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Review of the book Leopoli-Cencelle. Una città di fondazione papale, Roma, Fratelli Palombi Publishers, 1996 (Section Late Antiquity and Middle Ages, studies and tools of archaeology)

The last 8th of June, in the town hall of Tarquinia (Viterbo) there was the presentation of the first volume about the preliminary results of the excavations held in the abandoned medieval city of Cencelle. This very town was deserted from centuries. The book includes the catalog of the exhibition, opened on the last December in the Chalks Museum of the University of Rome "La Sapienza," and now placed in the Museum of Tarquinia, in the territory of which Cencelle is located. In the presence of the local authorities, Mrs A. M. Moretti, "Soprintendente" to the southern Etruria and the prof. L. Ermini-Pani, headmistress of the excavation's project, had remembered the importance of the investigations in progress and wished a better future in the care for the conservation of the finds; the latter to be conducted in the meantime of excavation. Prof. Ermini-Pani underlined the fundamental role played by P. Lauer, in last century, and from O. Toti, up to our days, as modern "discoverers" of Cencelle: Lauer, author of the first plan of the city, according to F. Bougard, gave the first concrete knowledge of the site; Toti restored Cencelle- often confused with present days Civitavecchia- in its own role in the medieval documents. Finally, prof. Miglio explained the catalog, emphasizing the rapidity of the publication and the presence in it of future projects and methodological suggestions together with the preliminary results of the investigations.
Cencelle was founded by pope Leo IV (847-855) 12 miles away from the Roman Centumcellae (the present days Civitavecchia) to give hospitality to the inhabitants of this very town, consistently damaged from the Saracen raids. The city, according to the "Liber Pontificalis"- a collection of Roman bishops biographies up to pope Martin V (1431)- , was built "ex novo", on August 15th 854 A. D., on the top of a hill and surrounded by a wall. Its name reminds on the one hand, that of the founder (pope Leo IV), on the other, that of ancient city which went to replace, "Centumcellae." In 1416, Cencelle appeared among the deserted places of S. Peter's Patrimony. Nevertheless, some finds of the excavations yelded evidence of a longer continuity of the town's life, even if yet characterized by a slow but clear decadence. In fact, fragments of Renaissance pottery, dating to the XVI century (sector II); and a little medal, which has on the straight side the image of the Virgin Mary of Loreto and on the reverse that of S. Venanzio (sector V), dating to the XVII century, confirm the existence of the impoverished city, at least up to two centuries later than what results from the documents.
Interdisciplinary is regarded as the principal task of the project: actually, it has been organized the presence of experts, such as those with specifically humanistic background belonging to the professorships of Medieval Archaeology of Rome, Chieti and Viterbo; to the Ecole Française de Rome; to the professorship of history of the urbanism of the first University of Rome; and others with a scientific background such as those from the professorships of "analisi merceologica", to the professorship of lithology and geomorphology, to the professorship of "lotta alle malerbe" of the University of Viterbo; to the professorship of applied geophysic of the University of Cagliari; the professorship of physic of the earth of the University of Bologna. The aim of this cooperation is the effort to reconstruct the environment in which the city of Cencelle was located, as an integral part and expression of it, and, moreover, to build an "archaeological basin," which would have to protect the finds and not to isolate them, as it occurred according to the old attitude. From this point of view, has to be considered the study which identified in the very same hill on which the city was built and in neighbouring zones, the stone quarry from which was extracted the material used in the faces and in the inner part of the masonries of Cencelle ("trachite", red tufa, limestone "Palombino"). In fact, it is conviction of the équipe that the study of the ancient environment and the preservation of the finds has to be conciliated with the study and the preservation of the present day environment - also considering the ecological aspect-, in order to try to enrich the scientific side and involve in the plan the people of the area as an integral part of it. Thus, apparently, it is extremely interesting to begin to think now to the organization of the area for the public, as G. C. Infranca of the Syremont society has done after only three months of excavations, above all, considering that thanks to the next Jubilee, Cencelle, as not only the local authorities wish, could become an interesting tourist attraction. (picture n. 1)
The authors of the project consider the plan unique because Cencelle is one of the few cases of early medieval city to be founded "ex novo" by an aulic donator. According to what prof. L. Ermini-Pani had written in the Introduction, with Leopoli-Cencelle one has the impression to examine the "model" of a carolingian city and its development through the centuries toward a free municipality. Thus, the archaeological investigation could lead to the comprehension of what the people had felt during the ages as the idea of city.
The exhibition consists of a promenade inside Cencelle: after an outside overview of the city, one enters into the city from the oriental gate, the most important of the existing three, worthy by an epigraph which recall the foundation of Leo IV. In respect to the walls and the towers, possibly built with stone material during the XIII century, the analyses performed during the excavations' activities yielded evidences of all the various phases of the construction from the early Middle Ages to the early modern period.
The excavations in the inner part of the city yielded evidence of both houses and workshops dating to the last big rehash of Cencelle (XIII-XIV century). Among workshops there is a structure (III sector) which possibly has to be regarded as an iron smelting place, connected to a smithy, the evidence of which had probably been identified in the neighbour sector I. Actually, this building was built in the south-est area of Cencelle, in an urban zone close to the walls, where the medieval workshops were usually located, especially for sanitary measures. Among the other buildings, there is a house which includes different phases of rehash; its definitive destruction has possibly to be connected to a war-torn event as testified by the presence of fire's traces and arrows' and crossbows' heads. It might be dated to the period around the year 1350, when the papacy tried to reconquist S. Peter's Patrimony. A structure connected to the house had possibly to be considered as a legumes' store. A "casa-torre" -a tower used at the same time as a house and as military tower-, is significantly in the center of the town and in elevated position and should be connected to the higher rank of Cencelle's secular or ecclesiastical classes. The masonries are made by blocks of tufa in regular rows. In contrast to this, the vast majority of the other buildings are in blocks of "trachite". The type of the mansonery would confirm the hypothesis that this "tower" was built by a rich donator. The future excavations shall insert these buildings in the urbanistic and road network the structure of which one can grasp by a fragment of a street, paved with slabs of stone (sector I), and trough the aerial photos and the investigation in the suburb.
Another section of the volume faces the preliminary study on the materials: metals, pottery and fictiles used for the coverage of many of the excavated buildings. The presence of metal objects is particularly important, when considering the structures used in iron working: in fact, all around the supposed smithy, many metallic objects (elements for housing, working tools, arms, implements and ornamental objects) were found. These were so numerous and so heterogeneus that possibly they have to be made "in situ". With regard to the pottery, (the most attested class is the "maiolica arcaica"), the highest number of discoveries was in the sector II that, in the last phase of Cencelle's life, would have served as a dump. The study of the materials was useful to partly reconstruct the daily life of a town characterized by a strong agricultural and handcraft vocation (above all the processing of the wood). This craftsmanship include as well the production of decoration and to the games, such as bronze plaquettes "a giorno" for wood boxes; dices and whistle; there was also imported pottery. The remanents of the Cencelle's foundation (IX century) at the moment were identified only in a part of the city wall, in fragments of "forum ware", and in marble slabs with the incision of the "carolingian knote", probably part of a church ornament. It is very important to stress the reuse of despoiling materials ("spolia") of the early medieval structures, possibly belonging to the two churches which were already built at the moment of the city's foundation. These marble fragments are exposed in the exhibition -in the volume there are photos with descriptions- together with some metals and pottery. By the timely restauration performed by the Civitavecchia's Museum, it had been possible to expose the most relevant finds and to permit the visitors having a wider approach (not only descriptive) with what was the medieval city's daily reality.
The present investigation also studies the topographical situation of the Mignone's low valley, in which Cencelle locates, along different time-periods. From the charters in which are reported place-names of Prehistory and Etruscan, Romans, Medieval and Modern period, it is possible to have an idea of the territory's history .The place-names in fact, offer a relevant tool to study the imaginary and the real territory at the same time. Among these place-names, the memory of ancient battles ("Torre d' Orlando, Monte Turco"), or of wonderful treasures ("Ara della Regina") or, instead, of real buildings ( "Castellaccio," "Casale S. Maria," "Poggio Cisterna") which had characterized the local landscape, had been kept.
Thus, manifold are the sources which were possible to be gathered together trough this investigation. Granted the complexity and the deep stratification of the site, a couple of field excavations lasting for about three months were already enough to publish some results even if in the form of hypotesis. Moreover, it has to be stressed the importance of the choice of the place of the present exhibition: in fact it was organized either at Rome University "La Sapienza" and at Tarquinia in order to partake in the event both archaelogists and the local populace.

Francesca Zagari

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