From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 17
Sacred Caves and Mysterious Tombs
For many thousands of years, before the dawn of history, nomadic hunter-gatherers lived in the Serchio Valley and in the valleys of the numerous tributaries, including the Rio Salita or Sarita that flows just below the Monte di Gioviano. From the rocky Gioviano outcrop, which today is called “in Castello,” these early inhabitants of the Alpi Apuane could survey a vast area of the Serchio and Apennines and thus be aware of the presence of game and perhaps enemy tribes.

The Apuanian Alps are riddled with caves which served as shelters for the first human inhabitants. Notable amongst the caves is one located less than three miles northwest of Gioviano on Monte Gragno, known as the Buca della Penna di Cardoso, which served as a place of worship as long as 2,500 years ago.

Even today, archaeologists who normally use scientific and straightforward prose in their writings, describe the wild and foreboding area of the cave which must be approached via an ancient mule trail. One described it as “like a nightmare, mysterious like a legendary countryside, open to the wind and the sun, the irregular opening of which is against a high and rocky cliff.”

My rough translation of Professor Lera’s description does not sound nearly as poetic as it does in the original Italian.

“From this opening, gushes forth a stream after a long course through cavernous ceilings glistening with stalactites. Near the mouth of the cavern, the waters form little lakes made brilliant by glistening calcite. The entrance, majestic like the caves sung about by the poets of old, is protected by the mountain that seems to mysteriously wrap around it with its rocks warmed by the morning sun.”

The goddess of water and fertility was to have inhabited the cave, and votive offerings from the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. were to have been found there. Also found was evidence of extensive trade with the Etruscans by the Ligurians, the inhabitants of the surrounding mountains, including, without any doubt in my mind, the Monte di Gioviano. Fertility was essential to human survival, and thus it is no surprise that an Etruscan white marble phallic tombstone was discovered below, in the valley of the Turrite Cava.

Just below Gioviano, near where the Sarita flows into the Serchio, Etruscan tombs from the 5th century B.C. have been discovered in the Antro di Paura di Gioviano (The Cave of Fear of Gioviano). Other Etruscan evidence dates from the 6th century B.C. This cave, which is in the form of an “S,” is about 100 feet deep and appears to have been carved out of the rock by humans as a place of worship. It is said that at the end of the cave is a deep shaft, the bottom of which has never been found.

At Piano della Rocca, a Ligurian cemetery was discovered next to the ancient church, and evidence of a Ligurian settlement exists on the mountaintop above at La Rocca, which is less than two miles from Gioviano.

Because of Gioviano’s fertile fields and easy access to the Serchio, and because the Etruscans of the lower elevations and the Ligurians of the higher elevations seemed to live in peace and harmony, it is my theory that Gioviano was first settled by Ligurians and that later, Etruscans, the first forestieri (foreigners) moved in and absorbed the Ligurians into their own culture.

This acculturation by the Etruscans, who were allied with Rome, would later serve to protect the Etrusco-Ligurians of Gioviano from the violent Roman penetration into hostile Ligurian territory in the higher peaks of the Apuanian Alps. Thus, ancient Ligurian traditions of maintaining communal fields, forests, and pastures survived around Gioviano and nearby Vetriano, even until the last century.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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