According to the Latin historian Servius, Chiusi is one of the oldest Etruscan cities. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the city was founded either by the hero Clusius (son of Tyrrhenus, the Lydian king who led the original migration to Etruria) or by Thelemacus, son of Ulysses. This theory is probably a late one based on the Latin name for Chiusi, Clusium, that corresponds to the Etruscan name Clevsin and comes to us in inscriptions from the IV century B.C.. The Roman historian Livy calls the city Chamars but offers no explanation as to the origin of the name.
An indication of the early foundation of Chiusi was confirmed by recent excavations of a Bronze Age village (circa XII-X cent. B.C.) located on Mt. Cetona, one of the area’s most ancient habitation sites.
Urban excavations attest to this theory of Bronze Age and succeeding Iron Age habitation at the site of Chiusi and diggings in the “necropoli” (necropolis or new part of town) confirms the presence of a continuous population during the age of eastern expansion (VII B.C.). At this period, Chiusi’s urbanization hasn’t begun yet, the population being confined to small villages and clusters of subsistence farms surrounding the city.
Up to the middle of the VII cent.(B.C.) the uniformity of the individual burial sites indicates the presence of a society without social classes, formed by more than one family, in which the objects of everyday use are manufactured domestically. Only in the late period of eastern expansion do we find burial chambers which contain a rich assortment of archaeological objects and indicate a continuous use of the site by a limited number of people possessing wealth and position within the society.
Soon after this period Chiusi becomes a large city – one of the 12 Etruscan cities of the VI cent. (B.C.) – and its inhabitants make their first contact with Rome.
The Greek writer and rhetorician Dennis of Halicarnassus affirms that Chiusi helped the Latins against Tarquinius Priscus, 5th King of Rome. At the end of the century (507-6 B.C.) during the reign of the Chiusian King Porsena, the Etruscans sacked Rome and in effect, conquered it.
During this period the Romans, in order to save face, invented the heroic myths of Mucius Scaevola, Horatius Coclites and Clelia.
Porsena is an important figure in the early Roman History (6th cent. B.C.). His dominant position in the league of the 12 Etruscan city-states was confirmed by the story that he freed Volsinii (Orvieto – centre of Etruscan Political and Religious life) from the monster Olta by striking him down with a bolt of lightning.
Some Latin writers state that Porsena was king of all Etruria and did much to extend its sphere of influence.
In the Archaic Age the growth of new towns and settlements around Chiusi and the large number of burial chambers – and the quality and quantity of archaeological artifacts discovered in these tombs – shows the threat social and economic changes which took place in the city’s urbanization process.
Chiusi itself, though, did not have a big expansion and was gradually absorbed by its surrounding suburbs. Starting from the period of eastern expansion the only evidence of any continuous population in Chiusi is to be found in the towns and villages surrounding the city and not in the city-center itself. There is no documentation of any kind prior to the 3rd cent. B.C.
The richness of Chiusi was linked to the fertile, alluvial nature of the land: Olive oil, wines and figs were produced here as well as a coarse type of grain (mentioned by Livy, Martial and Columella) which, according to Varro, yielded a substantial income. Strabo, the Greek historian, further states that the territory around Chiusi was known for its good hunting and fishing.
The city was situated in a strategic position next to a very important trade route: starting from the Tiber river, crossing the Chiana (which was navigable at time and flowed into the Tiber) and continued on into the Arno valley. Chiusi was also connected through the valleys of the Astrone, Orcia and Ombrone rivers to the costal cities, in particular the Etruscan city of Rusellae (Roselle, north of present day Grosseto), which some historians consider as Chiusi’s own outlet to the sea. The revenues obtained by this trade route and a steady increase in agricultural production guaranteed Chiusi’s uninterrupted richness, even after their defeat in the sea battle of Cuma (474 B.C.) when the southern cities of Etruria were thrown into crisis.
To maintain their links to the rest of Etruria, Arruns, the son of Porsena, tried to re-take Rome but was defeated by the inhabitants of Ariccia who fought alongside their allies the Latins and the Greeks in Campania.
After the failure of this venture the Etruscans tried to expand into the region of Emilia, with Chiusi providing a huge contribution to the campaign.
Over a century later, according to Livy and Dennis of Halicarnassus, another Arruns, a Lucumo praecepotor, was betrayed by a ward of the court and Arruns’s own wife who invited the Gauls into the area with a promise of fertile, uncultivated land and a peace-loving population. According to other sources the first Celtic invasion of Rome – under the leadership of Brennus (390 B.C.) – was caused by the undiplomatic behavior of some Roman Ambassadors sent into the city to mediate with the Gauls. Instead of resolving the situation, the Roman delegation, linked to members of the Fabii clan, became actively involved in the ensuing battle.
During the IV cent. B.C., Chiusi seems to have established a good accord with Rome though it became subsequently broken at the start of the next century.
During the 1st Etruscan-Roman War, Chiusi was in the first line of attack. In 296 (B.C.), the Romans lost a series of battles near Rome to the Gauls Senones and the Umbrians alongside their Etruscan allies and suffered a major defeat in the battle of’ Sentino. Although there is no written evidence to support this, Chiusi was probably subject to Rome for the supply of unpaid military personnel. In 205 B.C., during the Punic Wars with Hannibal, Chiusi supplied the Carthaginian army of’ Scipio with grain and wood. According to some studies, some coins were excavated in the Chiana valley which display the figure of an elephant and the head of a young African male which indicate a Carthaginian familiarity with Chiusi and Perugia.
During the II cent. B.C., Chiusi was deeply involved in a social question which shook the central northern area of Etruria: namely, the liberation of slaves.
This is indicated by the large number of documents discovered in the Chiusi area, written by ex-slaves. The delta like distribution of the necropolis shows an intensive occupation of the surrounding countryside with individual farms run by poor families or serfs which were dependent on richer families living in the city. A characteristic phenomena of Chiusi during the Hellenistic age is the growing level of literacy in its population, even in the lower classes of the society. We are aware of at least 3,000 written documents exchanged between the city and the countryside, the highest number in all of Etruria. The bilingual, and later the purely Latin documents, allow us to follow the gradual Romanization of the city in the I cent. B.C..
Without having to ask for it the citizens of Chiusi became Roman citizens by decree of the Lex lulia and successive Plautia Papiria in 89 B.C..
The civil war between Marius and Sulla devastated the area. Though Chiusi itself remained neutral, many battles were fought in the vicinity against the Marian general Carbo.
In the list of the Etruscan cities compiled by Pliny, next to the Clusini Veteres there are the Clusini Novi. Some historians think this an administrative distinction while others have speculated the existence of two distinctly different cities (like Volsinii Novi, indicating Bolsena which was built after the destruction of Volsinii Veteres, indicating Orvieto). This would he confirmed by the discovery of a Sulla’s fortress on the Rocca Paolozzi. That part of Chiusi which was populated by a tribe from the Arno river, continued to have imperial ambitions and having held a strategic position on the Clanis river maintained a fluvial link between Etruria and Rome.
But above all, Chiusi continued to he an important transit point because the consular road, the Via Cassia, changed direction nearby for the cities of Arezzo and Siena.
We know very little of the structure of the city in this period because not even the most recent excavations, though very important, are sufficient to reconstruct the ancient plan of the city: the Cardo Maximus (the principal avenue of the old city, running north to south) is correspondent to Via Lavinia, Via Baldetti and a portion of Via Porsena. It is much more difficult to identify the Decumanus Maximus (the central East to West thoroughfare through the town) that linked Via Porsena with Via Nardi Dei and the Forum which was situated in the present day Piazza XX September. Excavations made in the houses of the wealthy (domus) with their Imperial Age mosaics and monuments disproves the account put forward by Tacitus that a crisis griped the city following a flood from the river Chiana. Only after the VII cent. did the city begin to decade because offloading and the subsequent abandoning of the countryside.
After an occupation of the Goths in 540 A.D., when Vitige, in his retreat before the Byzantines, left 1000 soldiers behind to fight a rear guard action, Chiusi became a seat of the Longohard Duke (documented up to the year 776 A.D.) when Reginald, a relative of Charlemagne, entered the area. Documentation supports a Frankish presence in the area up to the year 903 A.D. when Chiusi receives its first noble representative from the Marquise of Tuscany.
From the XI cent A.D. control of the city rests in the hands of its Bishop, hut in the succeeding century dominion over the city is placed with Orvieto and Siena. In this period we have the consolidation of the commune of Chiusi and its assimilation into the state of Siena, where it continues to follow its destiny to the present day.
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 7-14)
National Etruscan Museum
Included in the ticket there is also the possibility to visit the Pilgrim’s Estruscan tomb, which are located about three kilometres away from the historical city centre.
In order to visit the two tombs you have to arrange a time with the staff of the National Archaeological Museum.
In order to visit the tomb of the Monkey you have to book in advance at the National Archaeological Museum.
The National Archaelogical Museum of Chiusi was inaugurated in 1901, in a Neoclassical building built at the end of the 19th century. The Museum has recently been totally renewed (2003) and is fitted out on two floors, easy and confortable to visit, supplied with an exhaustive didactic display in italian and English. Furnishings have been carefully chosen to enhance the value of the magnificent exposition.
The objects discovered during excavations throughout the territory since 16th century and formerly belonging to noble families of the area (Paolozzi and Mieli Servadio) form today the main nucleus on show. Alongside these collections there are finds recuperated during scintific searches carried out during the last decades.
The history of Chiusi and its territory is illustrated from the Broze Age and follows through to the Iron Age, pricipally documented with an exposition of a wealth of tombs formed by cinerary urns, fibulas and bronze razors. A wide range of local ceramics togheter with those imported from wealthy centres of Southern Etruria are a testimony to the Orientalizing Period.
Also, Greek and Eastern materials reached Chiusi from Southern Etruria. Particular importance has been given to canopic urns and stone sculptures. Towards the end of 7th and 6th century B.C. stone sculpture reached its maximum development with ash-urn statues, funerary sculptures and reliefs (sphinxes, lions and female figures).
The Museum also offers a wide documentation of Attic pottery with black figures (anphora with Achilles and Ajax playing dice) and with red figures (skyphos of the Penelope Painter with scenes from Odyssey), of the Etruscan imitations as well as a large selection of vases in bucchero decorated with reliefs, which were undoubtely one of the main productions of Chiusi during the Archaich Period (6th century B.C.).
The section dedicated to the necropoleis is a testimony to the great link between the museum and its territory, rich in materials which cover a long period from the 7th to the 4th century B.C.
Materials exhibited on the ground floor testimony the history of Chiusi during the Hellenistic Age, with a rich production of marble and terracotta urns, architectural and votive terracottas. The roman Age is represented by artisanal productions and by a mosaic emblem which illustrates a wild boar hunt, by a famous portrait of young August and a headless statue of a woman. We then reach the Lombard Period (6th-7th century A.D.) with materials found in numerous tombs of Christian warriors. The last section is dedicated to inscriptions and to various private collections.
Tomb of the Pilgrim
Tomba della Pellegrina (Tomb of the Pilgrim – To visit please contact the Archeological Museum in Chiusi) The tomb, so called because of the farmhouse adjacent to the site, represents a signifi cant example of the family tomb from the Hellenistic Age. Discovered in 1928, it consists of a long corridor along which four, small burial recesses and three rooms of various dimensions are opened. The most ancientgraves (IV cent. B.C.) should be noted for their two large coffins with plaster fronts, conserved in the small cell on the right side of the corridor, while in the other depositions of the III cent. B.C. placed in the big chamber at the end, there are three smooth coffi ns with funeral inscriptions painted in red on the front. On the left side there are three cinerary vessels, the first belonging to “aul:seiant:larthal” and which illustrates a battle scene between Greeks and Gauls on the front and on the lid a representation of the deceased. Laying next to it is a vase with a similar scene.
The third cinerary urn stands without a lid and is decorated on the front with two round shields, bordered by festoons. On the right side we find a small coffin with the representations of Achilles and Ajax. Preserved in the cell on the left there is a funeral urn with a beautiful relief dipicting the
sacking of the Sanctuary of Delphi by the Gauls. The first burial recess on the left contains a cinerary container with a feminine figure on the lid and on the vase there is another representation of Achilles and Ajax; in the second recess is an urn with a narrative relief of the death of Ippolito being assaulted by a bull. In the right recess of the corridor an urn of travertine is preserved upon which we can see a fl ower between pelte at its sides plus an indication of its original colouring. This is the last deposition in the tomb and is dated from the middle of the II cent. B.C..
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 38-45)
Tomba della Scimmia
(Tomb of the Monkey – To visit, please contact the Archaeological Museum in Chiusi) This is the most famous tomb in the necropolis of Chiusi. Found in 1846 by A. Francois, the tomb consists of a vestibule and three chambers. On the walls are paintings which represent the funeral games of the dead: chariot races, musicians and mourners carrying palm branches, wrestlers in the presence of a referee and a small monkey tied to a tree from which the tomb derives its name, a javelin thrower followed by a slave, two boxers and a spinning dancer playing two flutes. Less preserved are the scenes on the entrance walls which figure a woman under a parasol watching a game of skill with a young woman carrying a candle holder on the top of her head. In the end chamber there are two masculine figures. Dated: Beginning V cent. B.C.
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 38-45)
The Museum of the Cathedral
The Museum was instituted in 1932 by the Bishop of Chiusi, Mgr. Giuseppe Conti, and placed in one of the major rooms. At the beginning of the 80’s there was a new dimension given to the museum, thanks to the Cooperative Bank of Chiusi, that helped the architectural and structural maintenance of the cathedral rooms. The new museum was inaugurated in the 1984. The exhibition is subdivided into 4 parts:
I – Sculpture section
This section shows a variety of collected material from the first centuries of Christianity to the XI century: tomb stones from the Catacombs of St. Mustiola and St. Catherina of Alexandria and Medieval sculpture from the Basilica of St. Mustiola and of particular interest: a Roman relief in marble showing a battle scene, which was found during excavations near the right nave, and three fragments of a mosaic (V cent.) from the ancient, Palaeo-Christian church.
II – Silver Section
In this section are collected works and ornaments from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The core of the exhibit consists of material representing silver pieces from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries much of which was donated by the Bishops, Prelates and generous member of the faithful. Of most notable interest are the two small wood and ivory coffers carrying the remains of the Embriachi workshop (15th century), a chasuble (sleeveless vestment) in red brocade (17th cent.) and another made in brocatelle cloth with renaissance designs.
III – Illuminated Manuscripts
The illuminated manuscripts are shown in the corridor over the loggia that connects the Bishops Palace to the Cathedral. These were donated in 1810 to the Head of the Chiusi «Duomo» by Mgr. Giuseppe Pannilini who saved them during the Napoleonic suppression of the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Major. The collection consists of 22 manuscripts. The illuminated manuscript signed with the letter Z, which comes from the 19th cent., is of unknown origin. It was the Bolognese Abbot Francesco della Ringhiera who began a program of renovation for his second election to the General Abbot by ordering the Olivetan Friar Alessandro da Sesto to write choral pieces for the monastery in 1456. Friar Alessandro, a calligrapher of a high level, began work to compile all the manuscripts with the exception of one document which is believed to be written by a Milanese calligrapher Ambrogio. The miniature work done by pen, which reveals a wonderful, creative talent, was done by the Olivetans Friars, while the miniature work done by brush were painted by famous artists like Sano di Pietro, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Liberale da Verona, Girolamo da Cremona, Bartolomeo Varnucci and Venturino Mercati.
IV – Paintings and Ornaments Section.
Was inaugurated in 1992 and is situated in rooms of the Bishops Palace. In this section there are paintings from 15th cent., a wooden crucifix from the second half of the 14th cent., golden objects from the 15th cent., silver objects from the 17th and 18th centuries and many canvases of the 17th and 18th cent which came from various churches in the Chiusian diocese.
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 54-64)
The Bishop Garden comprises part of the museum, a small garden in which there have been found some sections of the original walls of the city,placed one over the other in a sequence of monumental strata. The first belt of the wall is from Hellenistic Age, and consists of squared blocks of travertine, placed without mortar, side by side in three lines. In the middle of the II century B.C. it was topped with a structure of travertine blocks held together by mortar and which was destroyed at the beginning of the following century. The Hellenistic wall is dissected by the Roman wall in travertine blocks, slightly rounded, finely constructed with mortar and dated from the I century B.C. The Roman wall has been used as foundation material for a tower with a shoe-shaped base, belonging to the wall system of the 400′s A.D.
On the Etruscan wall there is a facade of a medieval house, made evident by holes found in the wall which supported a staircase and a large hole that indicates a window.
Behind the Etruscan wall there is a square shaped Roman cistern with an inaccessible inspection platform.
Under the entire hill of Chiusi there is an extensive tunnel system dug in un-compacted sandstone, distributed on different levels and containing many wells. It is an ingenious system for water prservation and drainage that was certainly active during the Etruscan Age, as confirmed by recent excavations and the characteristics of the uncovered objects found at the site. Throughout the ages this underground network of tunnels has been linked to the famous Etruscan King, Porsenna (VI century B.C.) and his legendary mausoleum.
Today it is possible to visit part of the underground network. In fact, on the 24th of June 1995, a guided walk through the tunnels was inaugurated. It begins at the Bishop’s garden and after having explored 120 metres of tunnel, leads to an Etrusco-Roman cistern from which we climb to the top of the bell tower in the piazza where you can see a wonderful panorama of the Val di Chiana, the lakes, Mt. Amiata and Mt. Cetona.
The Roman Cistern
It is located near the front of the tower. It is connected by an access ladder found in the last century and dated I century B.C. It covers a vast circular area excavated in sandstone with alternate layers of conglomerate on which the city is situated and is made water-proof with crushed pottery. The space consists of two elliptical, barrel-shaped vaults joined to the walls of the cistern with pendentive triangles and held by a square beam: both the vaults and the beam are constructed in blocks of travertine. On both of the vaults there are two holes for water. A German professor speculates that these could have been used by the Collegium Centonianorum (fireman of the Roman Age), a group of which have been mentioned in a stone inscription found near the Bishops Garden and which should have been located in the vicinity.
The Bell Tower
It was built in the first years of the 12th century from material which came from the demolition of some strategic buildings once owned by the Farolfi Counts and the Bishop Lanfranco who mantained the church of Chiusi at the end of the XI century.
The bell chamber, constructed with perforated brick with stone corners, was built in 1585 by the Florentine Bishop, Masseo Bardi.
he Catacomb of St. Cathrin
The Catacombe lies around two kilometres from the historic center along the road leading to Chiusi Scalo. It takes its name from the small chapel located on the hill above and is dedicated to Santa Caterina delle Ruote (St. Catherine of the Wheels, virgin and martyr of Alexandria.
It was discoveredfortuitously during the frenetic Etruscan archaeological activity which characterized the last century. The physical layout of the arched sepulcher is very similsr to the Catacombe of St. Mustiola, it convinced the Canon Antonio Mazzetti, general Vicarof the Chiusian Diocese, to make an axcavetion to estabilsh if it was truly a Christian cemetery. Research continued until 1854 when the ancient entrance was discovered. New archaeological investigations started in 1986 by the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra and weredirected by Dr. Giulio Paolucci. The results were of great interest and have permitted a more careful analysis of the cemetery complex,of which the physical layouthad been hugely modified by excavations of the 1800′s. Originallyit must have had two, clearly distinguishedunderground complexes which made part of a larger necropolis like area containing both Christian and Pagan burial sites. The first and biggest of these complexes was used throughout the III century, the second though (tunnel G) was used only up to the end of the IV century. The presence of door jambs of travertine at the entrance with holes for the hinges has strengthened the teory that it was originally an Etruscan tomb that was later modified.However, from the many funerary inscriptions we can see pertaining to the Gens Gellia and Fonteia it appears that it was created in the II century as an interred family tomb, components of which having coverted to Christianity placed it at the disposition of the Christian community.
Inside, more precisely in the vestibule, we can admire a lovely urn of travertine decorated with two stripes in the middle of which there is a figure of a “togato”(probably a Chiusian magistrate of the imperial age) and two columns with Corinthian Age capitals placed at the sides of the altar. Unfortunately, the graffiti inscriptions in tufo have all disappeared (apart of one at the end of tunnel D) some have been found after excavating the panels in 1986. Between these we remember a philosophical saying of a certain Fonteia that was canceled in the last century because it was considered blasphemous: “While you live, man lives; in fact there is nothing after death. Everything remains and this is man, that which you see.”
Between the tomb stones we notice the one of St. Ulpia Vittoria, martyr. Today his body is in the church of St. Apollinare in the old part of Chiusi.
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 68-73)
The St. Mustiola’s Catacomb
Le Catacombe (The Catacombs) (Chiusi has two. To visit, obtain permission at the Cathedral Museum) The strategic position of the city of Chiusi favoured the arrival of Christianity in the Apostolic Epoch (tradition says that St. Apollinaris, disciple of St. Peter, converted the city). The Christian community became very alive and organized so that in the Third century it was a Bishop’s seat. The importance of Christian history in the city is confirmed by the fact that Chiusi is the only city in Tuscany possessing catacombs.
The Catacomb of St. Mustiola: so-called because St. Mustiola, the patron saint of Chiusi and its dioceses, martyred in the year 274 during the reign of Emperor Aurelianus, was buried there. It is located around a kilometre from the historic centre along the road for Lake Chiusi. It was discovered by accident in 1634 when the Franciscan Friars who maintained the Basilica of St. Mustiola decided to dig a well. At a depth of 18 meters they discovered the catacombs which were located directly under the Basilica. More complete excavation were undertaken in 1717 by excavators sent by Rome. Then, inexplicably and for over a century, the cemetery was left in a state of total abandonment. But in 1828, during a feast held in honour of St. Mustiola, the Mgr. Giacinto Pippi, Bishop of Chiusi, in one of his memorable sermons, invited the faithful to oversee the repair of the cemetery.
Two years later the excavation began again and they continued until the 21st of May, 1831. They found new tunnels, a crypt and many stone inscriptions, of these the most interesting are the ones which refer to the first ministers of the local church: Marcus Iuventius Dionysius and Lucius Petronius Dexter bishops, Sulpicius Felicissimus deacon, Sentius Respectius exorcist and the one of a child, Aurelius Melitius, dead at the age of four years and two days during the fifth celebration of Easter. Many of the inscriptions are done in tufa; the most curious of which records an unknown: “Here lies the remains of a pilgrim who came from the land of cyclones and whose name is known by God.” The inscriptions and the materials which have been found. show the use of the cemetery up to the last quarter of the 5th cent. A.D..
The area adjacent to the complex is particularly suggestive: a long ramp of steps next to tall cypress trees, leads to a small piazza opposite the two entrances to the catacomb. The principal one was found in 1830 and is characterized by a long corridor, today a small stair case, that leads us to a crypt containing an ancient “cathedra” or Bishop’s throne done in brick and an altar, the top of which leans on a memorial stone with an inscription from the Bishop Marcus Iuventius Dionysius, who probably buried the body of St. Mustiola. The second entrance, opened at the time of the discovery of the catacombs, opens at the centre of a large hemicycle, done in brick and which was constructed during the XIX century. The total length of the tunnels is around 200 meters. There are 202 burial recesses, mostly situated in arched tombs with two or three supporting columns.
(From: Chiusi. Guida turistica, produced by the Pro-Loco Association of Chiusi, 1997, pp. 68-73)
The Town Museum “La città Sotterranea”
The Town Museum “La città Sotterranea” is the most recent museum in Chiusi.
It is divided in 3 sections and is located in two different buildings. It is a complete underground museum.
The entrance is in “Via Cimina II”, on the right side of “Palazzo delle Logge”, near the “Piazza XX Settembre” in front of the council.