“The hidden city. Urban archaeology in Mantua”, a new exhibition by Palazzo Ducale and Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Cremona, Lodi e Mantova, presents the result of the latest archaeological excavations which have been led in town.
New discoveries never cease to amaze us, rewriting the history of Mantua. Part of the most ancient settlement, until now, within the city boundaries, came to light in the site of Gradaro - Fiera Catena. The village dates back to the final Bronze Age, centuries before the arrival of Etruscan people.
In the heart of old town, the archaeological excavation in via Rubens - Case dei Canonici was a journey through time, from Renaissance to the age of the Lombards, from Roman Mantua to the Etruscan era, when houses and a pottery workshop were here.
2. Search for the hidden city
A city is a living organism that exists in the present and undergoes seamless transformation. New buildings, drainage systems, aqueducts and electric lines, are works that change a city and are essential needs for the community which lives in it.
At the same time, a city is the result of thousands of years of human history, and its origin lies beneath the ground.
Urban archaeology has the purpose of unearthing the buried faces of a city. We can still admire the beautiful monuments of Mantua, dating back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But there is also an invisible Mantua, once inhabited by the Langobards, the Romans and the Etruscans: more than 2500 years of city life, just beneath our feet.
3. The job of an archaeologist
Archaeologists play a central role in the preservation of cultural heritage, by monitoring every excavation both in historical cities and rural areas. They are not treasure-hunters: they observe and recognise ancient remains when put into light, collect all meaningful artefacts (pottery, metal objects, human remains…) and record their exact location within the site.
Precise data recovery is a crucial activity in archaeology. In the past, when archaeological excavations were carried out without scientific methods, many ancient sites were heavily damaged, and our knowledge about them is hopelessly flawed.
In a few cases, luckily, some of the artefacts have been recovered. In 1910, for instance, a Greek vase with red figures was found in via Massari, within the historical center of Mantua.
The vase was possibly placed in an Etruscan tomb - we don’t know if it was the grave of a man or a woman - along with other grave goods. We don’t have neither a plan nor a picture.
Nowadays, thanks to up-to-date fieldwork methods, we can obtain detailed information from the archaeological files, recording fundamental data for future research.