Archaeological findings

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Several years ago, the Municipal Administration of Empoli activated an agreement with the Medio Valdarno Archaeological Association (Associazione Archeologica del Medio Valdarno - A.A.M.V.), which carries out activities of research, surveillance and promotion of the local archaeological heritage in the territory, in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendence for Tuscany.

For over 40 years, the association has been working intensively, as is clearly demonstrated by the archaeological findings.

Prehistoric times

The study of prehistoric times in the territory of Empoli is becoming increasingly well-defined. In fact, surface exploration in recent years has made it possible to identify several settlements dating back to the Palaeolithic period, thus making it possible to trace an initial outline of the primitive population in this area.

No deposits from the Lower Palaeolithic Age, as old as those found in the nearby sites of Capraia and Petrognano near Montelupo (Archeulean, approximately 100,000 years ago), have as yet been identified in the territory of Empoli.

The oldest settlements in the municipal territory appear to date back to the Middle Palaeolithic Age (100,000-40,000 years ago), although the findings in Piazzano and Leccio have archaic features and the important deposits in Monteboro are also difficult to date with any certainty. Only an increase in materials collected and further exploration of the land will allow more accurate dating of these industries, which may even refer to an earlier period. Recent observations also seem to push things in this direction.

The numerous deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic Age (Leccio, Piazzano, Pianezzoli, Monteboro, Poggio Pini) are extremely rich in lithic material, leading to the assumption that the fluvial terraces to the south of the River Arno were regularly frequented by ancient human groups of hunters and they thus testify to the presence of a rich fauna during that period.

The documentation dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic Age is less plentiful: the presence of human groups in the area (Cerbaiola) in this period has been confirmed, but only the most archaic period, known as the Uluzzian period. To date, there is no information on findings in the territory of Empoli relative to the periods that followed (Neolithic, Metal Ages), indeed very scarce in the entire Medio Valdarno area. Only more in-depth research will be able to fill this gap.

Etruscan period

The area of Empoli must undoubtedly have had an important function as a road junction during the Etruscan period, because, being located at the crossroads between the Elsa valley and the Arno valley, it acted as a connection between the villages in the Volterra area and those to the north.

Unfortunately, for the moment, only a few traces of that period still remain.

In particular, the area of Martignana demonstrates the presence of an interesting Hellenistic necropolis, from which numerous bronze and ceramic fragments still remain. The fictile fragments belong to various pots, mainly the black painted type and the black painted type with red figures (black painted pottery was widespread in Etruria from the end of the 4th to the 1st century BC; that found in the Empoli area seems to have been made in Volterra).

By connecting the findings of Martignana with those of Monterappoli, which are very scarce, and those of Poggiale and San Frediano, we can imagine an ancient thoroughfare on the hillside. We should not exclude the possibility that further in-depth research in the future may hold some surprises regarding an Etruscan presence in the Empoli area.

Roman period

The wealth of archaeological evidence shows how the Empoli area was abundantly inhabited in the Roman era.

Recent findings, particularly the buildings dating back to the middle of the 1st century BC that have emerged in the area of the former Del Vivo glassworks, prove that Empoli was already an important town in a much earlier period than was previously supposed, and they also denote the level of prosperity attained by our "ancient fellow citizens".

The most interesting problem is that of trying to understand where the original centre of the settlement was located and what the layout of the territory would have been.

To this end, a noteworthy study was carried out by M. Ristori on land division in the territory of Empoli, which, as tradition would also have it, assumes that the inhabited centre was located in the area of Empoli Vecchio (Old Empoli).

At first, this seems to be in contrast with the fact that many of the findings from the Roman period were discovered in the area of the old town centre, thus leading to the supposition that a large urban centre was located there in that era (to the point that the Superintendence placed archaeological restrictions on the whole of the old town centre of Empoli), much of which, however, still needs to be investigated and understood.

These questions can only be answered by more in-depth research on the chronological, as well as spatial extent of the presence of humans in the territory. Therefore, it could be assumed, while taking all the due precautions, that there was a settlement in the area of the present-day old town centre, prior to colonization by the Romans, perhaps of Etruscan origin. This would explain, in part, the original orthogonal planimetric layout of the old town centre, based on the cardinal points, thus making it different from that of the land division.

The urban centre was probably linked to the presence of an ancient fluvial port of call on the River Arno ("In Portu" on the Peutinger table?). This involved its insertion into a very vast trade network (the remains of the amphorae that were found demonstrate that goods arrived from all provinces, even the most distant ones). Indeed, the "Amphora of Empoli", produced in Avane and found in distant locations, demonstrates the commercial and, above all, agricultural importance of this territory.

With the growing number of findings, it is easy to understand how the settlement of Empoli appears to have assumed an increasingly important dimension in Roman times. Interesting new discoveries cannot be excluded.