Val di Chiana
Val di Chiana

Things to do in Chiusi, an ancient Etruscan city

Chiusi, an Etruscan city in the Val di Chiana

Chiusi is a municipality in the province of Siena which is located in the southernmost area of the Val di Chiana, a step away from the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The historic center of Chiusi stands perched on a hill, at an altitude of 400 meters above sea level, from which it dominates and controls the surrounding area. We are in the Sienese Valdichiana, an area rich in history where there are several archaeological sites from the Etruscan and Roman eras, a very beautiful nature, spa resorts, good food and much more.

The history of Chiusi: from the Iron Age to the present day

The area in which Chiusi is located has been inhabited since ancient times; the first traces of a settlement are in fact from the Iron Age (VIII century BC), an era to which some very rich grave goods date back. Chiusi is famous for being a large and powerful Etruscan city which at the time was known by the name of Clevsi, then latinized into Clusium. The city was part of the Etruscan dodecapoli, a league that brought together the 12 most important cities of Etruria, and became particularly important at the time of King Porsenna (6th century BC).

Some stories and legends are linked to this character, such as the one according to which Porsenna had build in Chiusi an underground labyrinth that was used to protect his tomb. In fact, these underground tunnels really exist, but in reality it is a system for water supply. If on the one hand reality dismantles a legend that for centuries has fascinated intellectuals and artists, on the other it gives us an idea of ​​what the skills and genius of the ancient Etruscans were.

In the third century BC, Chiusi entered the orbit of Rome, maintaining a role of primary importance also due to its position (the city stands close to the Via Cassia route). The importance of the city must have been important even after the fall of the Roman Empire as Byzantines and Goths fought hard to conquer it and the Lombards established the seat of a duchy there. During the Carolingian domination, Chiusi was governed by a Gastaldo named directly by the emperor and in the 11th century it was part of the Marquisate of Tuscia.

Then followed centuries of hard struggles between Chiusi and the other neighboring cities for the control of the territory which, together with the deterioration of the environmental, economic and demographic conditions, brought the city towards a long period of decline.

In the sixteenth century Chiusi passed under the Medici state which subsequently started reclamation works, completed in the nineteenth century, which marked the rebirth of the city. The 19th century also marked the beginning of the archaeological discoveries that made the city famous again and made it a pole of tourist attraction.

Today Chiusi makes tourism one of its main strengths, the city is highly appreciated by visitors from all over the world for its top-level historical and artistic heritage and has also been included in the list of Bandiere Arancioni by the Touring Club Italiano.

What to do and what to see in Chiusi

With such a long and glorious history behind it, Chiusi can only have a great historical and artistic heritage. In the historical center of Chiusi there are several beautiful monuments to see and a series of really important museums to visit.

The historic center of the city starts from the central via Porsenna, on which on one side overlooks the Archaeological Museum and on the other opens Piazza Carlo Baldini. Here we find the Cathedral of Chiusi, the Torre di San Secondiano and the Museo della Cattedrale where visits to the catacombs of Santa Caterina and Santa Mustiola and the Labirinto di Porsenna also begin. In Piazza XX Settembre instead we find the Clock Tower and, not far from it, the museum La Città Sotterranea and the Chiesa di San Francesco.

Cathedral of Chiusi

The Cathedral of Chiusi, or the Concattedrale di San Secondiano, dates back to the sixth century even if the current forms date back to a nineteenth-century restructuring. Today the church has a linear facade characterized by a large portico with Doric columns. Inside, the three naves are divided by columns probably recovered from older buildings, perhaps Roman. The “fake mosaic” style decoration made along the central nave and in the apse by the Sienese artist Arturo Viligiardi dates back to the 19th century.

On the side of the church a beautiful porch leads up to the Palazzo Vescovile, while in an isolated position stands the mighty Torre di San Secondiano. Erected in the 12th century as a defensive tower, it was transformed into a bell tower in 1585. From the top of the bell tower you can enjoy a breathtaking 360° view.

things to do in Chiusi visit the Cathedral Concattedrale di San Secondiano
Cathedral of Chiusi (Photo by LigaDue / CC BY)

Museo della Cattedrale

The rooms of the Museo diocesano della cattedrale e cunicoli etruschi di Chiusi are housed inside the Palazzo Vescovile, which can be accessed from the loggia of the palace. On the ground floor of the museum some archaeological finds from the catacombs of Santa Caterina and Santa Mustiola and from the excavations carried out in the Cathedral are exhibited.

In the rooms on the first floor there are sacred vestments and furnishings, paintings and goldsmiths and a series of 21 illuminated manuscripts of the fifteenth century from the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. Among the various sacred works of art, one can admire a Madonna and Child by Sano di Pietro, a Madonna and Child enthroned between Saint James and Saint Andrew the Apostle attributed to Girolamo di Benvenuto; and a Holy family with San Giovannino and Santa Caterina created by Vincenzo Rustici.

For information on timetables and tickets, I refer you to the website of the Associazione musei ecclesiastici italiani.

Labirinto di Porsenna

The Cathedral Museum continues with a visit to the Labirinto di Porsenna. According to legend, Porsenna would have been buried in an incredible and huge mausoleum consisting of a large square base on which stood a series of overlapping pyramids that reached a disproportionate height.

Again according to tradition, the sarcophagus of Porsenna would have been kept inside a golden chariot pulled by golden horses and there would also have been a hen and 5000 chicks which, obviously, were made of gold. To protect his tomb and this fantastic treasure, Porsenna would therefore have built a labyrinth that the Roman author Pliny the Elder described as “inextricabile“.

Even if the legend goes beyond reality, the Labyrinth of Porsenna really has a very articulated and complex tunnel system with passages that reach a depth of 25 meters. The labyrinth, which was actually used to provide water to the city, has a network of tunnels that branch out to reach some cisterns, such as the Roman one which is located below the San Secondiano Tower. It is a very interesting engineering work that makes us understand how many and what the knowledge and skills of the Etruscans were.

In addition to the Labyrinth of Porsenna there is the possibility to visit, exclusively with guided tours, also the catacomb of Santa Mustiola and that of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria which are located near Chiusi.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Chiusi

Set up inside a beautiful neoclassical building, the Museo archeologico nazionale di Chiusi reconstructs the history of Chiusi and its territory through numerous finds from the area’s archaeological excavations. The exhibits on display cover a vast chronological period from the Iron Age to the Lombard age.

The museum tour begins with rooms dedicated to the Etruscan period with a focus on local production between the seventh and sixth centuries BC. The exhibition continues with a collection of Attic black-figure and red-figure imported ceramics and then goes on to the finds from the excavations of the area’s necropolises.

The Roman section is rich in cinerary urns, memorial stones, glass, bronzes and statues as well as inscriptions and other finds from the Hellenistic period. The museum ends with a section dedicated to the Lombard era and some showcases dedicated to the Paolozzi and Mieli Servadio collections.

With the museum ticket you can also visit some tombs in the area; in particular, the Tomba del Leone, the Tomba della Pellegrina, the Tomba della Scimmia and the Tomba del Colle.

For information on tickets, museum hours and those of the tombs, I leave you the link to the Polo museale della Toscana site.

things to do in Chiusi visit the National Archaeological Museum
National Archaeological Museum of Chiusi (Photo by Roberto Lazzaroni / CC BY)

Museo Civico “La Città Sotterranea”

The “Città Sotterranea” (Underground City) is a path that goes along the underground tunnels of the city. After a presentation of the history and legends related to this tunnel system, the visit continues with the descent towards these underground passages. Inside these tunnels there are hundreds of Etruscan urns and many inscriptions dating back to the period between the third and first centuries BC. The path through the underground Chiusi ends near a small lake which is located below the city.

For more informations please consult the web site of ProLoco di Chiusi.

Chiesa di San Francesco

Founded according to tradition after a visit by Saint francis to Chiusi, the chiesa di San Francesco was built starting from the thirteenth century in place of a previous church dedicated to Saint Michael. The facade is brick with travertine elements and a beautiful 13th century portal with twisted columns. The interior was redone in the 18th century. Here you can admire a wooden crucifix from the fifteenth century and fragments of various frescoes dating back to various eras.

What to do around Chiusi

In the vicinity of the city there are a series of tombs, necropolises and catacombs which constitute an indispensable appendix to the visit to the village. Among these, the early Christian catacombs of Santa Caterina and Santa Mustiola, which testify to the first presence of Christians in the city, and the Etruscan tombs such as theTomba della Pellegrina, the Tomba del Leone and the Tomba della Scimmia that are located in the Necropoli di Poggio Renzo along the road towards Lago di Chiusi.

Lago di Chiusi

Lago di Chiusi is located right on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, just 5 kilometers from the city. Protected natural area of local interest and WWF oasis, the lake is home to numerous species of birds such as the red heron and the pinkthorn and is also a stopping point for some migratory birds such as osprey. It is a very relaxing place, ideal for spending a quiet day admiring the view. There are spaces and paths for walking, cycle paths and also the possibility of taking a boat ride.

Spas near Chiusi

Chiusi is located very close to the prestigious spa town of Chianciano Terme (12 km). With its sensorial spas and healing waters, Chianciano is a true oasis of relaxation and well-being. In addition to the spas, in Chianciano you will also find another interesting Etruscan museum and other attractions to discover and visit. Other spas near Chiusi are those of Montepulciano (18 km) and those of San Casciano dei Bagni (25 km).

Towns near Chiusi

In Val di Chiana there are many villages to visit, among those closest to Chiusi, I recommend Sarteano, Cetona and Montepulciano. Sarteano is a lively medieval village with a beautiful castle and a version of the Giostra del Saracino. Cetona is a pretty hilltop village surrounded by green woods, ideal for nature lovers and hikers. Finally, Montepulciano is a jewel full of precious pearls: the city is full of palaces, churches, monuments and is famous for the production of the fine Nobile di Montepulciano wine.

How to get to Chiusi

By train: The closest train station, Chiusi Chianciano Terme, is located in Chiusi Scalo, less than a kilometer from Chiusi. From there you can take a bus to reach the historic center of Chiusi.

By car: The town is easily accessible by the highway A1, exit Chiusi-Chianciano.

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