A Month in Montalcino

By: Adrianna de Svastich and Jennifer McAuley

Originally Published in 2011

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Led by Richard Hodges, Stefano Campana, and Michelle Hobart, 14 undergraduates joined the excavations at San Pietro d’Asso in July 2010. Two of these students reflect on their experiences in field school and time spent in the Italian countryside.

Our adventures began the moment our plane touched down on Italian soil. Getting to Rome was only the first step— we soon realized that many roads do not have names, and our trip quickly turned into a navigational nightmare. One of many close calls occurred when the stick shift broke in our van, causing it to roll down a steep hill towards a sharp drop-off. Thankfully, we all made it unscathed to Montalcino, the picturesque hilltop town we would be calling home for the next month.

"A Month in Montalcino"
Dr. Michelle Hobart shows student Adena Wayne how to piece together pottery sherds.

Any fears we had about living in Italy swiftly dissolved as we drove through the medieval town: worn cobblestones lined the winding streets, flowers and vines hung from brightly painted windowsills, and the central bell tower rose into the sky. The view from the town into the Tuscan countryside below was beyond stunning, with endless green and gold hills that seemed to ebb and flow like the sea. As we settled into our accommodations at the local elementary school, we soon realized that our living situation would not be as wondrous as the rest of our surroundings. We slept on cots in classrooms, shared a single mirror, and had to trek down the street wrapped tightly in our towels to gain access to the communal showers. Yet without the luxury of pri- vacy, we quickly became friends, and unanimously agreed that the charm and history of Montalcino more than made up for any passing discomfort.

Every morning we stumbled from our cots at dawn to the local café, hoping that a frothy cappuccino and warm cornetto (Italian croissant) would fortify us for a day of digging. We spent each day at San Pietro d’Asso hard at work; the group was divided between the medieval church and the hilltop, where we unearthed a monastic watchtower from the same period. Following a deli- cious lunch of fruit, Italian bread, and prosciutto at the site, we were ready to venture back to Montalcino and looked forward to the prospect of a shower and an afternoon siesta.

After a hard day of digging, we would explore the town: the piazza, the cafés, the gelaterias, and the shop windows brimming with bottles of Brunello wine. We came to know the town’s elderly gentlemen who would chat on park benches while their wives aired laundry from open windows. We practiced our Italian with the locals who worked in the shops and restaurants, and even learned how to prepare a traditional Italian meal from our cooks at the school. The smell of fresh pasta, smoky prosciutto, and Tuscan wine seemed to swirl through the air. Even though we were often caught up in the hectic atmosphere of the dig, somewhere along the way we learned to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasure found in new friends, good food, and great wine. We expected to work hard and learn about medieval churches. However, we never anticipated just how much we would learn about the vibrant Tuscan culture.

Cite This Article

Svastich, Adrianna de and McAuley, Jennifer. "A Month in Montalcino." Expedition Magazine 53, no. 1 (March, 2011): -. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/a-month-in-montalcino/

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