You may wish to see a page on Civita Castellana and Forte Sangallo (which houses the Archaeological Museum of Agro Falisco) first.
The district (Agro Falisco) lying between the Ciminian on the west, Soracte on the east, the Tiber on the north, and the modern Via Cassia on the south, with the exception of the road which passes through Nepi and Civita Castellana to Ponte Felice, is to travellers in general, and to antiquaries in particular, a "terra incognita". This tract of country, though level, is of exceeding beauty - not the stern, barren grandeur of the Campagna around Rome - but beauty, soft, rich, and luxuriant. Plains covered with oaks and chestnuts - grand gnarled giants, who have lorded it here for centuries over the lowly hawthorn, nut, or fern - such sunny glades, carpeted with green sward! - such bright stretches of corn, waving away even under the trees! - such "quaint mazes in the wanton groves!" - and such delicious shady dells, and avenues, and knolls, where Nature, in her springtime frolics, mocks Art or Titania, and girds every tree, every bush, with a fairy belt of crocuses, anemones, purple and white cistuses, delicate cyclamina, convolvuluses of different hues, and more varieties of laughing flowers than I would care to enumerate.
George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1848
In 1599 Orazio Censori was the architect of the Altar of the Sacrament in St. John Lateran. This masterpiece is ornamented with four large bronze-gilt columns, which support a pediment of the same metal. (..) As the necessary metal was lacking to adapt the columns to the design of the new altar, and to crown them with capitals and a pediment, Censori made a tour in Etruria. (..) He brought back to Rome hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of works of art in bronze, collected from the tombs of Corneto and Civita Castellana, which were all melted up in the furnace.
Rodolfo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome - 1899
Bronze exhibits from tombs: (left) a tool for separating the horses of a chariot; it might represent Anchises, Aeneas' father, assaulted by eagles sent by Zeus to punish him for having mated with Aphrodite (VIIth century BC); (centre) handle of an "oinochoi", a Greek vase (VIth century BC);
(right) mirror (VIth century BC)
Ovid speaks of the steepness of the ascent to the celebrated temple of Juno within the city. Zonaras also mentions the natural strength of its position on a lofty height. All descriptive of a site (..) perfectly agreeing with that of Civita Castellana, which, in accordance with Cluverius, Holstenius, Cramer, and Nibby, I am fully persuaded is the representative of the Etruscan Falerium (aka Falerii Veteres). (..) The internal history of Etruria is written on the mighty walls of her cities, and on other architectural monuments, on her roads, her sewers, her tunnels, but above all in her sepulchres; it is to be read on graven rocks, and on the painted walls of tombs; but its chief chronicles are inscribed on sarcophagi and cinerary urns, on vases and goblets, and mirrors and other articles in bronze, and a thousand et cetera of personal adornment, and of domestic and warlike furniture - all found within the tombs of a people long passed away, and whose existence was till of late remembered by few but the traveller or the student of classical lore. It was the great reverence for the dead, which the Etruscans possessed in common with the other nations of antiquity, that prompted them - fortunately for us of the nineteenth century - to store their tombs with these rich and varied sepulchral treasures, which unveil to us the arcana of their inner life, almost as fully as though a second Pompeii had been disinterred in the heart of Etruria. Dennis
Today the Falisci are regarded as distinct from the Etrurians, chiefly because they had a different alphabet.
Dionysus and Ariadne in vases (left an "oinochoi", right a "kylix") of local workshops (IVth century BC)
The Vases found in Etruscan tombs are of various forms, and served different purposes; therefore, to enable the reader to understand the frequent mention made of them under their technical names in the course of this work, I here arrange them under their respective classes. The names of these vases are ascertained, sometimes from the descriptions of the ancients, sometimes from monumental sources, being attached to vases in ancient paintings; but it must be confessed that in many cases they are applied conventionally.
I. Vases for holding wine, oil, or water - amphora, pelice, stamnos.
II. Vases for carrying water - hydria, calpis.
III. Vases for mixing wine and water - crater, celebe, oxybaphon.
IV. Vases for pouring wine, &c. - oenochoŽ, olpe, prochous. The oenochoŽ, or "wine pourer," is the jug in which the wine was transferred from the crater to the goblets of the guests; but the term is used generically in reference to any pitcher or ewer.
V. Vases for drinking - cantharus, cyathus, carchesion, holcion, scyphus, cylix, lepaste, phiale, ceras, rhyton.
VI. Vases for ointments or perfumes - lecythus, alabastron, ascos, bombylios, aryballos, cotyliscos. Dennis
Horses and winged horses were a favourite decorative subject for the Etruscans and the Falisci. Chariot racing was a direct outgrowth of warfare as it was practiced in the Late Bronze Age. Homer's aristocratic Trojan and Greek heroes drove, not walked, into battle in two-horse chariots handled independently by their drivers. After casting their spears, they dismounted to continue the fight on foot. Although chariots disappeared from the battlefield following the collapse of the Mycenean culture and the Etruscans and the Falisci never actually used them in war, their depiction shows the primacy of the horse in Etruscan/Faliscan society from the earliest times (you may wish to see the terracotta Winged Horses of Tarquinia).
Early IVth century BC locally made vases portraying Zeus and Athena (left) and Dionysus and Ariadne (right)
The image used as background for this page shows a VIIth century BC locally made vase with roughly carved images of horses. In Italy production of vases in imitation of red-figure wares of the Greek mainland occurred sporadically. However, around 440 BC, a workshop of potters and painters appeared at Metapontum in Lucania and soon after at Tarentum (Taranto) in Apulia. It is unknown how the technical knowledge for producing these vases travelled to Southern Italy, most likely because of the emigration of Athenian artisans. The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), which was partially fought in Sicily, resulted in a decline of Athenian vase exports which favoured the successful continuation of red-figure vase production in Southern and Central Italy.
For my guide I took a man from Civita Castellana, named Domenico Mancini, a most obliging, civil fellow, simple but intelligent, and, what is more than can be said for Italian guides in general, satisfied with a just remuneration. Having tended cattle or sheep all his life-time in the neighbourhood, he knows the site of every grotta or tomb, and in fact, pointed out to me some (..) which were previously unknown to the world. The antiquity-hunter in Italy can have no better guide than an intelligent shepherd; for these men, passing their days in the open air, and following their flocks over the wilds far from beaten tracks, become familiar with every cave, every fragment of ruined wall, and block of hewn stone; and, though they do not comprehend the antiquity of such relics, yet, if the traveller makes them aware of what he is seeking, they will rarely fail to lead him to the sites of such remains, and often, as in my case, give him good cause to rejoice in his interrogatory, "Gentle shepherd, tell me where?" Dennis
Local shepherds and farmers soon became aware of the market value of the items the ancient Falisci had placed in their tombs. tombarolo has become a word of the Italian dictionary which indicates a person who searches for precious or archaeologically valuable items in Etruscan tombs without authorization in order to sell them to unscrupolous dealers. See some fine reliefs which were recovered in 2007 by officers of Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico della Guardia di Finanza, a body in charge of preventing illicit trade of ancient works of art, near Lucus Feroniae, not very far from Civita Castellana.
The cliffs above and below the Ponte Terrano are perforated in every direction with holes - doorways innumerable, leading into spacious tombs, - sepulchral niches of various forms and sizes - here, rows of squares, side by side, like the port-holes of a ship of war - there, long and shallow recesses, one over the other, like an open cupboard, or a book-case, where the dead were literally laid upon the shelf, - now again, upright like pigeon-holes, - or still taller and narrower, like the crťneaux in a fortification. This seems to have been the principal necropolis of the Etruscan city. Dennis
By the time Dennis wrote his book all the tombs of Civita Castellana had been investigated. In 1889 archaeologists found evidence of another Faliscan town which was prosperous in the VIIIth century BC. The modern name of the site is Narce, perhaps the original one was Tevnalthia. The findings testify to the wealth and refinement of its inhabitants.
Affibbiaglio (comb brooch) from Necropoli di Valsiarosa near Forte Sangallo (silver and electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver - VIIth century BC)
The "comb brooch"" was used to fasten a cloak. The ornate clasp consists of multiple hooks (like the teeth of a comb) attached to a central section which is embellished with filigree, a technique of applying wires to create lacy patterns. The brooch exemplifies the Faliscan/Etruscan mastery of fine metalwork and metallurgy. It is likely that such showy clasps were worn by men who secured their mantle at the right shoulder with them, as a badge of honour and wealth.
The temples of the Etrurians and the Faliscans were often constructed from materials that degenerated over time (like wood, mud, turf and tile), leaving only ruined stone foundations, subterranean passages and fragments of other architectural materials. A typical feature of these temples however has survived to our time, i.e. their terracotta antefixes which were commonly placed on the eaves of a roof, in order to protect the end tiles from the elements. They also formed part of the architectural decoration of the buildings. They often portrayed satyrs and gorgons who were believed to keep evil spirits at bay (see an antefix portraying a gorgon at Capua, a town which had close contacts with the Etruscans).
Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia: Terracotta decoration of Santuario dei Sassi Caduti (Fallen Stones)
In the early centuries of Rome sacred edifices were built of wood, and ornamented with panels, cornices, and tiles of terra cotta with polychrome decoration. A structure of this kind was discovered on the site of Falerii, Civita Castellana, in 1886; the remains of it are exhibited in one of the halls of the Villa di Giulio III., outside the Porta del Popolo. Lanciani
The sanctuary stood on a strategic position on the ancient road which led to Falerii Veteres. The location contributed to its survival even after the Roman conquest of 241 BC. The decorative terracottas are related to different periods mainly from the Vth/IVth centuries. The central ornament reveals exceptional craftsmanship and it depicts two fighting warriors, most likely Eteocle and Polynices, the two sons of Oedipus who killed each other (this subject can be seen in other Etruscan reliefs). Several inscriptions indicate that the sanctuary was dedicated to Mercury, the patron of trade.
Terracotta decoration of Santuario dello Scasato (IIIrd century BC)
Similar to Santuario dei Sassi Caduti, that of the Scasato continued to be a site of worship after 241 BC, when it was decorated with antefixes which departed from traditional patterns. You may wish to see a very fine IVth century BC terracotta statue of Apollo which was found at this shrine and was moved to Rome.
Terracotta votive statues of the IIIrd century BC: (left) infant from Santuario di Vignale; (right) woman from Narce and head of a girl (unknown origin) whose haircut indicates she was about to be married
My wife and I came to fruitful Falerii, where she was born,
the town you conquered once, Camillus.
Priests were preparing Juno's chaste festival,
the celebrated games, and sacrifice of a local heifer
despite the difficult mountain ways this road offers
to witness the rites was worth the delay.
There stood the ancient gloomy grove dense with trees:
look at it - and you'll agree there's a goddess in the place.
Ovid - Amores - III:13 - Translation by A. S. Kline
The poem indicates that the shrines of Falerii Veteres were still a place of worship by the inhabitants of Falerii Novi at Ovid's time. The new town was located in the plain, thus Ovid mentions the difficult mountain ways which led to the shrine.
"Peperino" sculptures from Tomba del Peccato (Tomb of Sin) near Falerii Novi (IIIrd century BC)
The so-called Tomb of Sin of Falerii Novi, located in the necropolis of Tre Camini, was known since the early XIXth century; it was a rock-cut tomb with a porch. In 1991 parts of it collapsed because of heavy rains. Activities to remove the debris led to discovering two fine sculptures, a lion in the round and a high-relief Medusa protome of the "beautiful" type, carved on the short side of a rectangular block.
Return to the page on the town and the fortress.
From Civitavecchia to Civita Castellana - other pages:
Civitavecchia, Allumiere and Tolfa
Archaeological Museum of Civitavecchia
Oriolo Romano and Capranica
Bassano, Monterosi and Campagnano
Nepi and Castel Sant'Elia