On the top of the hill of st. Cornelio, on the southeast of Arezzo, there is the archaeological and natural area of Castelsecco, the main sanctuary outside the city, during the ancient Etruscan times.
In the 2nd century BC, some changes were made to the top of the hill, positioning it into the direction of the Chiana valley and building some walls around the religious complex, resembling the Hellenistic ones, so that it could serve the city with its main temple and the theatre, connected. This feature is well documented in different religious places throughout Italy of those times, such as the Samnite temple in Pietrabbondante in the region of Molise.
Built during times in which the influence of Romans extended also in architecture, the sanctuary of Castelsecco presents element of the Etruscan tradition: here were surely adored Tinia, the equivalent to Jupiter for the Etruscans, as the inscription Tins Lut found on a travertine around the area shows, and Uni, similar to the Roman Juno Lucina and linked to pregnancy as is shown by the votive offerings made in terracotta that depict newborns found in the area. A stone statue made in 2012 by the sculptor Ilinep depicts the deity Uni in the act of nursing a young Hercules.
On the southeastern part of the hill there is a massive wall made from carved stones. This layer of walls, that follows a curve, is interrupted by 14 buttresses. Guglielmo Maetzke, the archaeologist that directed the first scientific excavation in Castelsecco, said that these walls had both a practical and aesthetic purpose, for that they supported the plot of land.
The theatre that pointed south where sacred scenes were re-enacted, as the altar from the 2nd century shows, is kept buried for its protection. Of the cavea, meaning the part where the audience sat, there are four stone terraces. The central part of the theatre for the choir and the altar, called “orchestra” was semi-circular and paved with stone slabs. It was possible to reach it with two ways called parodoi of which only one was found.
Through two small rooms on the sides, called paraskenia, it was possible to reach the stage (logeion in Greek and pulpitum in Latin). The stage area was covered in terracotta slabs with decoration of which we have some fragments and that were a typical trait of Etruscans. Behind the stage, there was the “skene”, with a front of which we have only the basements made by big stones and 8 buttresses, maybe these were the basements for the columns that overlooked the Bagnoro valley.
At about 100 m from the theatre, inside a quite grand temple, there is a rectangular pedestal, obtained with the flattening of the top of the hill and cutting on the side a piece of rock. Also this pedestal has been buried to keep it from vandals. Another accumulation of soil on the eastern side, parallel to this last one, gives the idea of another religious building.
During the middle ages, the area of Castelsecco was used as a fortress in the war between Byzantines and Langobards. Still during the Middle Ages, the church of st. Pietro in Castro Sicco and the one of st. Cornelio and Cipriano were built here. Of the first church there are only some remains of the apsis, dating around the 9th or 10th centuries, northeast from the theatre while of the second one there are no remains but it maybe was on the same place of the small church built in the first part of the 1700s that, during the 19th century, became the chapel of the Giusti family, of which Giuseppe Giusti, a poet of the period that led to the unification of Italy, was a part. This church was active until 1967, then the family moved after the violation of the tombs.
Once desecrated, the church became ruins and was restored by the Associazione Castelsecco, born in 2002 to promote an important area both for archaeology and for its nature. Nowadays, in Castelsecco there are exhibitions, events and other activities, especially during the summer months. The archaeological finds of Castelsecco are kept in the Archaeological National Museum of Arezzo.
The cyclopean walls
The cyclopean walls
The 18th-century church of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
The view over the Bagnoro valley, with the slopes of Monte Lignano in the background