A sunken history

A sunken history

The existence of an ancient buried city has been known since the Middle Ages, when the architect Lanfranco used the “astonishing masses of stones and marble” found underground to complete the Romanesque cathedral. Since then, the desire to bring it back to light has been constant. At the end of the 1800s, Arsenio Crespellani, a great archaeologist from Modena, urged his fellow citizens to unite to bring "this second Pompeii" to the surface. But why is Mutina buried at a depth of about 5 metres? Two dramatic phenomena that occurred recently in our territory help us to understand the past: the earthquake of 2012 and the flood of 2014. The 2012 earthquake raised the ground around the epicentre by up to 15 cm, while over the centuries the Secchia and Panaro rivers had shifted, depositing sediments that buried Mutina. How much sediment can a river deposit during a flood? The 2014 Secchia flood left up to a metre of sand in the surrounding area and about 2 mm of mud several kilometres away. Geology and archaeology have confirmed that the territory has undergone similar phenomena over the centuries. Mutina splendidissima, although still buried, has been the subject of numerous archaeological discoveries and of effective conservation, demonstrating the awareness of its existence and its historical value even after 2200 years from its foundation.


The Middle Ages - Late 6th-early 15th century A.D.

Stirrup fibula in gilded silver. 575-600 A.D. Montale

Modena was hit by the wave of the invasion of the Lombards from the end of the sixth century during the reign of King Alboin. The city was in the midst of a social and economic crisis and was hit by a series of floods that partly covered the vestiges of the Roman city. The fibula, decorated in the style known as eyelet style, ends with a zoomorphic protome; It belonged to the grave goods of a high-ranking woman.

Stone frame decorated with intertwined leaves and bunches of vines. VIII century A.D.

Cathedral of Modena

The slab was found in archaeological excavations carried out in the Crypt of the Duomo; It was part of the sculptural furnishings of a place of worship prior to the construction of the current cathedral. The Duomo is the oldest monument of the past within the contemporary city. It represents the most evident testimony of the continuity of life between Roman Mutina and today’s city, built using stone blocks from the Roman age, still partly visible on the facades of the Duomo and of the Ghirlandina. The lions placed to support the porch of the façade are also Roman.

The Roman Age – III century B.C. – VI century A.D.

Bronze counterweight for groma. Modenese

According to the historian Titus Livius, in 183 B.C., Modena was founded as the first colony of Roman citizens north of the Apennines, together with Parma. The Roman city centre was actually established before the official foundation, as evidenced by historical sources and archaeology. The Roman city was assigned a centuriate territory, that is, organized in regular plots of land called centuriae, units measuring around 50 hectares. The groma was the tool used by surveyors to trace the centuriation system.

Bronze statuette depicting a hare. I century A.D. Piazza Grande

The urban domus in the Augustan age were large and fashionable residences, equipped withrefinedfurnishings. The bronze statuette depicting a hare in the act of leaping, resting on a base, adorned one of these houses. The forum of Mutina, the main square overlooked by the public buildings and the market place, was located along the Via Emilia at the intersection with the current Rua Pioppa and Corso Adriano streets. The city also had an amphitheatre, which was perhaps located near Via Mondatora and Via Canalino, whose particular curvilinear course is considered to be the remains of the outer ring of the amphitheatre.

The Celts – IV-III century B.C.

Iron sword with iron scabbard. Circa 270 B.C. Saliceta S. Giuliano

In the fourth century, the Po Valley territories underwent military occupation by the Celts who later integrated in the following century with the pre-existing Etruscan communities and with the first groups of Roman settlers. In the Modena area, the most important Celtic testimonies are the tombs of a warrior and of women of another rank. The sword was the element that identified the figure of the warrior; The iron scabbard is decorated with stencilling combined with embossed parts, with eye and palmette motifs, inserted in a diamond grid. Similar swords have been found over a vast geographical area ranging from Slovakia to the South and West of France and Northern Italy.

Bronze rings decorated with three stylized human heads. III century B.C. Saliceta S.


The two rings were found in a burial site just south of Modena, in the area of Saliceta San Giuliano. The theme of stylized human heads derives from a typically Celtic motif called "têtes coupées"; The rings were probably part of a horse’s harness.

The Iron Age and the Po Valley Etruria – IX-IV century B.C.

Bronze razor. Late IX-early VIII century B.C. Savignano sul Panaro

Starting from the ninth century B.C., the territory of Modena was occupied by the Etruscans, who expanded from the Tyrrhenian area to northern and southern Italy. Shortly thereafter, the first urban settlements would be born and writing was to be introduced. One of the most important settlement areas in the province of Modena, at the beginning of Etruscan history, is that of Savignano, at the mouth of the Panaro river in the plain. Here burial sites have been found containing prestigious grave goods, belonging to “aristocratic” families probably linked to the Etruscan centre of Bologna. A characteristic element of male burials is the lunate razor.

Kylix in Attic red-figure pottery, 5th century B.C. Castelvetro

Etruria Padana denotes a political and economic system organized between the Adriatic, the Apennines and the Mantua area, with Felsina (Bologna) as its capital; Spina was the port open to trade towards Greece, while Marzabotto and Mantua were the cities chosen to control the territory. Many objects imported from the Greek world testify to the cultural and economic link between the Etruscans and the Aegean, such as this cup, part of the rich funerary equipment of a fifth-century member of the Etruscan aristocracy who was at the head of an inhabited nucleus situated near the current fortress of Castelvetro, on the foothills of Modena.

The Bronze Age and the Terramare – end of the third - second millennium B.C.

Worked stone casting mold for spearhead and razor. 1450-1150 B.C.. Casinalbo

Around 2300 B.C., the production of objects made of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, began, and throughout Europe long-distance traffic developed to recover the raw materials. These exceptional movements of people and goods created a network of exchanges of technological knowledge, crafts, economic forms and belief systems. The population grew exponentially and an articulated social complexity developed which, between 1650 and 1550 B.C., gave rise to the civilization of the Terramare in the central Po Valley. The stone casting mold has different objects on each side: a spearhead and a razor.

Bowl with handle with cow horn-shaped elevation. 1350-1250 B.C.. Montale

Society was based on village communities, organized according to a model that involved the cooperation of all members, with an elite of warriors and of women adorned with opulent bronze and amber ornaments. The economy was based on agriculture and livestock. Between 1200 and 1150 B.C., the Terramare system collapsed and the villages suffered fairly rapid depopulation due to concomitant factors, including a worsening climate with more drought and the consequent reduction in water resources that may have undermined the agricultural economy. The development of agriculture was led by the introduction of ploughing with oxen; for this reason, the animal was of fundamental importance for the life of the Terramare, so much so that bovine horns were used to decorate the handles of certain types of pottery. The bowl comes from the site of Montale, on which the Civic Museum has created the Archaeological Park of Terramara di Montale.

Neolithic and Copper Age VI – III millennium B.C.

Fine ceramic mug with engraved geometric decoration. 5600-4800 B.C.. Fiorano

In the Neolithic period, man abandoned the nomadic lifestyle and began to practice agriculture and breeding of livestock. This new economic model, which had developed in the Near East between the ninth and eighth millennium B.C., spread to northern Italy at the beginning of the sixth millennium. The production of food resources favours the creation of stable settlements, which is accompanied by the introduction of pottery processing for the preservation, cooking and consumption of food. The oldest manifestations of the Neolithic period in the Modena area belong to the so-called Culture of Fiorano (5600 4800 B.C.), widespread in Emilia, south-western Veneto, Romagna and northern Tuscany. This cup, decorated with engraved and imprinted elements that form geometric or anthropomorphic motifs, is typical of the Fiorano Culture.

Bowl with meandrous-spiral decoration. 4500-4200 B.C.. Pescale (Prignano sul Secchia)

At the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C., the Culture of the Square-Mouthed Vases appeared, which also encompassed the Tyrrhenian belt of Central Italy. Long-distance exchanges enabled the diffusion of obsidian tools, volcanic glass used to obtain sharp artefacts, coming from Sardinia, Lipari and the island of Palmarola. The bowl, typical of the Culture of Square-Mouthed Vases, exhibits meandering and spiral decorations obtained by engraving and excision, with tools that made it possible to cut into the raw clay before firing or even to cut out and remove parts of it (excision).

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic 300,000-9,000 years ago

Double-sided or hand axe made of phtanite. Early Middle Palaeolithic (300,000 years ago).


The first human groups appeared in the Modena area 300,000 years ago. The oldest evidence of the presence of man is represented by chipped stone tools found in the foothills south of the city in the territories of Spilamberto, Castelvetro and Savignano. The territory was frequented by small groups of men who lived in seasonal or temporary camps to hunt and gather plants and fruits. The double-sided tool is a multifunctional instrument with one pointed end and the other rounded, probably for the purpose of grinding and crushing; the sides could be used for scraping and cutting.

Venus of Savignano (copy) 28,000 – 24,000 years ago

In the Modena area, the only known evidence of the Upper Palaeolithic are some finds unearthed in Pescale, along the Secchia, and the “Venus of Savignano”, artefacts made by Homo sapiens that spread in Europe from 40,000 years ago. The statuette, whose original is made of stone, has been attributed to the Upper Palaeolithic at a time between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago, a period in which numerous female sculptures with identical characteristics are widespread in Europe. The upper part in the shape of an elongated pyramid may allude to the presence of a conical headdress. The presence of enlarged feminine attributes testifies to the significant value given to reproduction and fertility by Palaeolithic populations.

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