The ancient city of Chiusi was formerly one of the twelve cities of Etruria and the site of one of the most powerful Etruscan tribes, governed by Porsenna in the 6th century BC - Porsenna was an Etruscan king who greatly increased the power of the city, as recorded by the Roman historian Livy (59 BC-17 AD).
The Labyrinth of Porsenna
Tradition tells us that the tomb of the famous King Porsenna was formed by a series of underground tunnels connected to form a kind of labyrinth. Because of this story, taken from the "Naturalis Historia" by Pliny the Elder (23-79), the tunnels dug under the historic core of Chiusi are known as the 'Labyrinth of Porsenna'.
In reality it is only a drainage system that carries rainwater into different tanks.
Ancient Chiusi - etruscan and Roman times
According to recent studies Chiusi is of Umbrian origin and was originally called Camars, then was later an Etruscan town with the name Clevsi(n). It is because of Livy that we know the historical Umbrian name - he wrote "Relicta legione ad Clusium quod Camars olim appellabant” which translates as “Left the legion at Chiusi, which was once called 'Camars'.
The Etruscans built a massive wall around the city, which was further enhanced in the Roman period (4th century BC). The Etruscan and Roman city had a considerable commercial importance since it is located near important consular roads such as the "Cassia Vetus" [“Ancient Cassia"], and for the trades that took place along the River Chiana, which was formerly connected with the river Tiber and therefore with Rome.
In medieval times Chiusi underwent the occupation of Vitige’s Goths in 536 then later that of the Lombards, who stayed until the mid-8th century. By the eleventh century the city had a population crisis because of the depopulation due to the swampy area and malaria, and from the 12th century it was part of the domain of Bishop Theobald.
Chiusi then became a Municipality until, in the 15th century, it fell within the control of Siena, and it witnessed a period of economic development and construction. In 1556 the city was annexed to the domains of the Medici, who started some important land reclamation work under the Grand Duchy of Cosimo I (1519-1574), which certainly profited the economy of the city and ended in the 19th century with the reclamation of the whole valley.
Further economic development was possible in the 19th century with the construction of the railway.The city was also affected by an important work of urban renewal that involved the renovation of old buildings and adding new architectural elements.
The grand-ducal domain over the city ended with the unification of Italy in 1861.
Origins of the city name
More than one explanation for the original name of Camars has arisen, such as that proposed by Panfilo Serafini , who believed that Camars, meaning pig, or, better, “wild boar” came from a more ancient Umbrian name, perhaps “dascrm” or “sciamar”.This suggestion is supported by ancient coins showing together the pig and the moon .
When Chiusi became an Etruscan town, it was called "Clevsi(n)" a name which, perhaps, translates the Umbrian term “Camars”. The Romans, in turn, translated “Clevsi(n)” into “Clusium”, from which came the Italian word "Chiusi".
See also the Chiusi visitor guide and information.
1. "Degli Abruzzi Primitivi," 1847, p. 117
2. See "Annals of numismatics," under "Kam" and “Camars” (p.292), where a coin shows “a hunter and wild boar”