New treasures in San Casciano, a monumental 2 meter high marble Apollo from the water


By John

A young Apollo, elegant and beautiful, busy hunting a lizard. After the wonder of the bronzes, it is a monumental statue, almost two meters high, marble copy from a bronze original by the Greek Praxiteles, the last treasure returned from the mud and boiling water of the excavations of San Casciano. An extraordinary find, Prof. Jacopo Tabolli of the University for Foreigners of Siena tells ANSA, which is accompanied by a very particular stone donary with a bilingual inscription and a myriad of small objects in bronze, terracotta and even crystal that open up fascinating glimpses into the daily life of the sanctuary.

«The excavation of San Casciano never ceases to amaze» the director general of archeology Luigi La Rocca applauds from Mic: «Not only bronzes, therefore, were dedicated to the health divinities venerated in this extraordinary water sanctuary, but also valuable marble statues, sometimes replicas, as in this case, of Greek originals , evidence of the frequenting of subjects belonging to the most varied social classes, from the rich Etruscan aristocracies to the humblest workers engaged in the construction of sacred buildings”.

And that’s not enough. Because by widening the perimeter of the excavation, what had initially appeared as a small sacred building built around the spring and its ritual basin, has revealed itself in recent months a real temple with a portico adorned with four columns and the central part with the large basin partly covered by a podium decorated with large statues, one of which was perhaps that of the young Apollo. A jewel of monumental architecture and hydraulic engineering, in short, built, in total continuity of worship, on top of an older Etruscan chapel of which the splendid walls have been uncovered in recent months. Although the Romans, perhaps precisely to make their temple more stable, wanted to adjust its orientation on the ground, rotating it slightly, after having enlarged and made the basin intended to receive the offerings more sumptuous. «Further proof of the sacred value that was given to the hot water of the spring here, which was felt precisely as a divinity that flowed from the earth and that had its home in this temple», underlines Tabolli indicating the tapered limbs of the large statue , just entrusted to the care of the restorers.

The emotion is strong, even if, unlike the bronzes on display today at the Quirinale which arrived intact, this Apollo is unfortunately reduced to pieces, some of which, such as the arms and parts of the head, have yet to be found. «It was not a coincidence, this statue was deliberately broken and then thrown into the basin at the moment of the definitive closure of the site, in the 5th century AD, it is difficult to say with certainty whether for a last pagan ritual act of protection or whether as iconoclastic will of the Christians”, points out the director of the excavation, the archaeologist Emanuele Mariotti, indicating the point where the impetuous force of the water, which now flows at 30 liters per second, has exposed the splendid legs of the god. «They were hidden by a column lowered vertically to close and seal everything – he explains – when we found ourselves in front of them it was crazy. Behind the legs, diving upside down, the torso came out and then a small altar, in an incredible sequence.”

A pang in the heart in some ways even greater than that felt a year ago, when the bronzes were pulled out of that water and mud. «In our arms that marble body was warm enough to seem alive», Tabolli continues to express emotion. Because although in pieces, underline the archaeologists, who also in this case shared the discovery with a dense network of experts, the Apollo of San Casciano is of enormous scientific interest. Of the statue of Praxiteles – the original of which is perhaps the bronze preserved in Cleveland – there are several Roman marble copies exhibited in museums around the world, the best known in the Louvre and the Vatican. However, none are linked to a specific context, just as there is no myth that explains the meaning of that game between the god and the lizard. «And instead here a link could emerge precisely with medicine – Tabolli anticipates – given that the lizard for the ancients was linked to ophthalmic treatments and that bronze specimens of lizards were found in the tank».

In short, Apollo may have played an important role in this Tuscan temple where the ancients came to be healed, venerated and honored together with the divinity of water precisely because of his connection with the medicine and health treatments practiced here. «Let’s also think about the other Apollo, the bronze one that we found a year ago. And then to the various altars dedicated to the god”, Tabolli points out. «Together with the deity of water, a great protagonist of a story of illnesses and healings, of anguish and rediscovered hopes that here is seven centuries long»