The Etruscan world is linked to the Afterlife and you can sense it the moment you head into the Sarteano woods: the travertine here has allowed – like nowhere else on Earth – the conservation of dozens of tombs, excavated deep down and full of charm. One of the many necropolises unearthed is the one near Pianacce, delightfully overlooking the Val di Chiana. Here, on a travertine plain, corridors and vast cells open out where men, women, the young and the elderly as well as children were laid to rest 2500 years ago, sometimes found in ashes contains in urns or walled up in great sarcophagi.
At the end of a long corridor that lies five metres beneath the ground, disturbing figures line up on the walls: a red-headed and clothed demon, with an aquiline nose and bulging eyes, drives a carriage drawn by four white animals, surrounded by a black cloud: two lions and two griffons with hooked beaks. As well as a door, two dead people await them at a banquet, linked by glances and gestures of affection: next to them a servant. Other whimsical figures follow them: a huge serpent with three heads, curled in a massive coil, with gnashing teeth and red crests on its heads, and lastly a seahorse, half fish, half horse.
It’s clearly a message about the journey to the Other Side and its figures in the 4th century BCE from the quietude of the eternal banquet and the fear of monsters who reside in Hades.
That same journey into the Etruscan tombs can be seen in the rooms of the Civic Archaeological Museum, featuring the earliest well-like tombs dating to the Villanovian age and the Hellenistic urns, which take us on a journey through nine centuries, a learning experience about the importance of burial for the people we know thanks to the necropolises, rather than cities...
Painted ceramics, made locally or imported from Greece, canopic urns with human traits, gold jewellery, bronze vases, beautiful fetid stone sculptures, everything was laid out to accompany the deceased on his or her final journey.
The museum is also home to a unique reconstruction of the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga.
There’s more to Sarteano than just the Etruscans. The town’s layout displays a continuity that has been passed down from prehistory to the present day. Along its streets we see medieval palaces and renaissance ones, as well as its symbol, the castle perched on the top of the hill, famous since the year 1000. A military fortress with high bastions, surrounded by three walls that contain the church of San Martino and an artistic gem like Beccafumi’s Annunciation. In the Middle Ages Sarteano provided shelters to pilgrims: Spineto Monastery, nestled in pristine countryside, can still be seen today. The element that unites these places is the countryside: wild towards the Val d’Orcia, marked by human activities, looking towards the Val di Chiana. Sarteano sits in the middle of two of the loveliest areas of Tuscany…