The History

Discover the origin of the ‘Aquae Patavinae’ and the history of the Euganean thermal area...


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Iron Age

The ancient ‘Veneti’ and their cities

La sala dedicata alle necropoli dell'età del Ferro presso il Museo Nazionale Atestino

At the down of the 1st millennium B.C., beginning of the so-called Iron Age, Euganean Hills were nearly depopulated, while human settlements were concentrated on the plain and along rivers: here rose the two capital cities of the ancient ‘Veneti’, Este and Padua.

The place where Este rose, at the foot of the Hills, was chosen not only for the proximity of the Adige river, which passed by there and gave the name to the city (Ateste), but above all for the presence of the high ground, which gave shelter from overflowing, and guaranteed easy provisioning of some essential raw materials, such as wood and stone. The built-up area was surrounded and protected as an island by the branches of the river, while on the early foothills lying behind the city stood the necropolis, with several sepulchral areas. The places of worship, which formed a sort of “protective belt” around the city, were strictly linked to the river and the wooded slopes as well.

The thermal area

At that time, the situation was sharply different in the east zone of the Hills, where no urban centre was attested at least as far as Padua. The only exception was the area between Monte Castello and Colle San Pietro Montagnon, in Montegrotto: here, during the 7th century B.C., rose an important sacred place, certainly connected to the extraordinary natural phenomenon of hot and cold water sources. Thick vapours with an acrid smell sprang from these sources; this event, undoubtedly terrifying for the men of the time, was obviously ascribed to a divine presence.

The sacred place, whose exact location and extension is still unknown, was attended from the second half of 7th century to the 4th or 3rd century B.C. even if the worship of waters was resumed during Roman age in the name of god Aponus, and the site acquired a renown comparable to the most famous thermal centres of the empire.
In Roman age, the belonging of the Euganean thermal area to the municipium of Patavium was assured by the presence of boundary stones, or cippi which fixed in the surroundings of Galzignano the borders between its territory and Este. A similar circumstance characterized pre-Roman age as well: not only for the typology of votive materials, clear reference to Paduan workshops, but also because it is well ascertained, in similar cases, the respect of the previous territorial situation by new politic trends. The sacred place in Montegrotto, besides representing the first verifiable documentary evidence of the human exploitation of Euganean thermal waters, most likely had an equally important politic role: it was a frontier sacred place, located as a buffer zone between the territories of Este and Padua. The attention that Padua paid to frontier zones, as well as the considerable sacredness ascribed to waters, are confirmed by several other findings pertaining to the Euganean thermal area: Abano – Feriole, Battaglia Terme and the sides of Monte Rua have given us back votive materials of various typology, isolated or in small groups.

Ipotesi ricostruttiva e reperti dal santuario di Montegrotto; panoramica del Monte Rua e bronzetto votivo

The east Euganean area

Il versante meridionale del monte Venda

This situation of depopulation concerned the east Euganean Hills as well: neither permanent settlements nor sacred places are attested here in the course of Bronze Age, with the only partial exception of Monte Orbieso.Only at the dawn of Roman Age, during the 2nd century B.C., small communities with strong Celtic connotations started to settle in the marginal areas (e.g. Arquà). As a matter of fact, the names of the Hills Venda and Vendevolo/Vindupalos refer to these presences, and are clearly connected to the Celtic etymon venda-/vindo- (white) and pala- (peak) – allusive to the highest peak, often covered with snow.