Antiquarium of Sant'Appiano

The Museum of Sant'Appiano in Barberino Val d'Elsa

Barberino Val d'Elsa

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Pieve di Sant'Appiano

Museum of Sant'Appiano




L' Antiquarium di Sant’Appiano

The Antiquarium of Sant’Appiano is a small archaeological museum located in rooms adjoining the Pieve di Sant’Appiano just a few km from Barberino Val d’Elsa. It houses some of the material found during archaeological digs in the surrounding area following the first accidental discoveries at the beginning of the 20 C.

Antiquarium of Sant'Appiano Barberino Val d'Elsa

Some Etruscan chamber tombs were found during farm work in the fields between 1907 and 1910 and, although robbed long before, provided a large number of finds covering a long period from the 8th to the 2nd centuries B.C. Many of the finds are of extremely fine artistic quality and include not only local work but also imports, as evidenced by the numerous red and black figure Attic vases, dating from around the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C. and the alabaster funerary urns of Hellenistic age in the style of Volterra, illustrating Greek myths. The variety in the objects is due above all to the site's privileged position from a commercial point of view, as it stood on the crossroads of several main roads that, already important in Etruscan and Roman times, became even more so during the Middle Ages, when the route along the Val d'Elsa (Elsa Valley) also coincided with the via Francigena.

The archaeological discoveries dating from the 1st century B.C. and later are decidedly inferior in number and quality, showing that there was a fall in the population and a regression of the cultural life in the entire area during the Roman Imperial Age. This phenomenon can be linked to the decline of the nearby Etruscan town of Volterra, which was not replaced by an equally flourishing Roman colony.

museum exhibit

The Museum

A door in the right hand aisle leads into the 13 C cloisters built with square pilasters and Ionic type columns. Another door opened off from here into the Chapter house, topped with a two-coloured arch and a three light window with setback arches (now bricked up) beside it. The canons' house is built around the cloisters and hosts the small antiquarium museum in two rooms on the first floor. 

The first room of the museum is dedicated mainly to objects found in the excavations at San Martino ai Colli, to the South of the church buildings, where two tombs belonging to noble families were found. The large amount and variety of material brought to light leads us to believe that a small necropolis once stood here and that, over the centuries, tombs from various periods had ended up one on top of the other and in communication.

The group of Hellenistic cinerary urns in alabaster is particularly interesting. There is a medium-sized urn reproducing the Rape of Proserpine on the casing placed against the right hand wall. The same subject is also shown on one of the casings on the wall opposite the entrance, though here the marine demon is shown with two tails and placed in the centre. The cover is decorated with a recumbent virile figure placed in the usual position; the narrow sides bear a winged male demon, while the typical lion's paws are still visible at the bottom. The next urn is more simply decorated with a central rosette between two palmettes set inside a frame with a smooth surface; the married couple that adorns the cover, one of whom is minus its head, are shown partly lying down. Three other covers with recumbent male and female figures are arrayed along the walls. Two more cinerary urns are displayed in the first glass case on the left of the entrance. The first is quite small and bears the figure of a winged marine monster on the front. The second is much larger, but without a cover, and shows a horseman, wrapped in the winding sheet and about to enter Hades.

The display case also contains some plain unglazed ceramics for everyday use, others with the typical black varnish from the Volterra area, and red figure Attic ceramics datable from around the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., which were imported from the coastal towns, in particular Populonia, and whose presence denotes well developed commerce and a fairly advanced economic and cultural level. The shelf above hosts part of a black varnished kylix with red figures dating from the early 4th century B.C., though only the bowl has survived, recomposed and reintegrated where pieces are missing. The internal tondo shows the scene of a conversation between a standing male nude and a seated woman, wrapped in a mantle and with a cornucopia in her hands, perhaps a Satyr and a Bacchante. The other partially composed vase is a Kelebe, attributed to the workshop of the painter of Hesione, active in Volterra in the second half of the 4th century B.C.

The second glass case contains various examples of material found in the area of what is today Petrognano, the site of the castle of Semifonte in the 12 C, built, according to documentary evidence, in around 1180. It did not survive long as its excellent geographical position and fast growing development soon attracted the attention of Florence, which, after besieging it for two years, forced it to surrender in 1202 and then razed it to the ground.

A group of broken Etruscan-Roman ceramics show that there must have been a settlement on this site long before the castrum. In addition, numerous shards dating from a later period (15 C and 16 C) were discovered in the immediate vicinity and thus prove that the area was inhabited even after Semifonte had been destroyed, in spite of the fact that the City Council of Florence had categorically forbidden any new building on the site of the old castle. This interdiction was probably limited to the original area of the castle, so that some small groups of houses were spared from demolition. After many alterations and adaptations, they appear to have survived to this day, at least judging from the buildings that now make up Petrognano.

The second room contains objects discovered during the excavations of the two Etruscan tombs discovered on a farm called Piazza, near Sant'Appiano, in 1973. On the immediate right of the entrance, there is a series of half-spherical "loaf" type inscribed pillars in sandstone and a rather fragmentary funerary urn, small, square-shaped and roughly carved. The same group also includes the small column-like cippus, shaped like a reversed truncated cone and fitted onto a stone base, placed in a corner on the opposite side of the room. The only really ancient materials that were certainly tomb furnishings are the minute shards of black-varnished ceramics, roughly datable from the Hellenistic period, on display in the glass case on the right. The excavations also brought a large quantity of late mediaeval and Renaissance ceramics (dishes, bowls, basins, coolers, oil jars) to light, dating from when the tombs were put to use again, first for storage and later for dumping rubbish in the 15 C to the 16 C.

A copy of a capital from the old Baptistery, decorated with symbolic emblems sculpted in high relief, stands on a cylindrical support in one corner of the room. The hybrid creature with the head and wings of a predatory bird, the body of a lion and the tail of a snake represents the virtues of Knowledge, Fortitude and Prudence; the cross moline recalls the Mystery of the Salvation; while the snake represents the plan of a city enclosed within a schematised ring of towers and walls, a symbol of the Celestial City. Beside it we can see the small pagan idol of the god Eros astride an animal that was discovered when the Baptistery was demolished in 1805, after being seriously damaged by an earthquake.

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