The digging, that started in 2011, has brought to the surface an environment that dates back to between the end of the Etruscan and Roman steel industry period and when the Villa in Le Grotte was built.
It is a "protovilla" by the sea, with its own tiny port. The work carried out in the construction in this rustic part of the villa represents the end of the metal era.
Due to the difficulty in getting the fuel needed to work the metal, in 100 BC metal extraction in Elba, that the Etruscans had carried out, came to an end.
The area where the excavation work was carried out is now a very important agricultural area. where there are many vineyards, olive groves and orchards.
The living quarters of the small, rustic villa were painted and decorated in a very elegant manner. This type of painting is without a doubt the architectural style known as "I stile", that attempts to copy the majestic, simple walls with square shaped designs on the very beautiful panels of marble of different colours that you see in elegant monuments and offices. For this reason the insets would often be painted in red, black, yellow and green. The idea, from top to bottom, was always the same: there was always framework done in jutting plaster; further down there were the paintings; the bottom part was always yellow.
The fermented wine kept for the important people who built and used the villa in Le Grotte (built later) when they wanted to relax, read, hold meetings and philosophical discussions, as well as exhibitions and concerts or have exquisite banquets was kept in the cellar in San Giovanni.
The "farm" in San Giovanni, built at the end of the II century BC, was later left abandoned because of a fire in the I century AD. The cellar with five doliums proves the high level of the knowledge in wine that the Romans had. Fermented apple seeds were also found inside some of the amphoras that were probably kept on the first floor of the building (the living quarters): this probably means that the owners enjoyed drinking cider, a thirst quenching and slightly alcoholic drink known also by the Carthaginians and the Celts who used to drink it during the feriae Augusti.
In the course of the sixth part of the excavation work the team of archaeologists and geologists from the Universities of Siena, Florence and Pisa brought the remains of a human skeleton to light, who was buried when the villa crumbled. The victim probably went to the villa after it had crumbled in an attempt to collect any tools used during the construction but was buried under the rubble after the villa collapsed even more; he was then buried very quickly in a small, shallow ditch with no name or even a cross
Without a doubt both the farm and the villa in Le Grotte belonged to theValerii Messallae, a rich family that was very interested in finance (and property) along the coast, because various seals and trademarks have been found on some of the doliums. Marco Valerio Messalla was the typical aristocrat of that time: a leader (like Caesar), a senator (like Cicerone), a lover of literature and the arts (like Maecenas), founder of the "Circolo di Messalla".The property would then have been passed down to his adopted son Aurelio Cotta Massinmo Messalino, who once invited the poet Ovid as a guest before he left for his exile in the Black Sea.
The seals on the doliums have helped us find out who made the wine: Hermia, a slave who was owned by Marco Valerio; not only did he leave his seal on the doliums, he also had his "trademark" engraved on some of the tiles along with the drawing of a dolphin.
In ancient literature there are many stories set in various Greek cities that tell of the friendship between man and this animal. Pliny, above all, tells of a boy from Hermia who lived in Lasos in Anatolia. He loved playing with the dolphin in the sea, but drowned one day during a storm, at which point the dolphin swam to the shore and died of a broken heart. The slave Hermia, who had actually had been to school, no doubt simply wanted to evoke his homeland
We get this idea every time the different species of cetaceans, dolphins included, come to swim in the harbour in Portoferraio.
For those who wish, during the period when the archaeological diggings in San Giovanni are under way again, there are guided tours at the Villa in Le Grotte in the area linked with the diggings, but prior booking is compulsory. NB: Access to the site is granted only under certain conditions and is not free.
Villa in Le Grotte
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