THE TEMPLE OF VOLTUMNA
Historical and archaeological data for the identification of Volsinii and the Fanum Voltum
1) PLACE NAMES
Tradition says the Fanum Voltumnae, the geographic and religious “navel” of Etruria, was in Volsinii, whose name indicates both a town and a region. The region indicated is the territory of Bolsena Lake, the Latin lacus Volsinienses. Still today the mountains surrounding the volcanic crater of the lake are called “Volsinii mountains”. The same crater is called Volsinio volcano. It’s certain that the town of Bolsena’s old name, was Volsinii. The existence of two towns with the same name, Volsinii Veteres and Volsini Novii, was formulated by a German professor, K.O.Müller, but it’s not testified by any historical, archaeological and epigraphic evidence; it’s only an hypothesis without any real foundation. Etruscan inscriptions with the name of Volsinii have been found only in the area surrounding the lake of Bolsena and never in Orvieto.
This Latin name comes from the Etruscan “fanu”. In the Latin dictionary we can read: “fanum, consecrated site, dedicated to a divinity”. The concept of “fanum” is connected to the “genius loci”, (the spirit of a place), which concerned the presence of a god in certain particular places, where to build the temple and the appropriate sacred enclosure.
The most famous “fanum” of antiquity are: Fanum Fortunae (Fano in Marche region), Fanum Feroniae (Fiano Romano), Fanum or Lucus Dianae (Nemi), Fanum Voltumnae (Bolsena).
The above are all names of goddesses, associated to important natural sites: Mount Giove (Fano), Mount Soratte (Fiano Romano), Nemi Lake and Bolsena Lake.
In the Latin dictionary (F. Calonghi) we find: “Voltumna, -ae, femm., patron goddess of the twelve Etruscan tribes confederation. The general meetings were performed in her temple (Livy, 4, 23, 5 and others)”. In every politheistic religion of pre-Christian antiquity, the pantheon was always under the guidance of a divine couple: Zeus and Hera, Jupiter and Juno, Isis and Osiris, so also the Etruscans were guided by a god, Veltha (latin Vertumnus) and a goddess, Voltumna, similar to the roman Fortune. In her sanctuary a ritual nail was fixed on special days, for the compilation of the liturgical calendar. Voltumna was not a male god or a bisexual god (as M. Pallottino affirmed …) but a goddess of fate and Fortune, patron of the sacred waters of Bolsena Lake. Her symbols were the wheel (of Fortune), the mermaid, and the cornucopy.
4) THE SACRED LAKE, BC
The first signs of a ritual foundation of the lake are prehistoric: the four ‘mounds’ (“aiole”) on the four shores of the lake, erected over hot and thermal springs, are the remains of a foundation ritual performed by a pre-Etruscan civilization, perhaps at the end of the Copper Age. Then, in the Iron Age, the lake was consecrated by the Etruscans to Voltumna; and then in Christian times was called “Lake of St. Christine”, the Christian patron of lakes, rivers and waters.
5) St. CHRISTINE
In Christian hagiography she is the patron of ancient places of water (Bolsena, Trasimeno, Orta, Po, the Nuragic well of St. Christine), places where the cult of the sacred waters was performed through many centuries. The cult of St. Christine was superimposed on that of Voltumna, together with others important feminine saint and personages: the Gothic princess Amalasunta, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Martha, and St. Margareth. A local tradition, taken by the anthropologist Quirino Galli, says that “the true name of Christine was Vorsinia”, a name which is a variant of the Etruscan goddess Voltumna. The cruel martyrdom of Saint Christine retains the memory of the long war between the Etruscan and the Christian religions. It’s no coincidence that such a tragic and bloody fight was remembered particularly in Bolsena, where the Etruscan religion had its major sanctuary and oldest roots.
6) THE FRANCIGENA ROUTE
This is the most evident proof that Bolsena was the Etruscan Volsinii, homeland of Voltumna’s cult. The pilgrimage route of the Francigena does not pass through Orvieto, because the most sacred area of the pilgrimage to be reached was the lake and not Orvieto’s valley. The pilgrimage route comes up in St. Lorenzo Nuovo, reaches Bolsena and comes out from the crater in Montefiascone. On this definite part are the visible remains of many Etruscan temples, concrete evidence that before the Christian pilgrimage there was another pilgrimage, Etruscan. This is documented by a famous inscription, signed by Costantine the Great (“Rescritto di Spello”), where the name of the town containing the Fanum Voltumnae was written, and it is Volsinii and not Volsinii Novi.
7) DESCRIPTION OF VOLSINII IN CLASSICAL AUTHORS
The most quoted are Zonara and the pseudo-Aristotele. Volsinii is depicted encircled by mighty city walls 4-5 kilometres long in Bolsena, dated by French archaeologist Raymond Bloch at the V century BC – a clear Etruscan foundation. The city walls were re-dated by Italian archaeologist, with the intention of supporting the theory that the real Volsinii Veteres was Orvieto. But the city walls of the Etruscan towns were all erected after the end of the Etruscan monarchy in Rome (VI – V b.c.). The re-dating of the third century is totally inadequate from the historical point of view.
Volsinii is also depicted with “a hill in the middle”, well visible in Bolsena. In Orvieto there are neither city walls, nor a hill in the middle.
Volsinii was famous for its abundance of water. Its lake is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and on its shores are abundant springs and hot thermal waters. Orvieto’s territory is claylike and scarce in water. All the descriptions of Volsinii, by old authors, are compatible with the town of Bolsena, there is not even one correspondence to Orvieto.
8) “IL FANUM VOLTUMNAE A BOLSENA”
“Il Fanum Voltumnae a Bolsena” is the title of a book written by Dr. Angelo Timperi. He was an archaeologist for the Italian Soprintendenza (State corporation) in the Etruscan area of Bolsena for thirty years.
The book, written from the technical point of view of archaeology, is a detailed description of how the Etruscan Volsinii was obscured, just for demonstrating that Bolsena was a Roman foundation of the third century and Orvieto the “navel” of the ancient Aetruria. Many answers need to be given to this book and its author, esteemed archaeologist “in the field” for an entire lifetime, by whoever supports opposite views.
9) THE TEMPLE OF NORTIA
The Voltumna’s fanum (another name of the goddess was Nortia) was probably the one whose temple existed in recent times (XVIII century) pictured in different prints: the temple was in front of the “Florentine” door, in Bolsena. Voltumna (or Nortia) was a goddess of fortune, of fertility and waters. In Roman times, over the sacred spring of the goddess, a large thermal bath was built. During the Renaissance and more recently, the site was traditionally called “temple of Nortia”.
Today there are just a few remains as modern buildings have been built over the area.
10) MOUNT TABOR
On Mount Tabor, on the Bisentina Island, there is a strange well, perhaps a sacred well of Etruscan times. In Hebrew “Tabor” means “navel”, navel of the earth or of the world, or sacred center (omphalos, gr.) as the Greek ‘omphalos’ in Delphi. Here we have another case of superimposition: first, an Etruscan tradition, secondly a Christian one. The central role of the Volsinii Fanum, navel of the twelve Etruscan regions, was inherited by the Christian tradition of Mount Tabor, “navel” and holy mountain of Palestine, where Jesus had his transfiguration.
11) MOUNT LANDRO AND UOLTAMMount Landro, on the Francigena route, not far from St. Lorenzo Nuovo, is crowned by a sacred enclosure of vast proposition. Here (2011) was discovered one of the most original and important temple of the Etruscans, with many unique remains. Whoever has been in the temple’s area, knows they are in front of a very important discovery. This temple and the one found in Turona were intentionally erected where, still today, hot vapours escape from the volcanic underground. This phenomenon can explain the Etruscan legend of a “monster” (Uoltam monstrum), the terror of the people of Volsinii, who was defeated by King Porsenna. The “monster” was most likely the volcanic activity of the subsoil. The legend, quoted by Pliny and others, specifies that the “monster” was “killing and burning” in the territory of Volsinii.
12) PLATO’S LAWS
In his book called “Laws”, Plato describes in detail the traditional procedure for the foundation of a twelve-tribes confederation (the Greek “anfitiones”). The holy center, the ‘navel’ of the whole confederation, must have a central position and not be marginal. Bolsena Lake is the geographic center of Aetruria, a volcanic territory from which Orvieto results separated. The “navel”, writes Plato, must be naturally protected and in a special natural environment. The volcanic basin of Bolsena Lake has all these qualities, while Orvieto’s cliff is perfect as a military stronghold, but not as a protected sacred place.
13) MODERN AUTHORS WHO INDIVIDUALIZE BOLSENA AS VOLSINII
There are many authors who individualize the Etruscan town of Volsinii in Bolsena. So the location of the Fanum Voltumnae must be in the lake’s area. The most famous authors among these are:
Raymond Bloch, George Dennis, Carl Thulin, Alessandro Fioravanti, Jean Richer, Werner Keller, Massimo Pallottino, O.W. Von Vacano.