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The Museum of the Stele Statues

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The Museum of the Stele Statues of Lunigiana is situated inside the Piagnaro Castle of Pontremoli and offers a suggestive time journey  to discover very ancient stone-carved testimonies.

Statua Stele

The Stele Statues, found in the lands of the historical Lunigiana, are still a mysterious phenomenon. It is possible to date the most ancient steles back to the Bronze Age (Third and Second  millennium B.C.), and the most recent statues to  the Iron Age (seven and sixth centuries B.C.), but no one really knows about their real meaning and  function. There are still many open questions, but the Museum gives a chance for a solution, by looking at the findings and getting excited over them. These findings, despite being still and silent,  they have so much to tell.
The Piagnaro Castle hosts the Museum and dominates the village of Pontremoli. Since its origins which date back to the tenth century, the castle was very important for the defense of the ancient walled village. During the Middle-Age, the village itself was called “Key and Door of Tuscany” .
The village  winds from the Castle and follows the ancient French Way, which lots of pilgrims, merchants and troops used to follow.
The strategic position of the castle made it  a very important fort, for the protection of the walled village and for the control of the streets and valleys leading to the Appennines. This fort was destroyed and built many times during the centuries, presents a well-constructed structure and expands itself from the keep dominating the eldest and the highest part of the village and comes to the strong bastions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Piagnaro Castle was once the  seat for military governors, and a primary school. Since 1975,  it hosts the Museum of the Stele Statues of Lunigiana,   dedicated to its founder, Augusto Cesare Ambrosi.

In the valley of the river Magra, we find a phenomenon that involved the late prehistory and  the protohistory. This phenomenon represents the Stele Statues. These are anthropomorphic steles , carved in sandstone and raised since the third Millennium B.C. by the population who used to live in the land that today is called Lunigiana.
The human body is represented by female features, like the presence of breasts, and male features, like the presence of weapons. Some stele statues have indeed no particular sign of sexual identity. It is not possible  to determine if they represent real divinities.  Female statues are supposed to represent the mother Earth (Dea Mater), the symbol of fertility and life, while male statues are supposed to  represent warriors to be commemorated, whose function was to defend their lands or  the burial places. The first Stele Statue was found in Val di Vara in 1827. Since then, many statues have  been found . Just think about the seven statues found in Groppoli. About seventy Stele Statues have been found in the whole Lunigiana.  Many of the Stele Statues have been found during agricultural works and digging operations. Some of them were immediately recognized because they were partially rising from the ground, while other Stele Statues were put inside civil and religious buildings and used for other purposes.
During the long age before the arrival of the Romans, the Stele Statues gave very important information about the culture and the religion of these population: weapons,  decorations, inscriptions tell us about a complicated  world, full of contacts with different civilizations, but still mysterious and still to be mostly discovered. 
The Museum of the Stele Statues of Lunigiana wants to preserve and testify this singular phenomenon with the display of the original findings, with explicative panels enclosed. 
The Stele Statues are divided into three groups, according to the different  technical and stylistic elaboration. Their name comes from the place where they were found.

In this group we find the most ancient steles, featured by a very stylized elaboration. They look more steles than statues. Their head is lightly sketched and attached to the body. Their face is very stylized, with characteristics and decoration mostly schematic. You can see these features in the Casola Stele, where a clavicular line separates the head from the body, and the arms are slightly bended. The face is U-shaped with  tablet-eyes.   This stele presents far down  a  dagger with  a convex blade, with a semidisk hilt pommel. 

Stele Gruppo A

This is the most numerous group . Their stylistic elaboration is more careful. The head is detatched from the body and is halfmoon-shaped. The face is still U-shaped  or  defined by a circle, but presents some  features like the eyes and, in certain cases, the ears. The decorations, like weapons and jewels, more numerous and  diversified, present  a better  formal elaboration.  The Canossa Stele has a rectangular and  sheathed dagger, adorned  with three points, while the Minucciano III represents a dagger and an axe similar to Similaun’s, where we can see the handle from the blade, which seems still lytic.  Even the female steles represent more careful features.

Stele Gruppo B

The Treschietto Stele is adorned on its neck with a series of curved parallel lines  representing a throat jewel, a decoration which was used in the Bronze Age. It’s the breast representation that draws our attention. This representation is particularly clear  and finished off  with the presence of nipples.  These female features, so emphasized and highlighted have brought some historians to relate the female steles to the Dea Mater (the goddes  mother), the symbol of life and fertility.

Many statues of this group present the evidence that they were used many times,  during the centuries, as building materials.
The headless Magrate III was rough-hewn and bushhammered  in the lower part to be used again as a shelf in a private house, where it was found. 

Stele Gruppo B   Stele Gruppo B     

This is the group of the most recent statues, These are different from the previous ones for a further change in the anatomical shape and in the decorations.
These are  full relief sculptures, and are conceived as statues, for a global and not only frontal vision.
The features of the face, the arms, the weapons and decorations change, while we find some inscriptions
The Bigliolo Stele Statue represents all the features of this group.

Stele Gruppo C

This  is a full relief statue, and its shoulder have a natural shape  and not squared anymore. Its face is well defined, as well as the weapons.  On the chest you can read an Etrurian inscription, which meaning is still unknown.  Even the Montecorto Stele Statue is particularly interesting . It’s mutilated  and squared, and was used during the Middle-Age as a building decoration. . Even in this case grasped weapons are represented: together with an axe, there is a javelin.

Stele Gruppo C




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