The heart of the town of Chiusi grew up on a hill, occupying a strategic position overlooking Val di Chiana and the roads connecting Umbria and Arezzo and spread out to cover the entire summit. Chiusi, which enjoyed its period of maximum splendour during the reign of the famous King Porsenna (6th Century BC), still preserves Etruscan and Roman remains, making it an important archaeological centre, both in Italy and the world.
The numerous excavations, which began in the 18th Century and are still being carried out, produced the exceptional discoveries on the mid-nineteenth Century: and incredible number of tombs, many still intact, that have been brought to light. Unfortunately a great amount of pieces were dispersed and are now in various collections and major museums in Italy and abroad. Despite this, the National Archaeological Museum of Chiusi is one of the most important in its field and is considered a point of reference for archaeologists, historians and lovers of antiquities alike.
Upon request, the museum personnel will arrange visits to some of the tombs scattered around the area. The best known is the Tomba della Scimmia (Monkey’s Tomb), dating from the beginning of the 5th Century BC) with frescoes depicting games in honour of the deceased, who sits under a parasol, watching. The catacombs of Santa Mustiola and Santa Caterina date from the Roman era, as well as the great water cistern. In the 13th Century a defence tower was built over it. Later, at the end of the 16th Century, this was converted into a bell tower.
A vast network of Etruscan tunnels stretch underneath the town. Part of these have been cleared of debris and can now be explored as part of an unusual and fascinating guided tour. This underground world comprises “Porsenna’s Labyrinth” and the epigraph section in the Civic Museum, with a great Etruscan well overlooking a pool some 30 metres deep. This is the first museum entirely dedicated to Etruscan epigraphs, with over 500 inscriptions on funeral urns and tablets on display.
An overview of Chiusi is gleaned by observing the two towers known as Beccati Questo (Take This) and Beccati Quello (Take That) which overlook the border of Tuscany and Umbria, legacy of feudal struggles in a strategic location.
You can also visit the Cathedral of San Secondiano, with its early Christian layout and the extensive collection in the Cathedral Museum, which displays objects dating from the 2nd Century BC to the 19th Century. The twenty one 16th Century religious illuminated manuscripts, illustrated by artists like Sano di Pietro, Francesco di Giorgio Martini and many others, are priceless.
A few kilometres away, marking the southern border of the Val di Chiana, lies Chiusi Lake, a peaceful mirror of water, set amongst screens of cane and cultivated fields, where visitors can practise leisure fishing and bird watching. Ask for a brustico, an Etruscan perch recipe, blackened on a cane fire and then seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil. Accompany it with a cool Val di Chiana white wine at one of the few, good restaurants by the lake.
The Etruscan influence on Chiusi can hardly be overstated. But there’s more on offer then Chiusi’s unique archaeological heritage. One of its treasures is its lake, what remains – along with the neighbouring lakes of Montepulciano and Trasimeno – of the great marine lagoon that invaded a major section of Central Italy. Chiusi’s lake is small and shallow but rich in fauna, while its reeds are home to an incredible number of nesting birds.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale
Via Porsenna, 93 - Tel 0578-20177
Newly redesigned, this museum is one of the world’s most important Etruscan collections, displaying finds from the Bronze Age to Lombard times. The Etruscan period features thousands of pieces, some priceless, such as a set of decorated heavy bucchero pottery and sculptures in fetid limestone, as well as bronze objects, Canopic funeral vases, utensils and jewels. Particularly valuable is the large collection of black and red figurative pottery from Greece.
Museo Della Cattedrale (Porsenna Labyrinth)
Piazza Carlo Baldini, 7 - Tel 0578 226490
Next to the beautiful cathedral - one of Tuscany’s finest - as many as 21 extremely beautifully illustrated liturgical codices from part of a valuable collection of artworks dating from the 2nd Century BC to the 19th Century. It also houses the entrance to a maze of underground passageways known as the Porsenna Labyrinth, a complex water system in Etruscan times. A visit makes an unusual and attractive trip into the town’s underbelly.