The long history of Fiesole is constantly visible to tourists walking around the city, with a number of interesting archaeological sites dating back over 2000 years: the Etruscan walls (which still partially enclose the city), Etruscan tombs on Via del Bargellino and the extraordinary Fonte Sotterra are some the more notable examples of local historical importance.

The Etruscan Walls

Fiesole was built on top of a hill, as were the majority of Etruscan cities, probably during the IV century BC. Strong city walls were a valid defence against enemies until 1125, when Florence was successful in conquering Fiesole and ordered the partial destruction of the walls.Etruscan Walls

Although successive alterations to the walls are not clear, a new city plan carried out during the I century BC is known to have absorbed the old walls inside solider structures.
The surrounding walls were approximately 2.5 km long, reaching from the hill of San Francesco to the area known as Borgunto, very close to the stone caves of Montececeri, which provided part of the building materials for the wall.

Nowadays it is possible to observe the most awe-inspiring remains of the city walls on Via delle Mura Etrusche (literally: the road of the Etruscan walls), outside the archaeological Area, and on Via Mari, on the eastern side of Fiesole. A large part of the ruins are no longer visible because they are located inside areas belonging to private gardens.
Few details are available about the ancient gateways to the city, with the exception of one threshold on the northern side, still unmistakable thanks to the remains of part of a parallel wall joined to the main structure by a perpendicular wall.

 

The Etruscan tombs – Via del Bargellino

Etruscan tombs - Via del Bargellino

 

Following via Matteotti, in the direction of Borgunto (on the eastern side of Fiesole), tourists unexpectedly find two Etruscan tombs, overlooked by via del Bargellino and hidden among the modern buildings. These tombs dated back to the IV century BC were part of an Etruscan necropolis, that extended across the city walls.
These two chamber tombs have a quadrangular shape and dry stone walls.

Stone urns and wares are unearthed inside the two graves: the grave goods (small bronze objects and wares) are now displayed in the archaeological museum.

 

 

 

Fonte SotterraFonte Sotterra

Walking up to Montececeri, on the eastern hill, you enter the old village of Borgunto, which was home to the stone-cutters; typical alleys and glimpses over the city and nature are all around.
In the square of San Bernardino is the access to the Fonte Sotterra, an artificial cave dug on a natural fault, that assures clear water.
At the entrance, some steps bring you down to a dark hall (approximately 10.5m x 32.5m) with a constant temperature of 13°C. These special features enabled local families to draw water and to keep fruit and vegetables cool.

To improve its use, Fonte Sotterra has been modified many times. The most important change came about in 1855 (when, to avoid epidemics, a gate closed the entrance and people drew water with a pump) and in 1944 (when the cavern became an air-raid shelter with an emergency exit).

In 19th century, Fonte Sotterra was considered an Etruscan building, but it is very hard to date it; the cavern remained in use until recently, after the second world war.

Nowadays, for safety reasons, is possible to visit Fonte Sotterra only during special openings organized by Municipality of Fiesole.

Over a century of Beauty

entrance of archaeological museumSituated in a position of extraordinary interest for both its history and landscape, the Archaeological Museum conserves Fiesole’s historical treasures, showing visitors all the cultures that have lived in the territory, from the Villanovan period to the Etruscan one and from the Romans to the Lombards. Special attention is paid to the period of antique collecting that brought important artefacts to Fiesole (a stage of the grand tour).

The first museum was established thanks to the discoveries made during excavations in the area of the Roman theatre and to donations made by private citizens; in 1878 the small civic museum was inaugurated inside some of the City Hall’s rooms in Piazza Mino. By 1914 that little museum was like a “messy storehouse” and in the same year the archaeological collection was moved to a new building designed by the architect Ezio Cerpi. The new Museum, situated inside the archaeological area (very close to the Roman Theatre), has neoclassical characteristics and reproduces a ionic temple. The archaeological collection was organised according to the different place of origin of the objects, like a museum of the City.

During the excavations of the archaeological area and the city, the Museum’s collection increased and a refurbishment was necessary (1954). About 30 years later, in 1981, a new setting enlarged and modernised the Archaeological Museum, thanks to the galleries on which the antique section was placed; the space downstairs, instead, was dedicated to the topographic section.

In 1987, Professor Alfiero Costantini donated to the Museum some beautiful pottery from Greece, Magna Greece and the Roman territory: the Costantini Collection was located in a separated building, which was joined to the Museum in 1997 when an underground passage was opened to link the two sides and create a single itinerary for visits.

At present, visitors, entering from the Archaeological Area, can follow an itinerary on several levels:

  • ground floor: the first, the second and the third rooms are dedicated to Fiesole’s territory (Villanovan ceramic, bronze and stone Etruscan and Roman artefacts) and to the objects unearthed during excavations. Part of a bronze lioness in the middle of Room 3 is of particular importance. The small Room 4, instead, preserves some artefacts of the early museum’s collection and prepares visitors for the antique section on the upper floor.
  • galleries: here, visitors can observe the antique section, consisting of the Costantini Collection, Etruscan bucchero (typical Etruscan pottery), coin collection and sculptures, mainly from Rome.
  • underground passage and the new side: these are dedicated to the Lombard section (Medieval period). Some burial stones, unearthed in the Archaeological Area and in the city, are rebuilt in these rooms and many objects contained in the burial sites are shown in their original places.

 

"For the decorum (and decoration), instruction and donation of the people of Fiesole"

The small and charming Bandini Museum takes its name from the erudite canon, Angiolo Maria Bandini (Fiesole, 1726 – 1803), librarian in Florence's Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana from 1759 and author of the library's catalogue.

Bandini was an influential figure, who knew the most important people of his time. He became an avid antique trade lover, collecting works of art that he kept inside his small XI century church of Sant’Ansano. The small church was thus transformed into a sort of private “Sacred Museum” of significant Tuscan medieval and Renassaince art, where it was possible to admire paintings dating from XIII to XV centuries, as well as a small collection of byzantine works and terracottas by Della Robbia.

When Bandini died in 1803, he donated his art collection to the Bishop and Chapter of Fiesole “for the decorum (and decoration), instruction and donation of the people of Fiesole”. Almost a century later, Bandini’s collection was moved into the current Museum, built by Giuseppe Castellucci and opened in 1913.

In 2013, the Bandini Museum celebrated its centenary and was renovated to be accessible for all; works of art were restored and exhibited accordin to their genre and origin, with paintings upstairs, sculptures and works from Fiesole downstairs.

At present, the Bandini Museum belongs to Fiesole’s Chapter and is managed by Municipality along with the Archaeological Area and Museum. This testifies the unity and importance of history and culture in Fiesole.

The Archaeological Area, delimited North by the etruscan walls, contains a temple, the Roman Theatre and the Baths. A Longobard cemetery was also discovered in the sacred area near the etruscan-roman temple.

Roman Theatre

roman theatreThe Roman Theatre was built between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD and its ruins had been visible for a long time. In the Middle Age people have called the place "Buca delle Fate" (Fairies' Cave) and an ancient legend tells that Fiesole's Fairies, symbol of an ancient and happy period, have hidden themselves in some dark underground holes not to see the Florentines destroying the city after its conquest in 1125.

The prussian baron Von Shellersheim dug into the area of the Theatre and discovered two rich grave goods near the ruins of the theatre itself, but there are no certain proves about that. The systematic excavations started in 1870 and finished between 1882 and 1900; meanwhile the left tiers (cavea) were rebuilt for public use.

The building had a huge half-round cavea, created directly in the rock of the hill; four vomitoria (passages) allowed the entrance in a covered gallery (crypta), that unfortunately doesn't exist no more.

Cavea was divided in four zones by narrow stairs in order to let people find their seat more easily. In the space below it, there was the orchestra and a space where theatrical performances took place; a wall with a recess (pulpitum) delimited frontally the stage (proscenium). Behind it there was the scaena frons (an architectural stage design), whose foundations and marble decorations are still visible in the Museum. Thanks to these decorations is possible to say that the Theatre was used until the 3rd century AD.

Thermal Baths

roman bathsThe roman Thermal Baths were built, like the theatre, in the 1st century B.C. in the eastern part of the Archaeological Area.

They were discovered between 1882 and 1900 and hurriedly restored before the end of archaeological excavations.

West there was the entrance (today are visible some steps), from which Romans came in a monumental arcade, that enclosed the building North and South. Inside the arcade there was an opening space with tanks and an area for gymnastics.

From North to South, inside the covered area there were the typical roman thermal baths spaces:

  • Frigidarium: pool with cold water characterized by a half-round tank (covered by marbles in ancient times). In front of it there were three arches (the ones you can see now have been rebuilt afterwards); crossing them Romans entered in a space for meetings and conversations. In there was found the base of baby Hercules' sculpture, which is now preserved inside the Archaeological Museum.
  • Tepidarium: lukewarm space between Frigidarium and Calidarium.
  • Calidarium: the pool with hottest water. It was warmed up by two ovens situated in the next room; at present ovens are visible and partially rebuilt, so it is possible to understand how they worked: the warm air came from under the floor (higher than the other rooms because of some little tile pillars) and spread out of the walls through perforated bricks (tubuli), that formed a sort of simple pipe. In southern side, there is still the labrum, the pool for taking a bath after sweating.

As the theatre, Roman thermal baths were early rebuilt during the 3rd century AD and, during the next century, they were abandoned and used like a cemetery.

Temple

templeIn 1872 ruins of a monumental staircase, that seemed to be part of a roman building, was discovered in the western side of the archaeological area; in 1923, after the total excavation of the staircase and the pedestal, archaeologists understood that the building was a roman temple (4th century BC). New excavations between 1952 and 1965 also brought to light the etruscan temple (6th century BC).

We know few things about the ancient etruscan temple because the only evidences found by archaeologists are part of the architectural decoration: nowadays inside the Museum it's possible to see the carved polychrome shingles (maybe shaped like a Gorgon) that were upon the extremities of the roof. The earlier etruscan temple was 1probably destroyed and, at the beginning of the 4th century BC, another hellenistic temple, whose elevation is now still partially preserved, was built over it: a staircase (visible beyond the roman one) led to a little colonnade (pronao) in front of the sacred room reserved to the god's worship (naos). Beside it there were two storages and down the staircase it's still present an altar. Part of a votive ditch has been found into the naos, the central red painted room; archaeologists have found votive bronzes and coins; a little bronze owl suggests the temple was dedicated to Minerva. During the 1st century BC the building was destroyed by fire, probably after the roman conquest of the city in 90 BC.

Afterwards the Etruscan temple's ruins were included in the new and bigger roman temple; it had, like the earlier building, an altar in front of the staircase. In southern side was built a colonnade for pilgrims' rest. The temple has been used until the 3rd century AD, when the altar and the staircase were buried to build the new road between temple and thermal baths.

Longobard necropolis

longobard necropolisWhen Longobards arrived in Fiesole at the end of the 6th century AD the ancient sacred area of the city became a burial ground zone; between 1910 and 1912, in fact, a lot of male and female graves were discovered there. Inside them, there were grave goods, composed of iron, glass, bronze and baked clay objects. Other Longobard tombs were recently dug in the centre of Fiesole, behind the City Hall. Inside the archaeological museum is possible to see the grave goods and three recreated Longobard tombs.