April 2023. Hidden from View.

APRIL 2023



Italy has a rich and varied architectural history, demonstrated by the skill of its builder’s leaving monuments that stretch back over three millennia. With the fall of the Roman empire one of the long periods of construction, inherited all over Europe, came to an end, leaving its infrastructure to crumble into ruin. At some early point the new barbaric Lombardian inhabitants in Italy, mixing with the indigenous population, must have had a need to repair what they had inherited, or build anew. Labour was not a problem, also materials lay everywhere in the wreckage of the past. However, with the relentless passing of time much of what had been left was swallowed up by the power of nature, the wind or earth tremors - movements so small that countless generations were oblivious to their passing. Thus, everywhere the fabric of what had been was replaced by small architectural gestures and a myriad of new habitation. In time, as human experience and egoism manifested itself once more, the desire to construct monuments as statements of personality or power returned. So, the modern Italy we see today has, everywhere, a relatively short history while still remaining a monument to man’s ingenuity.

But not all of those earlier ancient Roman edifices were completely lost, being merely hidden out of sight beneath that blanket of geological age, waiting for the inquisitive, or an accident, to bring their remains back to life!

Volterra, in Tuscany, is no exception, having a c. 1300-year history before the fall of the Roman empire - a history of prodigious and extensive construction by a large and civilised Etruscan society that was absorbed seamlessly into the Roman world in 80 BC. With it came a cultural change fashioned from sophisticated Greco-Roman intellectual influences and savage gladiatorial Roman instincts. Emerging from this duopoly came the need for a Theatre and an Amphitheatre. Like every Roman city of any moment, such essential and significant appendages would have been provided.

The problem was, that Volterra once the largest metropolis in ancient Italy, had no such structures at all!

Had the passing of time and vandalism erased them from sight completely? Generally, no one in the earliest times gave history a great deal of thought. What was gone was gone. Later, the city had its 19th century theatre, doubling as a cinema, and thugs publicly beating each other to death was entirely out of character to modern inhabitants. But happily, some people are reluctant to leave history alone, and by design or chance such forgotten elements of history are thereby once more revealed.

In 1941, Volterra decided it needed a football pitch, probably in deference to the faux aspirations of Benito Mussolini, a man who espoused personal fitness if not exactly embracing this principle completely! In levelling the patch of land designated by the city for this pitch some Roman remains came to light, but in the midst of a war, not surprisingly, money could hardly be spared to carry out further excavations. It was not until 1950 that thoughts turned back to excavating the area, an area that seemingly had been used as a rubbish tip in medieval times - ongoing for hundreds of years as citizens just tossed their unwanted litter over their city walls. Not quite the way one would wish to hide a theatre! The dig was undertaken by a local amateur archaeologist, Enrico Fiumi. With the help of a team from the local psychiatric hospital, thanks to his research and persistent diligence, they unearthed not only the first century theatre but a complex of stairways providing access to seating for 3500 spectators. These were carved into the natural sloping cusp behind, stretching up to the city walls. Fiumi established that the theatre was also equipped with a velarium, a necessary sunshade as performances took place during day light hours. By the end of the third century, for some unknown reason, the theatres popularity came to an end. This appeared to be the mark of a massive social change as classical Greek authors like Aristophanes and Plautus, besides the Roman genius of Euripides and Sophocles, were standard Roman fare for the intellectual citizen. Volterra even having its own famous playwright, Aulus Persius Flaccus. With the Roman theatres demise the area was given over to public baths which form a separate later archaeological site behind the Corinthian columns of the theatre stage.


But other secrets were yet to come. Within Volterra’s Five-and-a-Half-mile circumference of walls surely there must have been a space for the humble masses’ entertainment. But initially, like the Roman theatre, no one had the faintest notion of its existence, and similarly, only a chance incidence revealed the historical site. At the same time as the cultured citizens of First Century Volterra were enjoying Euripides’s “Electra”, or the melancholy sadness of “Hecabe”, other citizens - at least 10,000 of them - were crammed into an Amphitheatre for gladiatorial and other blood-letting entertainments.

In 2015 the probability became reality as excavators preparing ditches for modern drainage pipes unearthed a regular line of building stones close to the city cemetery and Etruscan Porta Diana. Given over to the archaeologists, who with consummate care revealed the architectural skeleton of what was once the foundations of a probable marble clad edifice.

These excavations are ongoing, with much more yet to be revealed.


In effect it was the “Cavea” of a large horseshoe shaped auditorium delineated by three banks of seats capable of containing 10,000 spectators. “Cavea“ refers to the underground part of the building where combatants and animals were lodged beneath the floor of the stadium prior to the  ensuing spectacle. Fortunately, a perfect example of an Amphitheatre exists at Pompeii near Naples, with the floor in place,  giving us an idea of what such buildings would have looked like.


So, therefore, when exploring Volterra - mind where you put your feet!

'Anfiteatro Romana - That Was Not There' - Video  with English subtitles: