Archive for Juli 2011

Whilst on a short holiday trip to Lago di Como in Northern Italy we visited Rupe Magna (‚Big Rock‘) in Valtellina, a roughly two-hours drive from Perledo where we stayed. Rupe Magna is an 84 m long and 35 m wide rock surface which was polished by glaciers and heavily engraved in prehistoric times. Here you can see the surface of the rock panel from the somewhat higher lying castle Visconti. The entire rock was traced by Footsteps of Man, Archaeological Cooperative between 1990 and 1995., therefore a quite exact number for the engravings is known; all in all the rock surface is covered with 5454 petroglyphs and is thus the largest engraved rock in the Alps.

Rupe Magna, Grosio

Although 83 % of the engravings are assignable to the Iron Age, the first figures belong to the final Neolithic and/ or Copper Age. These consist mostly of cup and ring marks, lines or lines which are  combined to arc like motifs.

Rupe Magna, Grosio, Lombardy, Italy

Rupe Magna, Grosio, Lombardy, Italy

In the Bronze Age anthropomorphic figures started to be added, the so-called oranti (praying figures, because the hold their arms up as if in prayer).

Oranti on Rupe Magna, final Bronze Age. Rupe Magna, Lombardy, Italy

Here is a figure to show you in more detail what is depicted. It was a rainy day and therefore the petroglyphs are not as visible as they are on sunny mornings or evenings when there is a deep shadow outlining the figures.

Rupe Magna, Grosio, Lombardy, Italy. Outline of anthropomorphic figure.

The figures developed into armed figures and even fighting scenes during the Iron Age and there are some crosses from historic times document a late use, although probably only to de-devilish the site as it was done in other areas, too. Representations of animals are scarce.

On the Rupestre.net webpage you can find this excellent chronological table for the Rupe Magna:

Most anthropomorphic figures are from the Bronze Age, a time when the site was already settled. Excavations at the castle site showed that it was settled at least from the beginning of the  Bronze Age. Here the stratigraphy from the excavation (the dark red colour symbolises the prehistoric, mainly Bronze Age, settlement):

Castello Visconti near Rupe Magna. Site stratigraphy

There is also an undeniable connection to Situla art, especially the depiction of fist fights with dumb-bells. Situlas can be found not only in the Etruscan area of influence but even more so  in the complete Eastern Hallstatt Culture, especially Istria and Slovenia, and as imported goods even in Germany and beyond.

W. Angeli, Ann. Naturhist. Museum Wien 78, 1974, Tafel 3

In 1978 a consortium for the protection and study of the engravings was established and there is a small museum, called the ‘Antiquarium’ near the site which displays objects from the excavations of the castle site. A bookshop is also present.

Further reading:

Arcà, A. et al. 1995. Rupe Magna, la roccia incisa piú grande delle Alpi, Sondrio.


Zimmermann, E. 2003. Fighten – Faustkampf in der Situlenkunst – Kampf der Fäuste, Arheološki vestnik 54, 225-41.


Read Full Post »