Montaione is an ancient medieval village in the heart of Tuscany. The area around Montaione was once covered in water, with only the mountain behind Iano poking his head above the seas. For this reason, the land around Castelfalfi and Tonda is full of sea fossils. Riding through Castelfalfi two weeks ago with the wonderful company of two scientists and their adult children, the father pointed out how many fossils he could see in the dirt under our feet. He joked that as a scientist it was hard for him to not leap off the horse and start digging, as these were old fossils – and interested him immensely.
In our trainers office is a large completely intact shell found out on the trails, and many of our friends in the area have wonderful examples that they themselves have found whilst out walking or riding. The most impressive fossil found so far was dug up in the 1980’s and can be viewed at the museum in Montaione. The fossil is that of a prehistoric whale ‘Balaena Montalionis’ which lived around 3.5 million years ago. This fossil was found in Castelfalfi, only a 15 minute ride from our stables.
The area is also home to relics of a more recent nature – said with tounge in cheek, as the earliest human civilization evidence starts with the Etruscans (2000+ years ago).
The Etruscans populated Tuscany thousands of years ago. Volterra, which can be seen from Tonda, was in Etruscan times called Velathri and was one of the 12 cities of the Etruscan confederation.Today their is a great museum full of Etruscan artifacts inside the town as well as a series of underground tombs that can be visited free of charge outside ‘Diana’s Gate’ (which is also of Etruscan origin).
Horses were important to the Etruscans, and their tombs and vases were often decorated with images of beautiful strong equines, pulling chariots, or carrying soldiers.
Their is still very little known about the Etruscan people, as after the civilization fell to the Romans, they were periodically exterminated – and the language soon died out. Their language has also been the hardest to decipher of all the ancient languages (such as Akkadian, Babylonian, Mycenaean and Egyptian). What we do know is mainly due to what has been left behind in their tombs and from Greek texts. The Etruscan horses were known to have been some of the best in Europe -as well as the fastest. The forms depicted in tombs are far from stumpy short legged ponies – but rather elegant, muscled and well formed racehorses.
Today, riding through the area, we are riding on the same land that the Etruscans kept their horses thousands of years ago .
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