Today I am going to talk not about FOOD, but WATER. Sacred, Healing, Geothermal Water. And the hot news is about the most exciting archeological discovery made in Italy in the past 70-odd years. It’s suddenly made the town of San Casciano dei Bagni the town on everyone’s lips, around the world, in a few minutes. And water is just as important as food, in fact, being, together with earth, air and fire, one of the 4 basic elements.

This geothermal water, which bubbles from the earth at a rate of 90 litres per second, or 2-and-a- half million litres per day, feeds Italy’s most important thermal springs (and the second most important in Europe as far as volume of water is concerned), forming part of a series of 42 identified thermal pools in the area.

The location, just a kilometer from where the participants in my “Cook and Live Italy“ programme called www.cookinthetuscansun.com will be staying, (see the map on the location page) has just donated to humanity, some amazing archeological treasures which have hit the world headlines! Surely this will merit San Casciano dei Bagni ‘s candidature for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List!

From an almost accidental recognition of a couple of broken roman columns which formed part of a market garden wall, in this small town with a marked medieval appearance and a population of around 2018, and thanks to the tenacity and curiosity of a few local archeologist students who, guided by an archeologist from the University of Siena called Jacopo Tabolli, and the excavation coordinator Emanuele Marriotti, some absolutely unexpected discoveries were fished up in an area next to the historical public thermal bathing pools, out of what this pool of hot water, which was obviouslay a significantly important Votive Sanctuary, where gift donations for various forms of grace received or wishes made laden with hope for miraculous healings, were made (such as we still do today when we throw a coin in a wishing well, or in the case of Rome, the famous Trevi Fountain).

Thanks to the town administration’s unprecedented decision to invest in purchasing the land necessary to commence excavations, following documented evidence of the existence of ancient traces which were carefully recorded at the time that Cardinal Ferdinando dé Medici decided to build a country villa with a private spa nearby, in the 1580’s. it was written that many traces of the ancient Roman and Etruscan Civilization were found at the new construction site of the 2 basins he had built for the townspeople to be able to enjoy a thermal bath. Then everything was forgotten, also considering that the town is located a fair way from either Florence or Rome, and the local farmers would have been rather ignorant in regard to the treasures of antiquity, at that time.

Modern equipment has allowed the excavating team to pump out the thermal waters, 90 litres a second (2-and-a-half-million litres a day), in fact, which bubble up from beneath the earth’s crust in this volcanic area at a temperature of around 42°C or 105°F. to unearth this find which will become of vital importance for the future of the town of San Casciano dei Bagni, and this part of Italy.

The first finds, currently visible in a make-shift museum which is already too small for the number of items found thus far – and mainly made of marble, dating to their finding in August 2021, were a series of ARAE – or a kind of alter or cippus – dedicated to Hygeia, (goddess of good health and salubrity), and Aesculapius, (the Greek god of Medicine -shared by the Ancient Romans for the same purpose) Apollo (the God of Mount Olympus and the Delphic Oracle), the Goddess of Fortuna Primigenia, another oracular cult (known to us thanks to the existence of the huge 1 st Century C.E. sanctuary dedicated to her, as protector of women and childbirth, located at Palestrina, East of Roma), and Isis, the prophetic Egyptian Goddess of the Nile. These were precariously perched on the rim of the votive basin and can be identified due to the various inscriptions or visible attributes familiar to each divinity.

The period of these ARAE corresponds to the time of Emperor Augustus, in the early 1 st century C.E. when a circular or slightly oval shaped pool surrounded by a monumental entrance with 4 columns, was extant, the remains of which are today visible.

This material was probably pushed into the pool, or about to be, – as a fill-in and destruction of all evidence of a pagan cult, as prescribed by the dictates of early Christianity after Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 C.E. The outcome of this edict meant that by the end of the 4th century all of the pagan cults were destroyed in favour of the “state religion” of the Roman Empire, Christianity. And hence, the area was covered over and forgotten, while the thermal waters were later harnessed to create the public baths known as the “Bagno Grande” as mentioned previously, around 1580.

There is also an initial treasure of around 2000 roman coins covering the period, generally, from the 1 st until the mid-third centuries C.E. and terracotta forms of various parts of the human body.

Just a few days ago (or probably weeks, since the news scoop had to be choreographed and the treasures taken to a very safe location – initially Grosseto where the earlier coins and marbles are currently undergoing restoration), a second series of sculptures, this time in bronze – 24 in all, some up to 1.5 metres in height – and an incredible quantity of coins – gold – silver-bronze – numbering about 6,000 so far, was unearthed from the mud at the base of this deep and sacred pool, which points to a cult related to the salubrious and prophetic quality of the waters in the location, dating back to the ancient Etruscans and Romans.

They are in an excellent state of conservation, thanks to the mineral components of these sacred waters which have helped to bring them to light without the usual signs of incrustations, oxidization and erosion.

The terracotta objects provide an important insight into the customs and the daily life of the time – for instance, evidence of fires and utensils indicate that food was cooked on site, and oil lamps reveal that processions to the spring would have taken place at night.

These most recent discoveries are not yet visible on-site as they have been removed to Florence (denoting their super significant value!) for restoration. San Casciano dei Bagni is completely unprepared for the exhibition of such precious archeological finds to large volumes of visitors, and so plans are under way to create an adequate museum to house and display them, to be opened hopefully within the end of 2023.

Several of these carry traces of Etruscan or Archaic Roman inscriptions, in some cases of both languages on the same piece, which would leave one to believe that the period of reference dates back to the decline of the Etruscan culture and the emergence of the Roman presence which lead to the eventual disappearance of the former through complete assimilation into the latter (in fact the last 3, of the original first 7 Kings of Rome, were of Etruscan origin) For more information and photographs, I invite you to visit this link related to the discovery (in Italian) from the National Archeological Museum of Florence. https://archeologiavocidalpassato.com/tag/museo-archeologico-nazionale-di-firenze/

The other photos are my own, coming from a visit to the town last June before the latest discoveries were made, and some others were taken by the archeologist in charge of the on-site excavations, Emanuele Marriotti.

Here is a link to the local Archeological Group, Eutyche Avidiena which operates visits to the Sanctuary and the current collection every Saturday. (at least until these latest discoveries were made when they may have to structure their visits differently due to an expected increase in numbers of visitors.

Contacts: gruppoarcheo.scb@libero.it
Whatsapp – 3381547577

You can follow them here on Instagram: @gruppo_archeo_eutyche_avidiena