Summary of my Researches about the ancient Etruscan origins of Montovolo

Versione in italiano

Montovolo: perhaps an Ancient Etruscan Oracular Centre

By Graziano Baccolini

The most celebrated Oracular Centres are found around the Mediterranean area and were sacred places dedicated in the ancient time to quasi-religious cult. Usually, any centre had one stone object which the Greeks called omphalos, "navel", oval or hemispheric stone defined also stone-navel and, for this reason, several centres are defined " navel of the world ". On the top of any stone-navel there are often portrayed two birds, usually doves, facing each other.


Particular of the Tomb of Tutmosi III reproducing an Oval Stone with two birds

A reproduction of a rilief at Delphi.

To any oracular centre it was also associated an arboreal code: Dodona had an oak , Delphi had a laurel etc. The plant was a code in order to define the oracular centre and perhaps served to define the latitude of the place. The two doves and the plant are the "glyph" more used to indicate an oracle centre. It is known that all the oracular centres were in contact among themselves and probably the doves were carrier pigeons which were used to maintain the contacts even to remarkable distances (several thousands of km).

Montovolo is a mountain located between Bologna and Florence with a very ancient Sanctuary whose preroman and Etruscan origins are still in part unknown even if they are supposed and defined by some historians "a mystery of the history". The lunette of the Sanctuary portal shows the inscription A.D MCCXI and this date (anno domine 1211 ) is considered, up to now, the date of this lunette. But the thing for us more interesting is that there are portrayed two doves, facing each other, and below, to the two sides, two plants which seem the "lily " of Florence. In the centre of this lunette there is a cross formed by five holes in an inscribed circle and probably this is not a Christian cross. Then, after the premises on the Mediterranean oracles, it is easy to presume that Montovolo may have been in origin an ancient, probably Etruscan oracular centre: there is a typical glyph of oracles with two pigeons and an arboreal code represented by two lilies or similar plants presumably typical of our Appennino


The portal lunette with the two doves and the two lilies


Remains of an Etruscan Oracular Centre in the Montovolo’s Legends and Traditions

by Graziano Baccolini

It is reported in some books that Montovolo and its near places, located in the Appennino Tosco Emiliano, was inhabited already in Villanovian, Etruscan and Roman ages as demonstrated by numerous archeological finds which have been found on the slopes of this Sacred Mountain. After the reading of the book of R. Temple in which is reported, among several other interesting notices, that two birds and a plant are the code more used to represent an oracular centre, I have realised that the two doves facing each other, and the two plants portrayed in the lunette of the Montovolo’s Sanctuary portal (see above) might be an indication that in origin Montovolo was an ancient "oracular centre" probably an Etruscan one. Often other indications are present in order to define an oracle centre such as the presence of an oval stone, called Omphalos by the Greeks, and the presence of a serpent generally coiled on the stone.

Now we wish to analyse some local legends and popular traditions in order to find other elements to define with more certaintly that Montovolo was an Etruscan oracular centre. About Montovolo we found a legend of a serpent which is hidden under a large stone. This serpent is the guardian of a treasure and it is waiting for a kiss of a young girl to return to his original human form. There is too a serpent legend associated with the founding of Delphi, the best known oracle of the ancient Greece. As reported by R. Greaves at Delphi there is also a very ancient ballad narrating the destruction of a temple of an hero who took the form of a serpent. As you can see this ballad is similar to the Montovolo’s legend. In addition it should be noted that in several omphalos stones there was portrayed a coiled snake called the guardian serpent of the oracle. Then the figure of an oval stone and of a serpent is fundamental to define an oracular centre: Also in the presumed Montovolo’s oracular centre it is present, in the legend, a snake associated to a large stone. The stone might be an oval stone with over carved a snake. Up to now it is remained only the legend but the oval stone might be buried under the church or in the vicinity. The presumed "oval stone" might be the origin of the name Monte Ovolo. In the Middle Ages the ancient name Monte Palense was substituted by the name Monte Ovolo or Montovolo probably by the people of the place because they see this unusual oval stone whose meaning was unknown.

Another tradition of this place has been that to depose some stones on the small temples called Maesta’ or Edicola which are located along the road leading to the top of Montovolo. I remember that sometime these stones formed a large pile similar to a large stone. This tradition might be only a strange custom but it might be also the "remains" of an ancient worshipped Sacred Oval Stone . (...)

The presumable Etruscan small temple of Montovolo with the Oval Stone and serpent . Remains of similar small Temple was found at Murlo (Siena)


If the above reported news are not only strange coincidences we can conclude that probably Montovolo was an ancient oracular centre already in Etruscan Age and perhaps a Sacred Mountain for the Etruscan religion or a geodetic point of the ancient Etruria from the 8th to the 1st centuries before the Advent of Christ (see the map below).


The map of the ancient Etruria in the VI century BC and the location of Montovolo.


   Montovolo’s Black Madonna and its Presumed Ancient Temple of Isis

by Graziano Baccolini

Another "legend", reported in some books relates that at one time there was an ancient temple of Isis at Montovolo. This story probably arisen or by the presence, at Montovolo, of a Black Madonna or by the fact that this Black Madonna was a reproduction of an ancient statue of Isis located in this site. In fact, modern historians recognise that the statue of the Egyptian Goddess Isis holding her child Horus in her arms was the first Madonna and Child. The present statue, wood polychrome pictured, of the Black Madonna of Montovolo was done by an anonimous sculptor presumably in XV- XVI century in imitation of an earlier Black Madonna the author had seen. In fact, it is reported that an "old and a new Madonna " were together present in Montovolo Sanctuary for several years in the in XVI century. The definition of Sanctuary for this small church might be not appropriated but however justified if its origin was a very ancient, important Temple.

It should be noted that remains of ancient sanctuaries of Isis have been found in several ancient oracle centres such as Delos, Dion, and Delphi (as reported by Plutarco). Then the presumed temple of Isis on the top of Montovolo and consequently its Black Madonna are in accord with a previous ancient Oracle Centre on the same site.


Delphi's "Castalian" Spring and Montovolo's "Cantalian" Spring:

Another Strange Coincidence or Another Ancient Correlation ?

by G. Baccolini

At northwest of Athen, stands the sacred mountain called Parnassus. Nestled in the forested slopes and rocky crags are the ruins of the ancient and wonderful city of Delphi which however is best known as the supreme Oracle Centre of the ancient Mediterranean World. It is known that the oracular priestesses of Delphi would first bathe in the waters of the nearby spring of Castalia and then setting on the tripode gave the oracular response. Castalian spring to the East of the sanctuary proper in the ravine separating the twin Phaedriades, takes its name from nymph Castalia, and, in classical times, it was where pilgrims purified themselves before entering the sacred sanctuary of Apollo. In this spring all who came to Delphi for any religious object whatever had to purify themselves.. Murderers, however, bathed the whole body. The water was collected in along narrow reservoir (9m x 1 m) which fed seven jets . These jets fell into a rectangular court, 9m x 3m, reached by rock-hewn steps.


The Archaic Castalian Fountain (Photograph by Giulia Guizzardi 2000)


Montovolo with the Cantalian Rocky Peak and localization of Its Spring


Now I have found another relationship or coincidence, that ties Montovolo to Delphi. It exists to Montovolo a forest and a rocky peak denominated Cantalia (See above) and this name is also reported in different books published in the past years. I have immediately wondered whether a spring exists in that place. Yes, once time a beautiful Spring existed in the wood of Cantalia and at the bottom of Cantalia’s peak. Nowdays the Fontain does not exist anymore.!! Now, on that place where this Spring there was with its basin, a cement water Depot there is. After almost a year of search a friend has found a photo of the Spring made in 1945. Fortunately the photo (see photo of Cantalia Spring) presents all the fountains in their niches, and also a big part of the basin. An estimation of its dimensions could be done by comparing the Fountain with the man( theMiller) present in the photo. The facade of this Spring is of circa 9-10m and the fountains are seven (as the seven holes of Delphi 's Castalia Spring!!).

Spring of Cantalia or Barrel with the Miller of the Cerreta. (Photo  by Lina Penelli,1945)

The Two Etruscan Necropolis of Marzabotto and their Sacred Ties with Montovolo (Italian Version)

by Graziano Baccolini

At about 15 kms from Montovolo along the road that conducts to Bologna, on the Via Porrettana, there are the remains of the ancient Etruscan town of Misa (in the commune of Marzabotto). This discovery was found in the second half of 1800 and until the beginning it aroused wonder in all the world (the excavations and the researches continue also with the contribution of the University of Bologna). The discovery of the town of Misa in its total amplitude, gave, partly, concreteness to the legendary existence of a league of the twelve cities to north of the Appennino. If a dodecapoli existed it had to be there also its Sacred Mountain where the Lucumonis or Princeps had their meeting to take the most important decisions. I have visited the city of Misa to look for proofs that confirmed me that this Sacred Mountain was, obviously for me, Montovolo!! Confirmations immediately appeared! The first strangeness that appears in front of the visitors of the Necropolis is the presence of an Oval stone on several tombs. The graves that don't have this oval stone on they have him in the proximities !! This fact tell us that probably every grave had on the top an Oval stone. Today every contemporary tomb has over its religious symbol, that is the Cross for us. Then the religious symbol of that Etruscan dodecapoli or alone city was the Oval stone.

If it is so, the Sacred Mountain is Montovolo that also in the name still preserves the meaning of the Mountain with the Oval stone. But this Oval stone, as we have previously described, it was the Omphalos or the symbol of the very ancient Etruscan Oracle Center of Montovolo.

I hope with these few lines to have clarified this strangeness. I thing this intriguing discovery will provide exciting avenues for future researches in the upcoming years.!

The Oriental Necropolis of Marzabotto.

Found an Unequivocal Data Confirming Montovolo was the Sacred Mountain of the Northern Etruscan Dodecapolis

 By Graziano Baccolini

Now I report a further and unequivocal find that confirms Montovolo has been the Sacred Mountain, or Navel (Omphalos), for the zone of the Etruria where Marzabotto was situated. I have found on the top of a valuable big marble oval stone, exposed to the Museo Aria of Marzabotto, some clear glyphs that connects this oval stone to Montovolo.

On the conic top of this stone there is portrayed a cross inscribed in a circle, which in ancient iconography is the symbol of the Navels. Around this cross there are portrayed the figures of two lilies with others two figures that seem two spherical-oval stones. The cross inscribed in a circle and the two lilies are the same symbols portrayed in the lunotto of Montovolo and therefore this fact can mean that the oval stone of Marzabotto wanted to represent the Navel of Montovolo which have the lily as "arboreal code".

As far as it concerns the two pointed spherical figures, it seems to me they reproduce two stones similar to that where these glyphs are. You must remember that these glyphs, known from over a century, have been never explained by the several researchers who have studied the Etruscan city of Marzabotto.

My drawing reproducing the gliphs engraved on the point of a sharpened oval stone exposed in the Museo Aria of Marzabotto and dated V sec AC. You note to the center, exactly on the point, the cross inscribed in a circle, symbol of the navels with two stylised lilies, arboreal code of Montovolo.

The same oval stone exposed in the Museo Aria of Marzabotto and dated V sec AC.

Why these oval stones are not found in other Etruscan Necropolis of Etruria so numerous as in the two Necropolis of Marzabotto, and why this hypothesis of the stone Omphalos connected to the near mountain of Montovolo, that now, for me, it is a certainty, has not been never taking in consideration from the "employers" to these studies?

We can explain the second question remembering that I arrived to this conclusion making a very ample run, exposed in my preceding reports, departing from the verification that Montovolo may be an Oracular Center. Since every ancient oracular center had certain glyphs like two doves, an oval stone, a snake, a plant as code and sometimes a cross inscribed in a circle and since all these symbols were found in Montovolo, the rest comes as a consequence: It was necessary only to look for other connections that made more valid my hypothesis .

Obviously when an "employer" to this studies sees some oval stones in an Etruscan Necropolis and he doesn't find a motive because it should be oval, he defines them simply as cippi, segnacoli ( signals for the tombs) or even more simply as pebbles.

But if this has been the definition of such oval stones perhaps it is explainable because now the same oval stones are not been found, in so numerous manner, on other Etruria’s Necropolis. Probably in other sites, all the oval stones more communes have gone lost perhaps because considered simple pebbles. Probably they will be in some garden to form flowerbed, or used for building some wall, and only the most beautiful and unusual are found in some museum or basement of museum. In fact only some big Oval Stones, like the two of the museum of Marzabotto, are visible in the museums of Bologna, Pisa, Settimello (Firenze), Populonia, Volterra and Orvieto.

I have written about this to some scholars of Etruscology but nobody has responded to me!

Some my acquantances said that they had seen such oval stones above the graves in other Necropolises of the Etruria but many years ago. But now in any photo of other Necropolises reproduced on the recent texts there is trace of such oval stones above to the tombs. Perhaps they are lost ! I have looked for them in old photos and finally I have found again the oval stones above every tomb!! I have found two old photos, of the beginning of 1900, reproducing the necropolis of Orvieto (Crocefisso del Tufo). One is visible in a web page of the German University of Erlangen (Antikensammlung ERlangen Internet Archive); the other, very similar, is reported in the book2 of E. Pais, 1925. As you can see on the photo, every cubic tomb has its oval stone on it. This necropolis seems an old cemetery of our country where every family Tomb has above a Cross . Remember that Etruscans created the first great civilization in pre-Roman Italy whose great influence on the Roman, as well as our western culture, is increasingly recognized. Now we have found that also the use to put above the tombs their religious symbol is an usance which we have also today.. As today we have a Cross on all our tombs, Etruscans had an Oval Stone!


 An old photo ( ~ 1920) of the Necropolis of Orvieto -Crocefisso del Tufo.

(Reproduced by kind permission of University of Erlangen)



Now, where are these Oval Stones? I think that many of these oval stones have gone lost and some disseminate in the several museums, where I have found again and same times without catalogation, called simply cippi, pebbles, segnacolo like pine-cone or phallic or other but never called Oval stone or Omphalos pointing out in such way that they are a known and unequivocal Religious Symbol also for other ancient civilizations in different continent and connected to the myth of the Great Goddess Mother. This demonstates a clear archaic oriental origin for the Etruscan civilization.



 The Crypt of Montovolo is Actually an Intact Etruscan Temple!?

by Graziano Baccolini


I think that the declared remains of an ancient Christian Church found under the apse of the Sanctuary of Montovolo, called Crypt, might be the rests of the supposed important pagan temple of Etruscan origin. I must specify that till now the historians report, in different texts, that this Crypt is probably of the X-XI sec A.D therefore a Christian temple. Instead, looking at the relieves, in the well preserved capitals, I have noted they are typical Etruscan representations, probably dated VI-V cent. B.C. Some bas riliefs are connected to the lunette of the Sanctuary that report the symbols of this Etruscan Oracle Center: the two doves and the lilies. Also in several Crypt's capitals we find the images of lilies and two doves. As you can see in the reported photos, in a capital two doves eating from a container sustained by a turned upside-down lily; in another capital we find the two doves again together, but a lily now goes out from their beaks. The motive of the lily is portrayed also in several capitals..

In another capital we find again the floral motive for the lilies with, one side, two rampant lions with the head turned back totally in an unnatural way. Similar lions with head so turned are verifiable, for example, in a beautiful etruscan stele in Settimello near Florence. The griffon portrayed in another capital (see photo) is a figure found in some Etruscan excavations such as Murlo's griffon dated 600-650 B.C.

Also the architectural part of the Crypt is in line with the characteristics of the Etruscan Temple that was constituted by two parts. The front half consisted of a gallery with columns, the rear half, in masonry, have a rectangular structure composed by three chambers or "cells" , or by a single main chamber flanked by two small wings. The temples had very wide and low double sloping roofs.

The Crypt preserves intact the three cells, calls now apses, which might be the back part, in masonry of an Etruscan Temple. It is long 8,10 ms, deep 2,10 ms and high 2,15 ms, it is formed by three separate semicircular cells with dividing walls, with arcs, vaults and capitals that show the reliefs above described. The vault of the central chamber has been lowered to the height of two smaller cells, to be able to build above the floor of the new Church. The fact that the two side cells have been lower than the main cell makes probable a low double sloping roof. When the first Christian temple was built, I think some interest artefacts were recovered to be reused in the building of new Christian temple. In fact, in the presbytery, we find the flower with six petals inscribe in a circle. This flower is a typical Etruscan glyph visible for example in the famous shield of the warrior of Vetulonia..

My deduction could be easily now confirmed or confuted by the experts since the construction, practically intact, may contain inside or between the manufactured articles, traces of organic substances which can be dated with C14 analysis.

If my hypothesis resulted truthful, this would be a rare and perhaps quite unique example of an almost intact Etruscan Temple.



Capitals with doves and lilies(Foto Massimo)


Capital with griffon


 Montovolo: an Etruscan Geodetic Centre?

by Graziano Baccolini

(italian version)

In the last years it has been observed 1 that the principal sites of ancient Greece were to equal distances from a principal sacred Oracular centre that, perhaps for this reason, was also defined Navel and marked with a oval stone called Omphalos. Among them the most known centres were Delphi, Delos and Dodoni . For example it was noted that the distance between Delphi and Athens was equal to that between Delphi and Olympia and equal also to that between Delhi and Argos forming on the map triangulations with two equal sides. The same was also been observed for other important places.

Prviously I have reported2 that Montovolo has been, probably, an important Navel for the Etruscan Civilization having found a lot of analogies with Delphi.

Now I want to ascertain if also Montovolo had around itself, to equal distances, the most important centres of North Etruria. I have found the following triangulations with two equal sides that you can also verify on the map below 3 and probably to find others using a more complete Etruria’s map.

The distance between Montovolo- Atria or Adria is equal to Montovolo -Cortona and Montovolo-Populonia

The distance between Montovolo –Spina is equal to Montovolo-Volterra

The distance between Montovolo-Felsina is equal to Montovolo-Faesule and Montovolo- Modena (Muthina)

These data might be only simple coincidences but they might be also in accord with my previous notices about Montovolo as important Oracular center of North Etruria and with the presumed methods of secret communication between these ancient sacred centres. Bibliography

1)To see the news concerning the triangulations around Delphi and other sacred centers :

2) G. Baccolini Hera,16,61,2001, Hera,41 , 2003 and on the web sites reported below4. .

 See the Map below:

Map of North Etruria with the localisations of the Etruscan Places





The Symbolic Meaning of the Oval Stone and of the Egg in the Etruscan Religion

By Graziano Baccolini


My first researches about Montovolo begun observing on the lunette of the Sanctuary of this mountain the images of the two doves, of a lily and of a cross inscribed in a circle and from these images I realised that this place can have been an Etruscan sacred mountain or an oracular center risen to similarity of Delphi. Subsequently other discovered data, as the fountain of Cantalia at Montovolo very similar to the fountain of Castalia at Delphi, with the same typology and the almost equal name have shown that my hypothesis may be true and therefore the name of Montovolo may also mean Mountain of the Egg or of the Oval stone.

This stone with the shape of an egg was a known religious symbol for archaic cultures that we find it again to Delphi and in almost all the oracular centers around the Mediterranean area. The symbol of the cosmic egg from which the universe was born was reported in archaic myths as the pelasicis and it is connected to the mythical Mother Goddess. These connections between Montovolo, an Etruscan oracular center, Delphi and the egg as symbol of all the archaic civilizations, brought me to realize that the stones with egg shape on the Tombs of the Etruscan necropolis of Marzabotto were not simple cippis, tomb’s segnacolum (signal) as reported by all the Academic and the most famous Etruscologists, as Pallottino, but these oval stones were Etruscan important religious symbols, indicating the egg, symbol of rebirth , and that therefore they can be connected to the symbol of the presumed oval stone, omphalos, of Montovolo. Subsequently, I have found at the Etruscan museum of Marzabotto three oval stones with engraved on the point a cross inscribed in the circle as the cross of Montovolo. Then I have understood that also the Cross was another important Etruscan symbol indicating the divinity . But the proof that removes every doubt on the connection between Montovolo and the Etruscan city of Marzabotto, is the figure of a lily found engraved on one of these oval stones. After this apparent strange mental run that I have done following all the evidence, I realised that an oval stone have to be set on all the Etruscan tombs also in other necropolis as in Marzabotto! But now many of these Etruscan oval stones have gone lost because they were considered by all the researchers simple cippus or pebbles. It was necessary to look for their traces. I found again these oval stones in old photos, then looking for in Museums as Perugia,Villa Giulia, Tarquinia, Cerveteri, Bologna ecc I have found many of them and the most common stones in angles of the Museum garden, and even in private gardens like ornaments . For me it was amazing, and also… disheartening thinking how many of these oval stones with engraved symbols have been lost and how many were deliberately destroyed!!

After all this, I have begun to observe more attentively all the photos of the catalogs of the several Expositions on Etruscans that reproduced jewels, frescos, vases, terrecotte and, above all, I have revisited the beautiful Tombs of Tarquinia with the famous frescos. As for enchantment I have seen a new Etruscan world till now unknown. Really the mysterious charm of their symbolism is a vision of life as religion of the whole universe. To Etruscans all was alive and the whole universe lived; and the business of a man was himself to live amid it all. It is the vision of the whole cosmos like a vast creature where the man is a fundamental part of this living universe that is also immortal because can be regenerated. After death there is the rebirth to a new life! The image of the egg, found in several tombs, was a wish of rebirth and perhaps also a certainty of a new life! With the Etruscan, as well as the Egypthians and the Sumerians there were no personal gods, but only symbols such as the Egg. This recurrent image of the egg as religious symbol (now many of these eggs are underestimated or even not identified by the most Etruscologists) gives a deep meaning to all the scenes of the banquet reproduced on the walls of many tombs! Theirs certainty of rebirth also gave joy to this final banquet to go toward the light, new life and rebirth.

During the excavations of hundreds of tombs, thousands of eggs or their imitations have been destroyed because considered from the researchers rests of funeral lunches without any symbolic value. The numerous ostrich eggs decorated elegantly found in several necropolis as at Vulci, exposed now at British Museum, are considered by historians only rich ornaments without any religious or symbolic meaning! I remain astonished to see as eminent scholars have made this mistake! I am amazed that academic historians1 knowing very well these recurrent images of the eggs in the Tomb’s frescos, or of ostrich eggs and other animals found in almost all the etruscan tombs, have not connected all this to the archaic symbol of the egg, symbol of rebirth and connected to the Mother Goddess. Knowing all this, these scholars have not connected the oval stones on the tomb to the egg symbol, but all have defined them simple cippis without any symbolic value!

When, four years ago, I have done my first hypotheses about Montovolo I didn't know the egg symbolism . If I had known this egg symbolism I would not have had any doubt about my theory on the significance of the oval Stone. There was not need to seek and to find those correlations that I have found on Montovolo and Delphi and to follow the way that the found connections imposed me! When we use the scientific method all the roads bring to truth!

This truth is that the image of the egg, that we also find in the oval stones on the Etruscan Tombs or in the frescos, was an important symbol of the archaic Etruscan religion as in Anatolic or Mesopothamic civilizations and this links the Etruscans , in clear manner, to these very ancient oriental civilizations.

The first of the Tarquinia's Tomb I have revisited is the famous Tomba dei Tori where I have noted that the so-called decoration of the border pattern, defined by Lawrence the sign of Venus, a ball surmounted by a little cross, is in effect the oval stone with the cross which was put on the tombs, as found at the necropolis of Marzabotto and the similar balls underlying were the egg-shaped stones with the cross that were set under earth during the foundation Rite of an Etruscan city. These foundation stones have also been recovered at Marzabotto (see figure below)! Now, after having disclosed this symbolism, the whole scene of the Tomba dei Tori it takes a different and very simple meaning. It is a representation of the three worlds. In that celestial we see the pedestal or altar that supports all the sky with the ram’s heads probably indicating the Era of the Aries in which the Etruschans lived. The median part of the fresco represents the terrestrial world of Etruscans. They are not conditioned, as we are now, by false Christian morality, consequently they see sexual exhibitions as the best possible representation of terrestrial life .The figures of the two bulls or, more probable, of the bull and his calm female might represent as well life on earth.

The scene of the inferior part represents the underworld where the soul generally is represented coming on a horse without saddle. The other symbols like the tree of life that is tied from a scarf to the tree of death, are a clear confirmation that this is the underworld.

(See my Web page)

Now, I want to report some images of the other Tombs of Tarquinia, at Monterozzi Necropolis, also quoting descriptions of D.H. Lawrence that, with the intuition of an artist was seen in the many oval cippus, considered phallic symbols, and in the eggs two different symbolic meanings which I have , motivating it, given only a meaning, the rebirth and regeneration to new life!

The Tomba dei Tori ( the Tomb of the Bulls)

The Tomba dei Leopardi (The Tomb of the Leopards )

The Tomba delle Leonesse (The Tomb of the Lioness )

The Tomba degli Scudi (The Tomb of the Shields )

The Tomba della Pulcella




Oval Stone with the cross and a lily. (Marzabotto , Museo Aria)



Foundation Stone with a Cross (Marzabotto , Museo Aria)



The Tomb of the Bulls and its Religious Symbols:

The Oval Stone and the Cross

 By Graziano Baccolini

Now, I report a new interpretation about the frescos of this Tomb which is in accord with my precedent search about Montovolo that has shown that this place was a probable Navel of the Etruscan World and, above all that the Oval stone and the Cross were important religious symbols for the Etruscans deriving from an archaic mesopotamic or anatolic civilisation !

(Versione in Italiano)

This Tomb, dated 2nd half of the 6th century BC and discovered in 1892, is one of the most well
known monuments of the whole Etruria. It is reported in many texts and several web sites also reproducing the famous frescos that are still well preserved and that have tickled the curiosity of all for some erotic images.

Its charm also derives from the mystery that surrounds it because the meaning of some of the symbolism is not entirely clear. Many people have tried to give an interpretation to the reproduced images, but I think that a true symbolic meaning has not been given to the whole scene.

Especially in the archaic phase, the Etruscan religion was full of symbols what have to be rediscover indeed their literary sources, where probably they were explained, have been deliberately destroyed in the first centuries of Christianity.

With big charm D.H Lawrence in Etruscan Places has described this Tomb realising that behind the images there were very profound and unknown symbolic meanings.

I quote part of the description of Lawrence:

(…)It is called the Tomb of the Bulls from the two bulls above the doorways of the end wall, one a man-faced bull charging at the 'po' di pornografico', the other lying down serenely and looking with mysterious eyes into the room, his back turned calmly to the second bit of a picture which the guide says is not 'pornografico'-because it is a woman." Everything in this tomb suggests the old East: Cyprus, or the Hittites, or the culture of Minos of Crete. Between the doorways of the end wall is a charming painting of a naked horseman with a spear, on a naked horse, moving towards a charming little palm tree and a well-head or fountain-head, on which repose two sculptured, black-faced beasts, lions with queer black faces. From the mouth of the one near the palm tree water pours down into a sort of altar-bowl, while on the far side a warrior advances, wearing a bronze helmet and shin-greaves, and apparently menacing the horseman with a sword which he brandishes in his left hand, as he steps up on to the base of the well-head. Both warrior and horseman wear the long, pointed boots of the East: and the palm tree is not very Italian. This picture has a curious charm, and is evidently symbolical. I said to the German: `What do you think it means?' `Ach, nothing! The man on the horse has come to the drinking-trough to water his horse: no more!' `And the man with the sword?' `Oh, he is perhaps his enemy.' `And the black-faced lions?' `Ach, nothing!! Decorations of the fountain.' Below the picture are trees on which hang a garland and neck-band.

The border pattern, instead of the egg and dart, has the sign of Venus, so called, between the darts: a ball surmounted by a little cross. `"And that, is that a symbol?' I asked the German. `Here no!' he replied abruptly. `Merely a decoration!' - which is perhaps true. But that the Etruscan artist had no more feeling for it, as a symbol, than a modern house-decorator would have, that we cannot believe.

I gave up for the moment. (…)In the shallow angle of the roof the heraldic beasts are curious. The squat centre-piece, the so-called altar has four rams' heads at the corners. On the right a pale bodied man with a dark face is galloping up with loose rein, on a black horse, followed by a galloping bull.

On the left is a bigger figure, a queer galloping lions with his tongue out.(…) The strange potency and beauty of these Etruscan things arise, it seem to me, from the profundity of the symbolic meaning the artist was more or less aware off.

(From DH. Lawrence, Etruscan Places , Penguin Books, pag 99- 102,1950)

Generally in other texts or Web pages it is reported that the frescos on this tomb are characterised by erotic scenes and fertility symbols (the spheres with the cross !!!) which are often considered as a simple ornamental motive or decoration. The panel on the left depicts a heterosexual scene involving three persons, whereas the scene on the right depicts a homosexual scene. Some authors attribute a disapproval of homosexuality to the aggressive pose of the bull of right while the calm position of the bull on the left damages an approval of heterosexuality.

Between the doors leading into the two cells, there is the scene representing the tale of Achilles (on the left) ambush against Troilus (on the horse) from Greek Mythology. Olive trees at different stages of growth are shown on the panel below the main scene. To the right and left of the wall are two olive trees: the one on the right has full leaves and the one on the left is barren, symbolising life after death.

I will now try to give a different interpretation, which might clarify the meaning of some reproduced symbols which might give a most realistic sense to the whole scene without resorting to psychoanalytic reasonings. We think that in the 6th cent. BC every Etruscan person who entered this Tomb had to understand the meaning of these scenes immediately.

First, I think that the sphere surmounted with a cross are neither ornamental motives or symbols of fertility nor the so-called sign of Venus, rather they represent the symbol of the omphalos, the Oval or almost spherical stone with engraved on the point, sometimes, a cross, as I have found in the Museum of Marzabotto. These omphalos were also put on the tomb like their religious symbol of rebirth indicating the primordial Egg and the cross indicated the the Divinity. Also the cross in the doors, found in the necropolises, was used to indicate the door for the afterlife. This omphalos with the cross were also buried during the Etruscan city foundation rite which was adopted subsequently by the Romans. In fact, a stone with the cross was found buried in the centre of the Etruscan city of Marzabotto: the cardo and the decumanus, crossing at this omphalos .

Then, in the tomb fresco the two line of spheres with the cross would represent the two boundaries of two worlds: the spheres with the cross turned up is the borderline of the world of living, while the line with the cross turned down marks the borderline of the underworld. In the mural fresco the boundary between the terrestrial world and the celestial world is marked by the same number of coloured lines. However, here we don't have the small spheres surmounted with the cross. If they were simple ornamental motives they should have been here. On the contrary, there is no need for them to be here if they represent the omphalos stones as I supposed. Now, the vision of all the fresco is very clear. It is a representation of the three worlds. In that celestial we see the pedestal or altar that supports all the sky with the ram’s heads probably indicating the Era of the Aries in which the Etruschans lived. It should be noted that such ram’s heads are observed in many Etruscan pedestals that support Oval stones as the two exposed in the Museum of Marzabotto or in the one of Bologna. Regarding the winged fantastic animals, either they symbolize cosmic changing or they are symbols of an ancient religion that was already forgotten and that the artist used freely now without knowing more its original meaning. The median part of the fresco represents the terrestrial world of Etruscans. They are not conditioned, as we are now, by false Christian morality, consequently they see sexual exhibitions as the best possible representation of terrestrial life .The figures of the two bulls or, more probable, of the bull and his calm female might represent as well life on earth.

The scene of the inferior part represents the underworld where the soul generally is represented coming on a horse without saddle. In this case, it might be the soul of Troilo who undergoes the trap by Achille. The other symbols like the tree of life that is tied from a scarf to the tree of death, are a clear confirmation that this is the underworld.

Concluding, I think that now the whole scenography of this Tomb is more comprehensible and my interpretation might be similar to that of Etruscan people of 6th cent. BC who still recognised easily the symbols of the oval stone and the cross as proven by numerous egg-shaped stones found in several Etruscan Museums, till now underestimated.






The above fresco is from the Tomb of the Bulls (Tombe dei Tori) in Tarquinia.




 The Tomb of the Leopards at Tarquinia

(La Tomba dei Leopardi) (italian version)

By G.Baccolini

The Etruscans are defined, also now, one of the "mystery peoples" of the antiquity and this is due to the fact that their literature was deliberately destroyed in the first centuries A.D. Of first-hand knowledge we have nothing except what the tombs offer. Quoting Lawrence, "so to the tombs we must go" . In fact , unfortunately, almost all that is certainly known or reasonably inferred about the Etruscans comes to us by tomb-frescos and tomb-furniture . The early tomb-paintings shows a people who enjoyed life and for this they were called 'immoral' by Romans and overall by the first christians. But now it is clear that instead our contemporary civilization with christian origin is immoral because is responsible of the destruction of our cultural origin!!

The early tombs seem so easy and friendly that one does not fell oppressed, descending into them. There is a simplicity, combined with a naturalness and spontaneity , in all the figures, movements of the tomb frescos, that at once reassures the spirit.

The Tomb of Leopards show again a feast in which one of the banqueters, probably , the men who has died, is holding up, between thumb and forefinger, an egg, showing it to the yellow-haired woman who reclines next to him. But this egg is the symbol of rebirth and then now we can understand this glad vision of life and death.

Below I report the description of this Tomb by Lawrence:.

The Tomb of Leopards has two spotted in the triangle of the end wall , between the roof-slopes . Hence its name.

The Tomb of the Leopards is a charming, cosy little room, and the paintings on the walls have not been so very much damaged. All the tombs are ruined to some degree by weather and vulgar vandalism, having been left and neglected like common holes, when they had been broken open again and rifled to the last gasp.

But still the paintings are fresh and alive: the ochre-reds and blacks and blues and blue-greens are curiously alive and harmonious on the creamy yellow walls. Most of the tomb walls have had a thin coat of stucco, but it is of the same paste as the living rock, which is fine and yellow, and weathers to a lovely, creamy gold, a beautiful colour for a background.

The walls, of this little tomb are a dance of real delight. The room seems inhabited still by Etruscans of the sixth century before Christ, a vivid, life-accepting people, who must have lived with real fullness. On come the dancers and the music-players, moving in a broad frieze towards the front wall of the tomb, the wall facing us as we enter from the dark stairs, and where the banquet is going on in all its glory. Above the banquet, in the gable angle, are the two spotted leopards, heraldically facing each other across a little tree. And the ceiling of rock has chequered slopes of red and black and yellow and blue squares, with a roof-beam painted, with coloured, circles, dark red and blue and yellow. So that all is colour, and we do not seem to be underground at all, but in some gay chamber of the past.

The dancers on the right wall move with a strange, powerful alertness onwards. The men are dressed only in a loose coloured scarf, or in the gay handsome chiamys draped as a mantle. The subulo plays the double flute the Etruscans loved so much, touching the stops with big, exaggerated hands, the man behind him touches the seven-stringed lyre, the man in front turns round and signals with his left hand, holding a big wine-bowl in his right. And so they move on, on their long; sandalled feet, past the little berried olive trees, swiftly going with their limbs full of life, full of life to the tips.

This sense of vigorous, strong-bodied liveliness is characteristic of the Etruscans, and is somehow beyond art. You cannot think of art, but only of life itself, as if this was the very life of the Etruscans, dancing in their coloured wraps with massive yet exuberant naked limbs, ruddy from the air and the sea-light, dancing and fluting along through the olive trees, out in the fresh day.

The end wall has a splendid banqueting scene. The feasters recline upon a checked or tartan couch-cover, on the banqueting couch, and in the open air, for they have little trees behind them. The six feasters are bold and full of life like the dancers, but they are strong, they keep their life so beautifully and richly inside themselves, they are not loose, they don't lose themselves even in their wild moments. They lie in pairs, man and woman, reclining equally on the couch, curiously friendly. The two end women are called hetaerae, courtesans;. chiefly because they have yellow hair, which seems to have been a favourite feature in a woman of pleasure. The men are dark and ruddy, and naked to the waist. The women, sketched on the creamy rock, are fair, and wear thin gowns, with rich mantles round their hips. They have a certain free bold look, and perhaps really are courtesans.

The man at the end is holding up, between thumb and forefinger, an egg, showing it to the yellow-haired woman who reclines next to him, she who is putting out her left hand as if to touch his breast. He, in his right hand, holds a large wine-dish, for the revel.

(D.H.Lawrence, Etruscan Places)





The Tomba delle Leonesse, at Tarquinia

(The Tomb of the Lionesses).

By Graziano Baccolini

Versione in Italiano


Now, we visit another of the fascinating tombs which are the real fame of Tarquinia. To understand the Etruscan world we have to forget the readings of the scholars, often in contradiction among them, and we instead observe attentively the frescos in silence and without hurry. A new world that we didn't know appears to us. To the Etruscans death was a pleasant continuance of life, with jewels and wine and flutes playing for a dance. It was a natural continuance of the fullness of life. In this tomb we find again the innate feeling, that many of us have lost, of the vitality of the universe and the certainty of a new life. Also in this we find this certainty and wish of rebirth observing a naked flute-boy, died before, and a reclining man, probably his father, offering an egg, symbol of regeneration and rebirth.

Below I report the marvellous description that Lawrence makes of this Tomb.


Lovely again is the Tomba delle Leonesse, the Tomb of the Lionesses. In its gable two spotted lionesses swing their bell-like udders, heraldically facing one another across the altar. Beneath is a great vase, and a flute-player playing to it on one side, a zither-player on the other, making music to its sacred contents. Then on either side of these goes a narrow frieze of dancers, very strong and lively in their prancing. Under the frieze of dancers is a lotus dado, and below that again, all round the room the dolphins are leaping, leaping all downwards into the rippling sea, while birds fly between the fishes. On the right wall reclines a very impressive dark red man wearing a curious cap, or head-dress, that has long tails like long plaits. In his right hand he holds up an egg, and in his left is the shallow wine-bowl of he feast. The scarf or stole of his human office hangs torn a tree before him, and the garland of his human delight hangs at his side. He holds up the egg of resurrection, within which the germ sleeps as the soul sleeps in the tomb, before it breaks the shell and emerges again. There is another reclining man, much obliterated, and beside him hangs a garland or chain , like the chains of dandelion-stems we used to make as children. And this man has a naked flute-boy, lovely in naked outline, coming towards him.(holding up an egg)

D.H Lawrence, Etruscan Places. Pinguin Book, 1947


I have added these last words, holding up an Egg, because Lawrence doesn't say it. Probably he had not observed in this small figure the egg in the right hand. It should be noted that up to day the most famous etruscologists have never individualized this eggs as well as in many other frescos where the figure of the egg is very clear. I don't succeed to understand yet why almost all the Italian scholars have never wanted to take in consideration the figure of the egg with its symbolic meaning.

Recently I have found only an article on internet where the figure of the egg is individualized in the hand of this young naked figure that the author of the article Sonia Amaral Rohter1, of the Brown University, identifies in a statue. In this article I have found interesting news that I didn't know before.. In fact it is reported that Pericle Donati 2, very known etruscologist of the 30’s , had seen in the hand a ring, and the young man was for him a hermaphrodite lover of reclining dead man, while for the Pallottino3 this figure was a servant standing on a podium.. Personally I think that these disquisitions, on who was this character, don't also have a lot of sense because whoever can say any other thing without a comparison and it doesn't change at all the meaning of the scene. I think that instead either important to clarify that in both the figures there is the egg symbol of wish of rebirth. I have found another interpretation that would assign to this young the figure of dead child before the father that would be the owner of this tomb. The father would be the person that is represented in the varied moments of life, with the ulivo, with the scarf and with the egg. The youth child would have been cremated and the preserved ashes in the urn that he finds in the inferior part of the leading wall. This hypothesis, to verify, would make more clear the whole scene and it might also be thought the child is represented in a small statue, let carved by the father, in the moment in which goes toward new life with the egg. The same does the father in the final moment like many other dead persons represented in this way. I woul be very happy if this was true !!


A recostruction of this tomb, from Etruscopolis

The man on the right wall, offering an egg


On the left wall , the small young , perhaps a statue, offering an egg




1) Sonia Amaral Rohter, The Tomba delle Leonesse and the Tomba dei Giocolieri at Tarquinia,

2) Pericle Ducati, "Le Pitture delle Tombe delle Leonesse e dei Vasis Dipinti," Monumenti della Pittura Antica Scoperti in Italia (1937).

3) Massimo Pallottino, Etruscan Painting (1952) 48. Pallottino suggest that the outline figure is small due to hierarchy of scale. Then, the outline figure is the smallest and least important because he is only an attendant.


: Montovolo retreat 1 1999 (Montovolo: perhaps an Ancient Oracular Centre) (Italian version,)

Montovolo retreat 2 1999(Remains of an Etruscan Oracular Centre In the Montovolo’s Legends and

Traditions ) (Italian version)

Montovolo retreat 3 2000 (Montovolo’s Black Madonna and its Presumed Ancient Temple of Isis)(Italian version)

Montovolo retreat 4 2000(Delphi's "Castalian"Spring and Montovolo's "Cantalian" Spring:

Another Strange Coincidence or Another Ancient Correlation ?) (Italian Version)

Montovolo retreat 5 2001(The Two Etruscan Necropolis of Marzabotto and their Sacred Ties with Montovolo) (Italian Version)

Montovolo retreat 6 2002 (Found an Unequivocal Data Confirming Montovolo was the Sacred Mountain of the Northern Etruscan Dodecapolis (Italian Version)

 Montovolo retreat 7 2002 (The Crypt of Montovolo is Actually an Intact Etruscan Temple! (Italian version)

Montovolo retreat 8 , 2003 Montovolo : an Etruscan Geodetic Point? ( italian version )

 Montovolo retreat 9 2003 The Tomb of the Bulls and its Religious Symbols: The Oval Stone and the Cross (Italian Version)

Montovolo retreat 10 (2004) The Symbolic Meaning of the Egg and of the Oval Stone in the Etruscan Religion (Italian version)

(The tomb of the Leopards,  The Tomb of the Lionesses )

see also these recent pages which are not reported in the Summary 

 Montovolo retreat 12 (2005) From Montovolo to the Campidoglio: the Symbolic Meaning of Michelangelo's Oval Design.( Italian version )

Montovolo retreat 13 (2005) From Montovolo to Volterra: found again all together the symbols of the Etruscan Oracular Centers (Italian version)

Montovolo retreat 14 (29 october 2005) (italian version)     A Meeting with Dr Romano Romoli , to find the ancient origin of Words and Symbols. ( photos)  See also Etymologies of Giovanni Semerano

Montovolo Retreat 15  (Maggio 2006 ) - From Australia to Montovolo: to Know the Archaic Etruscan “Navel” and its  “Temple of the Lily” (English version)



  Prof. Graziano Baccolini

Dipartimento di Chimica Organica, Universitŕ di Bologna

FAX: 051-209-3654 E-mail:

March, 2006

In  Summer2004, a documentary about Montovolo and other famous places of ancient Etruria is in production by Vintage Adventure, LLC, an American company that specializes in historical/adventure documentary productions.

(see )

see also the preview article of this documentary Stones and Secrets: Pursuing the Lost Origins of Ancient Etruria by Writer/Producer/Director Michael John Olafson (

 June 2005, this documentary is distributed through Canamedia ,LTD, a worldwide media distribution company based in Toronto,Ontario.


Montovolo , as Etruscan Oracular Centre, was presented also at "Sereno Variabile", a very popular Italian Television programme on RAI 2, 22 Nov 2003.

A small documentary about the Crypt of Montovolo as possible remains of an Etruscan Temple was presented at RAI-3 (tg-3 Regionale Emilia Romagna 21october 2003)



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Index of Montovolo Retreats