On an average diving trip most people are delighted to spot a particularly colourful fish or perhaps even an octopus lurking under the rocks. So imagine how Stefano Mariottini felt when whilst diving for fish 200m off the coast of Riace, he came across a bronzed arm emerging from the sand. This turned out to be one of the Riace Bronzes and one of the most important archaeological discoveries for Italy in the last century.
What Mariottini had unwittingly discovered were two ancient full size Greek Bronze warriors, estimated to have been cast as far back as 460BC when Calabria held important prominence in Magna Grecia. Little did he know at the time that this discovery would become Calabria’s symbol and that it would unearth a mass of information about Calabria’s role in Magna Grecia.
The first thing that strikes you when you first step into the climate controlled room at the Museo Archeologico di Reggio Calabria, is the sheer size of the bronzes. At two metres tall they stand tall over the room, much taller than many of the Italians who come to marvel at them in fact! As you walk in you know you’re about to witness something special, there’s a strange buzz about the place, which is not something you’d necessarily expect for an archaeological museum. Then Bam! The two giant naked men hit you in all their fierce glory and whether you’re interested in Ancient Greek archaeology or not you have no option other than to be impressed. Both warriors are intricately designed and are so realistic that it is easy to see how Mariottini mistook them for corpses initially. Photographs do not do them justice, they maintain an impressive stance of control that needs to be witnessed first hand in order to understand just how marvellous these guys really are.
The History of the Bronzes
While it is impossible to know the true origins of the Riace Bronzes the most likely theory is that they were being transported from Locri by ship when they were either shipwrecked by a storm or offloaded to avoid being ransacked by pirates. Despite extensive searches in the area where they were found, no shipwreck has ever been discovered, adding to the mystery of these two mysterious warriors. We do know however, that they remained at the bottom of the sea until they were discovered in 1972 and then the epic restoration project started to restore them to their glory. This did not go without fault however, Calabria being Calabria meant that they weren’t displayed to the public for the first time until the 1980s and then even and a brief stint lying on their backs in a much less warrior like pose in another storage building across town whilst the museum was being renovated. They are now however, displayed marvellously and attract a well deserved crowd.
Who were the Riace Bronzes?
Scientific research on soil found inside the bronzes, has indicated that the Bronzes were probably cast at both different times and different places, probably by two different artists. Whilst there are differing theories of who exactly the Riace Bronzes are intended to represent it is believed that the two represent heroic warriors who would have been revered in Ancient times after their participation in athletic competitions or important battles. One is clearly older than the other but both are made from a beautiful mix of bronze, copper, silver, and even glass and ivory for the eyes. The craftsmanship is spectacular and proves that whoever the mysterious men were they were clearly deemed important enough to be immortalised in this manner.
I urge you to pay them a visit and see for yourselves the power that these magnificent warriors command.
At the time of writing the Museo di Archeologico di Reggio Calabria is open to visitors every day except Mondays from 09:00 to 20:00. Entrance costs a very reasonable €8 and aside from the Bronzes there are so many other wonderful archaeological artefacts to view that it is easy to lose an entire afternoon there.
For more information about getting to Calabria and around read my article here.