The Hillock of Pionta, where the university area of Arezzo stands, extends to the West of the urban centre beyond the city walls and close to the railway. It was the Episcopal seat of the Old Cathedral until 1203 when it was transferred to inside the city walls by the papal seal of Pope Innocence III. We know that the ancient Episcopal seat was made up of two cathedrals, the first known as St Mary and St Stephen while the second was called the Temple of St Donatus. The site, already partially out of use from the XIII century, was completely abandoned in 1561when the Granduca Cosimo I ordered its destruction.

Until then, the Hill of Pionta was documented as an Episcopal seat with an authentic settlement-entity taking place inside, parallel to the urban centre of Arezzo. Places of worship grew here, like the aforementioned churches, the Rectory, a variety of clergy homes and schools (teaching the arts of copying, calligraphy, archivist, song) Some were residential structures while others were workshops or laboratories. The Pionta settlement presented all the aspects related to the status of an urban centre: that of a public space combining natural and human settings, institutional and material, religious and laic; that of a workshop of different experiences, aimed at the creation of a unique centre, culturally and socially solid and cohesive even within its numerous legacies.

In 1610, after the destruction in 1561, the Bishop Usimbardi had a small church built in memory of the Old Cathedral, where the archaeological finds from the numerous excavations are conserved today.

The archaeological excavations, which first started in the area from the beginning of the 1900s, started once again in the 60s and in the 70s and continued right up till 2006, have brought to light the remains of the cathedral of St Mary and St Stephen dating back to the end of the VII century and the first half of the VIII. These remains are comprised of a longitudinal structure, with three naves and three curved apses and a crypt with three smaller apses below the altar. From these excavations it can also be seen that the Cathedral was built on a Christian burial ground (V-VII century) and a Roman edifice, which was already buried by the IV-V century. Although there have been no findings of the temple of St Donatus, where the relics of the patron saint of the city were said to have been kept, there are several depictions of this well known church. Built in the XI century by the noted architect Maginardo on the model of St Vitale of Ravenna, it is thought to have been an octagonal structure with a central line map.

Unfortunately, the absence of an extensive and ongoing research project and the lack of local esteem for this heritage, does not allow for full appreciation of this unique site, a truly Episcopal city entirely conserved under the city of Arezzo.

In Italy the Hillock of Pionta is certainly a unique example. The archaeological work carried out until now has only recovered a minimum part of the entire monumental structure, while the study of the cultural material through which the socio-economic aspects of the Episcopal city can be explored is completely absent. Past archaeological work has brought to light the monumental structure of the church of St Mary and St Stephen; at the same time the various phases of transformation of the cultural system were recognized along with the continuation of the burial area and part of the walls along the Northern face, and finally the part of the dwellings and artisan workshops in the Southern area. The need to undertake a new investigation is due to the fact that Pionta represents a historical, archaeological and environmental heritage, which because of its urban collocation is perfect for the actualization of an archaeological park project.

At the moment, the Pionta area is designated to a public green park however it currently lies in conditions of terrible neglect, despite being the centre of attention of a succession of recent, local administrations. The total lack of regular maintenance has lead to the excessive growth of plants and weeds which add to the general state of decay of the area and the archaeological structures conserved there. The excavations abandoned six years ago and the nearby unfenced areas have been given over to earth dumping and become prey to unscrupulous vandalism which is damaging a priceless, local, cultural heritage. The Hillock of Pionta can be considered an urban excavation but its particular location allows for extensive and systematic excavation, even over long periods of time, in order to understand the background but above all to value the area and in doing so make it accessible to the public. Being an area of little urbanization, for many years bound to allotments next to the psychiatric hospital then turned into an poorly attended public park, it is the ideal terrain to set up a project with the aim of bringing new value and reconverting the socio-cultural state of an urban area.

The research carried out in 2006 by Professor A. Molinari (University of Siena – Arezzo Branch) and Prof. E. De Menicis (University of Tuscia), with the scientific collaboration for the historical phases of Prof. R.Corchia, Department of Theory and Documentation of the Cultural Traditions of Arezzo (University of Siena- Arezzo Branch) was made up of actual excavations that were preceded and accompanied by a series of diagnostic and informative investigations, using magnetometry, resistivity and GPR. The aim of this diagnostic activity was to evaluate the archaeological potential and the extension of the site, the level of conservation and elevation profile of the stratification. Going on the information gained from this research it was decided that an increasing number of excavation areas should be opened.


 Aree oggetto di studio Colle del Pionta Arezzo

The area 1000 is the area where structures and tombs emerged in the non-systematic archaeological investigations in the 60s (Salmi) and the 70s (Melucco Vaccaro) The result of this present day work is in many ways a new interpretation as regards to that written by Melucco Vaccaro in 1991, with at least five different phases of use of the area in different historical periods having come to light.

The area 2000 was excavated with the aim of investigating an area that was probably found not far from the façade of the late medieval cathedral. Nevertheless, the only human activity discovered here was a sandstone mine, only in use for a short time roughly around the central period of the middle ages.

The area 3000 (12m x14m) was opened south of the old excavation of Salmi- Melucco, beyond the path that leads to the road of the Old Cathedral. The areas of land on the southern limits of the area 1000, after being cleaned up, indeed suggested a great complex of strata and structures, which must have continued southwards. Besides, De Angelis D’Ossat in his article in 1978 placed some structures in this area, that he believed to have been part of the defence walls of the city.

The area 4000 can be found west of the 17th century Oratory of St. Stephen. Using magnetometry, the presence of an imposing structure with a partially, curved profile was noted. Furthermore, the investigation carried out by M.Armandi inside the crypt of the Oratory, alerted the information potential that this area could offer. Finally, some fragments of ecclesiastical furnishings of medieval times were found in a nearby wall.

The area 5000 was opened in the most northerly area of the hill in a vast lawn area with a well found on its boundary. For this part of the excavation, the information gained from the magnetometry and resistance which alerted to the presence of structures buried just beneath the country soil proved fundamental.

By comparing material remains with the historical dates available, a reconstruction theory has been put forward using 3D graphics regarding the conformation and the spaces of the ecclesiastic buildings and in particular to the structure of St Mary and St Stephen. These studies will form the basis of a starting point for further development of the research, taking advantage of the new opportunities of elaboration and assessment brought to us by geomatics with the outlook of furthering our knowledge of the site and providing more adequate protection and conservation strategies.

Taking into consideration the historical and cultural importance of the Pionta site in the Western Christian world in the XI – XII centuries, adding that to the fact that today this site lies in a state of undeserved disrepair and cultural isolation, my Association intends to undertake an operation keeping two main objectives in mind. One of the aims is to collect and publicize the information gained from research previously carried out to create awareness in both the townspeople of Arezzo and scholars interested in gaining more in-depth scientific knowledge. The other is to organise a clearing up project aimed at the conservation of the archaeological site of the Old Cathedral as a preliminary phase which will possibly lead to a new excavation campaign.
The current technologies employed in the investigation which are the three-dimensional survey and visualization, offer without doubt new opportunities of communication and disclosure of the heritage. If at any stage these preliminary investigations, supported by historical and archaeological studies, should bring attention to the need to continue with the excavation operation, the association, working closely with experts of the sector and in agreement with the authorities, would make itself available to execute this task.

The survey area, which belongs to the Arezzo Town Council, covers the whole of the hillock of Pionta. The project would be made up of several steps and realized with the scientific collaboration of Prof Georgio Verdiani, Head of the Department of Architecture of the University of Florence and his team.

  1. The aim of the first phase is to make the cultural heritage of the Hill of Pionta accessible to the public at large. This is to be done by using technological applications featuring both a strong communicative and acquisition impact and also of high scientific quality and cultural content. In general, today’s public tends to look for online information before visiting a place of interest, and again during the actual experience. This will, in turn, in today’s world of information technology, go on to be shared through the use of other social networking systems. Pre- arranging the information highlights, leads to the visitor examining the content in more detail and sharing it socially thus becoming an effective means of cultural transmission.
  2. A direct consequence of the objective on site could be the strategic placing of explanatory panels. Currently, the lack of information in this area makes it completely estranged from the historical memory of the city.
  3. A campaign has been proposed with the purpose of setting up an adequate information base of the entire area made up of findings using the most modern technologies available to us today: photogram from low flying drones with cameras and 3D land laser scanners. The results: Large scale orthophotos and DTM (Digital Terrain Model) which should enable not only the positioning and connecting of all the information available but also allow for new activities concerning the interpretation of the images and photos and the overall understanding of the entire hill area. In this way it would be possible to plan the registration process, analysis and archiving of information to create a user -friendly data service and the setting up of discussion groups on the topic of the state of disrepair and the creation or a virtual online museum.
  4. If necessary, in agreement with the experts of the area and the authorities, the follow up phase could involve geo-radar (GPS) survey to pick out possible areas for more in-depth investigation.

The appointing of any other scientific consultants necessary in the case of actualization of the project will be made under the approval of the authorities.


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