The grave goods found in 1964 beyond the external moat of the eastern sector, the remains of a tumulus of the sixth century. B.C. to a room with two beds located right at the entrance to the monumental Hellenistic necropolis, as well as the 5th century tomb. B.C. of Ceretan influence (a recent hydraulic work now covers the two axial chambers, one of which has a transverse columen in relief and a double sloping ceiling) located under the Sterpaio road, further demonstrate the chronological continuity of the town of Castel d’Asso even before of the Hellenistic period. Very important are the fragments of an architectural frieze in terracotta with Heracles and the Cretan bull, very similar to those found in Acquarossa and Tuscania, which attest to the existence of an important building on the eastern sector, in the Archaic period. However, it is clear that the greatest interest is concentrated on the magnificence of the rock tombs on the façade, ranging from the 4th to the 2nd century. B.C. The predominant shape is the half nut shape, with three overlapping elements, such as the facade with the overlay and the false door, the under-facade environment whose roof is sometimes carved with tiles as in a house and finally, underneath, the real one. burial chamber. Often there were also numeral inscriptions (from thirteen to forty-one) referring to the progression of the burials or the age of the deceased. As noted for the contemporary and majestic Hellenistic tombs of Norchia, the very well-kept and sumptuous external architecture was contrasted by the modesty of the interiors, perhaps because it was considered more appropriate for its prestige, to allocate the bulk of the resources to the finishing of the visible parts. The hypogea of Castel d’Asso were therefore equipped with inornate and low quays left for savings, within which numerous herringbone pits were lined up on the sides of the central corridor, although sarcophagi in nenfro were also found, however only rarely surmounted by lids depicting recumbent figures (frequent instead in Norchia). On the terraces of the cube tombs, small stones and anepigraphs were found in situ, while in the rooms under the façade there were small columns with inscriptions referring to both men and women. Thanks to still visible inscriptions found on the architraves of some false doors (the name of the owner was written on about one fifth of the tombs), it was possible to trace the names of notable families such as the Ceise, the Tetnie and the Urinate Salvie. The first, thanks to the progenitor Arnth, possessed a false nut tomb from the 4th century. B.C. with a particular false door with three squares staggered on three floors, with writing arranged on two lines. The Tetnie instead only from the third century. B.C. they had a classic half nut with an under-façade compartment with a lateral staircase leading to the upper part where the ritual of libations took place. Adjacent to this, there was the false nut of the progenitor Vel Urinates (the same prestigious gens also attested in Bomarzo), which presented an entrance dromos in a very elongated environment, with a central corridor and classic lateral docks for herringbone depositions . Two other names, Cae and Seturne, inscribed on two gravestones, cannot be traced back to family graves belonging to them. The family that owned the larger monument must have been very important, hence the name of “Tomba Grande” (III century BC); the imposing compartment under the façade of the semi-nut, with a roof with sculpted tiles, had the particularity of being tripartite and therefore having three access doors, even from the large room where originally there must have been at least forty sarcophagi (today inside the fourteen remain). On either side, steps led to the upper terrace. An exceptionally long dromos well over twenty meters, instead allowed access to the lower chamber. Also noteworthy is the Orioli Tomb (from the name of the Viterbo archaeologist who discovered the locality), whose 17 meter long sepulchral chamber was the largest, and it was no coincidence that it had sixty-two herringbone depositions. Tomb no. 92 is worthy of mention for the particularity of the two-column portico. From the second century. B.C. onwards the construction of new facade tombs ceased and the existing ones continued to be used, obtaining secondary burials mostly outside the chambers, until 50 AD. about. After passing under Roman rule in the third century. BC, the center in 87 BC it became part of the municipality of Tarquinia and from the middle of the first century. B.C. it was probably inserted in the municipality of Sorrina Nova, until it was abandoned during the first barbarian invasions.
THE MEDIEVAL SETTLEMENT – THE CASTLE OF CASTEL D’ASSO
The Latin name Axia certainly follows the Etruscan one. Presumably the conservation of the Latin name over time could make us think of a continuity in the human presence on the site. Unfortunately, lacking a systematic archaeological study of the area of the ancient city and the castle, for now this remains only an unsupported hypothesis.
In medieval times the castle was built on the tuff spur bordered by the confluence of the rivers Freddano and Rio Secco. The castle is the only documented existence of that historical period, of which the remains of the watchtower, sections of the castle wall and the keep are visible. The presence of the remains of these ruins has also led to the place name of Castellaccio being attributed to the locality. The castle built in the early twelfth century, underwent the occupation of the Viterbo troops in 1187, the year in which the Viterbesi conquered the castle that had been built there to control the Via Dogana, which then connected Viterbo with the coast. In 1251, we find it mentioned in the official documents of the Viterbo Statutes. In 1450, within the Statute of the art of shepherds and peasants of the Municipality of Viterbo, we find the mention of the locality defined as “banned”, an explicit indication of the decline of the castle.
Another indirect fact that helps us to understand the slow abandonment of the castle which had already been started at the beginning of the fifteenth century, is the complete absence of the toponym in the Roman-Sienese registers for the taxation of salt in 1416. In these, the Castle is almost unknown.
This data could indicate that Castel d’Asso at the beginning of the fifteenth century. it was no longer an inhabited center but exclusively a military garrison, having effectively lost its peculiarity of a castle.
Although the date of abandonment is not known, it is however certain that the large caves dug into the hill on which Castel d’Asso stands and the ancient tombs once excavated in the Etruscan era, have given shelter to the population who lived in the surroundings, for a territory , in all likelihood, intended for grazing.
The exploitation of the hypogeum environments (Etruscan tombs) and of the caves, in fact, has continued over time, reaching up to the present day. The adaptation of these environments with returned corners for domestic use such as beds, fireplaces and pantries, makes us understand well how from the Middle Ages to the present day the exploitation has occurred continuously. Last but not least, the use as a shelter during the bombings suffered during the Second World War and the adaptation to shelter and shelter for agricultural and pastoral activities: tools for shepherds and farmers and in some cases shelters for flocks.
La visita al castello medievale di Castel d’Asso
Due differenti strade portano al pianoro che ospita le rovine del Castello.
La prima strada, la più lunga, è la piacevole camminata immersa tra natura e archeologia che si fa passando attraverso la necropoli monumentale etrusca per poi raggiungere, oltrepassando il ponte sul Freddano, il pianoro soprastante di Castel d’Asso.
La seconda strada percorribile è quella attraverso la Provinciale 15 (Strada Ponte del Diavolo). Si prosegue per 4 km. Raggiunta la chiesetta di Santa Maria di Castel d’Asso sulla destra, si deve voltare a destra prendendo la Strada Castel d’Asso. Alla fine della strada sei costretto a parcheggiare, e quindi a poche centinaia di metri puoi raggiungere i ruderi medievali del castello. Non rimangono molte testimonianze dell’originali strutture medievali, al di la dei resti della torre di guardia, tratti del muro di cinta del castello e del mastio. La porta Ovest del Castello, conserva integralmente i suoi aspetti architettonici, mostrando ancora la fessura per il cancello che veniva alzato e abassato a serranda. Per quanto riguarda la torre, una scala in metallo permette di salire sulla sommità ed ammirare il panorama circostante. Subito al di sotto del pianoro, è visibile tagliata nella roccia, la strada di origini etrusche sfruttata in secondo momento anche nel periodo medievale.
CASTEL D’ASSO TOWN AND NECROPOLIS
Castel d’Asso town and necropolis stretches along the road heading to the Terme dei Papi, about 8 km far on the western end of Viterbo.
The archaeological site comprehends the remains of a medieval castle formerly built on the ruins of the ancient Roman-Etruscan town Axia. The monumental rocky necropolis is rich in evidences ranging from the Etruscan age to the middle Ages.
In a highly evocative environment there is a great number of rocky tombs of the semi-dice type; they show fake doors and a sottofacciata room, dating back between the IV and II century B.C.. Among the others, the Tomba Orioli (II century B.C.) is worth being pointed out: the tomb shows a chamber 17 meters long containing 67 pit-shaped graves.
Giovanni Colonna, Claudio Bettini, Romolo Staccioli (curatori), Etruria meridionale: conoscenza, conservazione fruizione, Assessorato alla Cultura della Regione Lazio, atti del convegno di Viterbo, 29/30 novembre-1 dicembre 1985, Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 1988.
Elena Colonna Di Paolo, Giovanni Colonna, Castel d’Asso, due volumi, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 1970.
Simonetta Conti, Le sedi umane abbandonate nel Patrimonio di S. Pietro, Firenze: Olschki, 1980.
Mauro Cristofani (a cura di), Dizionario della civiltà etrusca, Firenze: Giunti, 1985.
George Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, London: John Murray, 1846.
Pietro Egidi, Le croniche di Viterbo, Regia Società romana di storia patria, 1901.
Francesco Inghirami, Monumenti etruschi o di etrusco nome, vol. IV, Poligrafia Fiesolana, 1825.
Vincenzo Monti, Il Dittamondo di Fazio Degli Uberti fiorentino ridotto a buona lezione colle correzioni pubblicate dal Cav. Vincenzo Monti nella proposta e con più altre, Milano: Giovanni Silvestri, 1826.
Francesco Orioli, Notizie preliminari intorno a Castellaccio, Annali dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica, 1833, pag. 23. Si veda in Hathi Trust Digital Lubrary .
Tito Livio, Storia di Roma, Milano: Mondadori, 2007.
L.Proietti – M.Sanna, Tra Caere e Volsinii, La via Ceretana e le testimonianze archeologiche lungo il suo percorso, Viterbo 2013, pp.219-230.