Another site with both urban and non-urban characteristics was excavated in the area of modern Casalecchio di Reno. It is located c.4 km to the south-west of Bologna on the southern margins of the Po plain, on the left bank of Reno river. The site has been known since the 19th century from finds found in the area. Systematic excavations were undertaken by the French School at Rome during the 1960s, and taken up again in the late 1980s by the archaeological superintendency of Emilia-Romagna. As can be seen from the above photo, the area is now more or less beyond the reach of archaeologists due to the sprawl of modern conurbation. An Italian fighter-jet notoriously crashed into a school here in 1990, tragically killing 12 of its pupils.
The ancient site has revealed occupation covering a huge timespan, with periods of settlement dated from the Neolithic through to the Late Roman periods. During the 6th century BC the area was penetrated by Etruscan territorial expansion. Bologna itself had an Etruscan phase, when it is believed to have been known as Felsina. To the south of Casalecchio, further down the Reno valley, the remains of the famous Etruscan ‘colony’ at Marzabotto are to be found. Marzabotto is particularly noteworthy due to its precise rectilinear street system dated to the early 5th century BC. It is argued that this example of Etruscan town-planning reflects the early diffusion of surveying technology developed by the Greeks. Consequently, Marzabotto is one of the most important sites for the scholarly discussion on ancient urbanism in Italy.
At Casalecchio, a rectangular “city block” of c.100 m x 200 m was excavated by the French, similar in form and date to those known from Marzabotto, containing rectilinear structures with cobble foundations and tiled roofs. Yet in contrast to Marzabotto, this block appears to have stood in isolation rather than having been part of a more extensive urban system – the only such case I am aware of from my research on ancient Italy. Although the whole settlement at Casalecchio spread over c.60 ha (twice the size of Marzabotto), elsewhere within this area, the various archaeological features of this phase seem to be more typical of a dispersed rural site. Yet a planned block of structures would seem to reflect the actions of a centralised authority, further indications of which might be a rectilinear series of ditches excavated in another part of the site. These were interpreted as land reclamation works to both supply and drain the water of the nearby river.
The success of this site might be related to its location between the level area of the Po plain and the mountainous area to the south, accessed by way of the Reno valley. Although agriculture appears to have been a key element of Casalecchio’s economy, it also seems to have been involved in commerce and manufacturing.
This strange site was, like Marzabotto, affected by an influx of Gallic tribes during the 4th century BC. These tribes settled a very large area in the north-east of the peninsula, but initially they swept southwards and even sacked Rome, an event that left an indelible scar on the Roman psyche. Numerous tombs from Casalecchio indicate a Gallic presence down to the mid-3rd century BC. A further phase of occupation is marked by the founding of a villa in the late Roman republican period, after nearby Felsina had been re-founded as Bononia, a Roman colony (the name from which modern ‘Bologna’ is derived).
Further reading, see: Ortalli, J. 1998 ‘Archeologia topografica: la ricostruzione dell’ambiente e dell’insediamento antico nell’esperienza di Casalecchio di Reno’, in R. Farioli Campanati (ed.) XLIII Corso di Cultura sull’Arte Ravennate e Bizantina, Seminario Internazionale di Studi sul Tema “Ricerche di Archeologia e Topografia”. Ravenna, 22 – 26 marzo 1997. (Ravenna: Ed. del Girasole), pp. 565–606.