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Monte Bibele: an Etruscan-Celtic village treasure trove in a stunning natural context

Museum | Archeology | Outdoor

If it weren't for the well-signposted routes, walkers enjoying the footpaths that criss-cross the wooded rocky slopes of Monte Bibele would be in for quite a surprise coming across a partially reconstructed Etruscan-Celtic village and archaeological site dating from the 5th-3rd centuries BC. 
The initial discovery of the village in the late 1950s has a group of local hunters to thank – the WWII explosives they used to flush out an unsuspecting badger brought to light the first traces of the ancient settlement. Decades of archaeological digs, led by teams from the University of Bologna since 1978, have since uncovered a village that has been particularly well-preserved through the ages due to the large-scale fire which caused its abandonment. Now the Arc.A association of archaeologists has made it visitor-friendly and more easily accessible with paths, a visitor centre and sign-posting.
For over 20 centuries the naturally terraced site at Monte Bibele in the hills south-east of Bologna had hidden the buried ruins of a series of dwellings complete with fireplaces, cooking utensils, tableware and even foodstuffs such as lentils, broad beans, barley, grapes and the remnants of meals in the form of animal bones. The numerous loom weights and spindle whorls discovered point to textile-making as the main occupation of the village women, while artefacts of the time originating in other parts of the peninsula – including amphorae and decorated Etruscan mirrors from the south – together with a stash of coins which helped date the village, bear witness to the busy trade that took place around here several centuries before the Romans came to dominate the area. 
Following in-depth research, two of the huts have been rebuilt to resemble the original dwellings as closely as possible: making use of the terraced land, they were on two floors with a wooden skeleton and stone lower-walls which would have been completed with wattle and daub. Charred remains of wooden floors have been found and the huts are topped with steeply slanting reed-thatched roofs. 
A large sunken cistern used to store water, snow or foodstuffs has been unearthed at the foot of the terraced village, whilst a lateral terrace now hosts a scaled-up version of one of the site's most important finds: a solar dial. Working along the lines of a sun dial, the instrument can be used to locate true north and the find has helped prove that this scientific knowledge was put into practice as early as the Etruscan era. Another fascinating discovery in anthropological terms, came from the excavation of the necropolis close to the village, where the grave goods from nearly 200 burials show how the Etruscans, who lived here from the 5th century BC, were joined a couple of hundred years later in a close and peaceful coexistence by Celts.


Via Torre Arabella
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The oldest graves in fact only contained Etruscan items, such as black painted vases and jewellery, while the later ones also included decorative Celtic swords and helmets. 
To see the items discovered at Monte Bibele and to gain a real insight into the history of the area and its treasures, a visit to the Monterenzio Archaeological Museum is a must. The museum, which has an attractive river-park location, has an open-plan interior that's full of light thanks to a glass roof. It's centred around another reconstructed hut, this time showing the interior of one of the Monte Bibele dwellings as it would have been all those centuries ago, while the museum's lateral wings house other finds from the archaeological area, the solar dial taking pride of place with its own dedicated section. Several tombs, some from the Monterenzio Vecchio necropolis which was discovered more recently on the opposite side of the valley, are displayed as they were found, complete with the grave goods, such as strigils for personal hygiene and decorative helmets, in their original layout; there are also hundreds of miniature bronze figures and small clay pots from a rich votive deposit found nearby.

Interspersed with the original items are a series of tactile displays with information in Braille and reproductions of exhibits for visitors to touch or pick up, including a decorated Etruscan mirror, bronze votive figures and a Celtic spear, shield and sword – children love them!
Both the museum and the Quinzano entrance to the Monte Bibele park can be reached by bus 918 from Bologna, but it's a good idea to come with your own transport so you can stop and enjoy one of the many eateries along the lush Idice valley. 
Monte Bibele is a fantastic place for walkers and there are stunning panoramic views but bear in mind that from the Quinzano entrance it takes just under an hour on sometimes steep paths to reach the Etruscan-Celtic village, where there are several picnic tables, while it's about 40 minutes to the visitor centre, which has ample parking.
Check the website for updates on the events held both at Monte Bibele and at the Archaeological Museum: montebibele.eu

Visitor Centre - Monte Bibele: Via Torre Arabella, Monterenzio


Archaeological Museum: Via del Museo 2, Monterenzio 



Sarah Lane


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