unearthing the Apollo statue at San Casciano dei Bagni

San Casciano dig reveals two-metre-high Apollo statue

Culture News

The ongoing archaeological dig at San Casciano baths has uncovered another incredible find. Following on from earlier bronze sculptures, now the archaeologists have unearthed a marble Apollo statue standing around two metres.

A youthful and graceful Apollo, deeply engrossed in the pursuit of a lizard, stands as a captivating marvel in the wake of last year’s bronze discoveries. Unlike its predecessor, this statue is not only larger but monumental, reaching nearly two meters in height. Crafted from marble, it is a replication of an original bronze piece by the renowned Greek sculptor Praxiteles. Unearthed from the mud and steaming waters of the San Casciano excavations, this latest find is a testament to the ongoing surprises at the site.

Site continues to astonish

In an exclusive preview with ANSA, Professor Jacopo Tabolli from Siena’s University for Foreigners describes this extraordinary discovery. Alongside the statue, there is a distinctive stone ‘donarium,’ part of the temple where votive offerings were placed. The site also yielded myriad small objects made of bronze, terracotta, and even glass, offering intriguing glimpses into daily life at the shrine.

“The San Casciano dig continues to astonish us,” says Luigi La Rocca, the director general of archaeology at the culture ministry. Expanding the excavation perimeter reveals that what was initially thought to be a modest sacred building around the spring and its ritual bath is, in fact, a fully developed temple. This temple features an ornate portico with four columns and a central area containing a large bath, partially covered by a dais adorned with sizable statues, one of which may represent the youthful Apollo.

This architectural gem, blending monumentality and hydraulic engineering, stands in continuity with an older Etruscan sacellum, a small chapel whose splendid walls were uncovered in recent months. The Romans, seeking stability, adjusted the temple’s orientation on the ground, enlarging and enhancing the bath for offerings.

San Casciano dei Bagni is in the Tuscan province of Siena.

Apollo statue holds scientific interest

Professor Tabolli emphasised the sacred value attributed to the hot spring’s water, seen as a divine force emerging from the earth. This belief is evident in the statue’s limbs, recently entrusted to restorers. Despite the emotional impact, the Apollo statue is unfortunately fragmented, with some pieces, including arms and parts of the head, yet to be discovered.

The deliberate breaking and submersion of the statue into the bath during the fifth century AD closure of the site poses intriguing questions. Was it part of a final pagan ritual, a protective measure, or driven by Christian iconoclasm? Archaeologist Emanuele Mariotti, the director of the digs, highlights the force of the water, now erupting at 30 litres per second, revealing the god’s splendid legs hidden behind a vertically dropped column.

The Apollo of San Casciano, though in pieces, holds significant scientific interest. Linking it to Praxiteles’s bronze statue, possibly held in Cleveland, this marble rendition provides a unique context. Unlike other Roman copies, it may offer insights into the god’s association with medicine, particularly due to the lizard symbolism.

Detail of the Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos Image courtesy of Flickr user ancientartpodcast.org
Detail of the Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos Image courtesy of Flickr user ancientartpodcast.org

The ancients believed in the lizard’s connection to ophthalmic cures, supported by bronze lizard specimens found in the bath. In this Tuscan temple, Apollo may have played a crucial role in ancient healing practices, venerated alongside water gods. The statue becomes a focal point for both medical rituals and the reverence of the tutelary deity of water, weaving a narrative of disease, recovery, anxieties, and renewed hopes spanning seven centuries.

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