Bewitching – Italy’s macabre past unearthed!

Remains of what was believed to be a witch found near Lucca, Tuscany.
Which witch was which? Other remains found in the area near Lucca, Tuscany.

Amongst the gently undulating Tuscany hillside, draped with grape vines and dotted with olive groves, a dark and mysterious part of Italy’s history has been uncovered near Lucca.

In a ground that may have been used as a witches burial ground, archaeologists have discovered bones dating back some 800 years, believed by to be those of a local witch who came to a less than pleasant ending – buried in an unmarked shallow grave, with no coffin or shroud, and with seven nails had been driven into her jaw bone. There were another 13 nails around the body, believed to have been used to nail down her clothing in a presumed attempt to ensured she stayed put after her death!

Another woman’s skeleton was also found nearby, with 17* dice scattered around her remains. During the Middle Ages, women were not permitted to play with dice.

Strangely, the women were buried in the consecrated ground of an ancient church – certainly not a standard practice for witch burials. This has led to speculation that the women, aged around their mid-20s, belonged to well-to-do families from the local area.

The archaeological team from L’Aquila University was in fact searching for the remains of St Cerbonius, once a Bishop, who died over 1500 years ago. St Cerbonius is now patron saint of Piombino, the area in which the bones were discovered.

For those who wish to explore the darker side of Italy’s history, there is a Museum of Torture located in Siena, San Gimignano, San Marino and Volterra where you can see some gut-churching medieval torture devices.

There is also the much more peaceful  so-called ‘English cemetery’ in Florence, the burial ground for non-Catholics in Florence,  certainly an unusual place to see in Florence. Here lie the remains of Victorian-era poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (wife of Robert Browning) among others.

If you prefer to look on the bright side of life, you can visit Siena and San Gimignano (as well as the charming hilltop town of Monteriggioni) on our Best of Tuscany small-group tour. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence, immerse yourself in the Tuscan wine-producing countryside, enjoy a wine tasting and cellar visit, and be part of the scenery that has inspired so many great artists.  Our small-group Best of Tuscany tour visits Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning Tusvan villa wine estate.

Getting to the surrounding Tuscan countryside from Florence is but a short and delightful drive. If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to RomeVenice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.

Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.

Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.

To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, RomeVeniceCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

Visit our site for more wonderful things to see and do in Italy (besides, of course, just meeting the Artviva staff!), and email us on for more information.


* 17 is considered an unlucky number in Italy

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  1. Our cruise was in late July/ Beginning of August. We actually were there during the major heat wave Europe went thru over the summer. I have attached some photo’s we took with you. MY most enjoyable moment And favorite picture was taken from the restaurant you brought us to for lunch. I can’t quite remember the name of it but I can sure remember the food and outstanding service we received. Oh and not to forget the BEST part the magnificent view!!! That will be our first stop when we return!!! I have given your name and email address to friends who will also be traveling to Italy this summer. I have highly recommended your services to them as it would be a BIG mistake to visit Italy and see what you gave us the opportunity to see. See You this summer!!!Dominick & Tracy Minervini, New Jersey July/August 07

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