Archaeological Museum, Museums of Fiesole

The museum was built by the architect Ezio Cerpi between 1912 and 1914 in the shape of a Roman temple of Ionic style, and preserves finds from Fiesole and its territory and private donations, including the Costantini Collection of Greek, Magno-Greek and Etruscan and the Albites Collection, with valuable Roman sculptures. Among the finds coming from Fiesole and from the territory there is a fragment of a bronze statue perhaps of a Capitoline she-wolf dated between the Etruscan age and the first century BC, “Fiesolan” stele in sandstone from the archaic Etruscan period, and cinerary urns Etruscan (on one of them the theme of the Wild Boar of Meleager is depicted in bas – relief), as well as votive bronzes, Etruscan and Roman ceramics, terracotta and bronze lamps, and other objects of the Etruscan and Roman period. The museum also displays some Lombard burials found in Fiesole, weapons, jewelry and other medieval objects.

Situated 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.

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.

Archaeological area of Fiesole
Excavations in the archaeological area of Fiesole include a Roman theater, thermal baths, an Etruscan-Roman temple and an archaeological museum. They are located between via Duprè, via delle Mura Etrusche and via Bandini. It contains finds from the III century BC to the II century AD.

In 1809, the Prussian baron Friedman Schellersheim was the first to have excavations carried out on a farm, called Buche delle Fate, where he found Roman ruins. He researched until 1814, then the work was suspended and resumed later in 1870. The Municipality in 1873 bought the land where the excavations continued and in 1878 a first museum was established in the Pretorio palace with the material that came to light. The director of the excavations nominated by the municipality was Professor Demostene Macci, who held the position until 1910.

In the esplanade of the excavations there was the ancient forum of Faesulae, in the valley between the hills of San Francesco and Sant’Apollinare.

Roman Theater
The theater was built according to Greek models (i.e. it exploits the natural slope of the ground, dug to make the cavea steps) and was built at the time of Silla and embellished by Claudio and Septimius Severus. The one in Fiesole is still considered one of the oldest existing Roman theaters (the first arose in Rome only at the beginning of the second century BC). It was raised towards the end of the first century BC, probably in the last twenty years (when the republican age was already ending), but it underwent numerous restorations and embellishments over time (especially under the Empire). As a structure it is very close to the Greek theatrical model (not surprisingly it rests on a natural slope), even if there are already many elements of detachment from the Hellenic tradition. For example, the orchestra, which has much smaller dimensions than those of Greek theaters (which is justified by the fact that in Greek tragedies much importance was given to the choir). Other fundamental and evident differences compared to the previous tradition.

The cavea has a diameter of 34 m. The upper tier is destroyed, while the lower ones are well preserved. In the theater, below, there were three distinct orders of seats and nineteen tiers divided by five stairways (today only ten); on one side the steps are dug into the boulder and on the other side, where there is also the well, they rest on vaults supported by concentric walls. At the top of the steps there were the lodges called tribunalia, for the most eminent characters. The theater could hold about three thousand people. The front scene was made up of a two-storey loggia which was destroyed, of which only the foundations that show the three doors reserved for the actors remain. Two covered wings (le versurae) framed the scene laterally and led to a portico to the east behind the scene (of which nine pillars remain) and to the warehouses to the west, used for costumes and scenic material. The orchestra was originally paved with polychrome mosaics and was concluded by a proscenium. The tiers, the orchestra and the scene were accessed from the propylaea, which had shelves for the stages and were adorned with fluted columns. The theater is still used in the summer for performances of lyrical works of the Fiesole Summer.

The recovery
For the construction, the Romans mostly exploited the natural slope of the land, according to the model of the Greek tradition. However, where the depression was too high, innovative arches were built, capable of supporting the weight of the remaining tiers. These arches, located east and west of the building, were the first remains that were found in the Middle Ages (the inhabitants of the place renamed them vulgarly “Buche delle Fate”). However, the official discoverer of the theater is to be considered the Prussian archaeologist Friedman Schellershein, who in the year 1809 decided to undertake excavations to “make this wonderful historical document to the city of Faesule”.

Unfortunately Schellershein, as soon as he had recovered some objects of relative economic value from the site, closed it a few months after its opening. This is the main reason why, until 1814, the theater was shamefully used as a quarry for stone (it was not even the first time in its history; in fact it seems that already around the year 1000 some of its stones had been used by none other than for the construction of the Duomo). So, to limit the destruction, from 1815 the Florentine Chapter again decided to make the area cultivable, completely covering the theater with earth.

Fortunately, after the movement of the capital to Florence in 1864 (with a consequent increase in funds and investors in the lily city), the territories of Fiesole became Florentine. It was in those years that the Chapter decided to resume the excavations, which however were interrupted again, since Professor Migliarini, director of the Florentine Galleries and esteemed city authority, judged the theater to be of little cultural interest (at the time, in fact, it gave real value historical only to Etruscan works). However in 1870, with the forfeiture of ecclesiastical assets by the state, the land of the theater first returned to the state property and then, a short time later, it was purchased by the Municipality of Fiesole, which decided to give a turn to the excavations. In fact, in 1873, under the direction of Carlo Strozzi and the Florentine Deputation (commissioned by the Municipality), work began (also financed, for the first time in Italy, by the “collection of an entrance fee”) which, in 1911, with the restoration of part of the steps, returned the Teatro Fiesolano to the community.

In any case, at the time there were many fierce criticisms of the Municipality. Most critics criticized the municipal institution for having carried out a too heavy restoration on the theater, which had distorted the essence of the building. Other criticisms were due to the fact that the Administration had taken on the workforce of the local farmers for the remainder, all at the expense of the quality of the work.

In the 50s and 60s the last ones were carried out on the walls, consolidating the thermal baths and the temple. From 2004 to 2006, the theater steps and proscenium were consolidated and restored.

As of 2016, they were subject to degradation and urgent restorations in the areas of the calidarium, laconicum and labrum pools, and in the theater inside the pulpitum, cavea and crypta.

Behind the theater there are the ruins of the baths, built in the time of Silla (1st century BC), restored and enlarged in the time of Hadrian. They were “discovered” in 1891, when it was finally possible to give a function to the three arches that have always been visible: they constituted the terrace of the spa towards the valley.

The spas are located along the walls and consist of the three classic rooms of the calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium, plus other pools and rooms. A rectangular swimming pool and two basins (one of which immersed) served for public baths and many amphorae were found on their bottom, used to purify the water, collecting the impurities that went to the bottom.

There are the remains of rooms for water heating and the production of steam which, by means of lead or terracotta pipes, was distributed in the various rooms. In the calidarium, characterized by the cocciopesto floor, boiling water was sent, in the tepidarium (consisting of three tanks) lukewarm water was collected and finally cold water was introduced into the frigidarium; the frigidarium is divided by an arched structure (reconstructed), one of which has a semicircular shape and is located next to the latrines. Perhaps there was also a cryptoporticusthat separated the tanks. Some of the structures were rebuilt following the excavations.

The Etruscan-Roman temple was built between the second half of the fourth century BC and the second century BC, although the area was in use for sacred rituals at least from the seventh century BC, and was excavated in the early twentieth century. Most likely it was the ancient Capitolium fiesolano.

The cell is the oldest part and is divided into three parts: this suggests that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (the latter attribution almost certain as would suggest a Hellenistic bronze depicting an owl found nearby and now in the museum). In front of the temple there is a small altar stone sandstone decorated (IV century BC – III century BC). In republican times the temple was rebuilt, raised and enlarged both on the wings and on the front, partly reusing the walls of the previous building. The staircase, well preserved, has seven steps and reaches the stylobateon which stood the columns of the portico, surmounted by the pediment of the temple. The longer part of the stylobate suggests that the portico connected the temple to the Collegium.

On the left you can see the bases of three remaining columns of the portico that surrounded the cell. Among these ruins bronze and silver coins have been found (III century BC – X century). In this place, moreover, the remains of a barbaric burial site from the Lombard period (VII – VIII century) were found, built on an area of the cell and the ruins of a Christian temple, built on the remains of the pagan one around the third century.

Museums of Fiesole
The Museums of Fiesole are constituted by the Archaeological Area, in which are the remains of the ancient theater, of the Etruscan and Roman temples and temples, by the Archaeological Museum, which contains finds from the Etruscan, Roman and Lombard Fiesole as well as important ceramic collections and from the Bandini Museum which houses the collection of the Bandini Canon in which paintings and terracotta from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance are exhibited.