Friday 20 December 2019

Roselle and Grosseto in the Tuscan Maremma: an ancient Etruscan town and a modern cathedral city in Tuscany

Roselle is a picturesque, Etrusco-Roman ruin located on the boundary between the valley of Ombrone and the Maremma, on the shore of the ancient lake Prile (Lacus Prelius). The ruins are about 15 km SE of Vetulonia, another Etruscan site, and 8 km NE of Grosseto, the largest town in this part of Tuscany.

Remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Roselle in the Tuscan Maremma
Remains of the Roman amphitheatre at Roselle in the Tuscan Maremma

The relationship between Roselle and Grosseto is quite interesting - to a large extent, Roselle is the ancestor of Grosseto.

Roselle (Rusellae) stood and, as a ruin, still stands on two hills separated by a valley that formed its political, economic and religious nucleus. The area has been frequented humans since prehistoric times, but Roselle became a real city when it was settled by the Etruscans, in the 7 C BC. Roselle was among the Etruscan cities that were not members of the Etruscan Dodecapoli.

In 294 BC, Roselle was conquered by the Romans, led by the consul Lucio Postumio Megelio. Its flowering began in the first century AD. Thanks to the imperial favour and the work of some munificent families of local patrons, there was intense building activity at this time, that extended throughout the county.

From the late imperial age, Roselle was affected by the same decadence that struck numerous Roman cities. Archaeologists have been able to identify signs of this recession in the contraction of the urban area and in the numerous cases of re-use and abandonment of the oldest structures. Roselle was unable to recover its modest but not unimportant status in Tuscany, despite its role as a bishopric.

In fact, it was at Roselle that the first cathedral of this bishopric stood, at least from the 5 C AD, when Bishop Vitaliano participated in the Roman Synod of 499. The first building was built on the remains of a thermal baths complex dating from between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, on the slopes of the northern part of the city and was subjected to various reconstructions, such as the imposing Romanesque phase, characterised by the bell tower of which the foundations may still be seen.

The Duomo of Grosseto
The Duomo of Grosseto

The spiritual and administrative center of the diocese was, however, transferred in 1138 to nearby Grosseto, by a bull issued by Pope Innocent II. Thus, from the 12 C the city of Roselle was gradually abandoned and its remains reused as building or decorative materials elsewhere. Some of them were used to embellish the new Duomo and others were generally transported to Grosseto. Some architectural remains have been recovered and displayed in the Museum and in the Archaeological Garden or form part of the Grosseto street decorations, to illustrate the close link with ancient Roselle.

decorated stone element from Roselle
Decorated stone element from Roselle

More about the Maremma.

More about Grosseto

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