THE ORIGIN OF GROPINA – ETRUSCANS AND ROMANS
The area where the pieve of Gropina is situated, in the midst of woods and fields cultivated for many centuries, was inhabited since very ancient times: prehistoric artefacts have been found not far away, near Anciolina, and probably Ligurians and Umbrians lived here as well. The name “Gropina”, however, suggests that the earliest documented inhabitants were Etruscans. Their presence in the zone must have been so dominant that Tito Livio referred to these fertile fields as Campi Tusci in his record of Hannibal’s crossing them with his army in the spring of 280 B.C., during the 2nd Punic War (Ab Urbe Condita Libri, lib. XXII, 3). The name probably derives from the Etruscan krupina, which means a village, an inhabited center, understood also as a group of people: it is therefore a common term that only later came to indicate a precise place, and the survival of this name for centuries shows how pervasive the Etruscan presence was. The memory of this people is also kept alive by the name of the stream that flows slightly lower down in the valley: “Ciuffenna” (pronounced like “chew-“ ) seems to derive either from the Etruscan cerfa, cerfenna (pronounced with a hard c, or k), which means cerva [“doe”] in Italian, or from the name of the most important Umbrian god, Cerfo, who oversaw the crop growth; other less convincing hypotheses posit a derivation from Clufennius, a Latin proper name of clearly Etruscan origin.
The Rasna, or Rasenna, as the Etruscans called themselves, made a winding gravel road that under the Romans was to become the Via Clodia, today known as the Cassia Vetus. This ancient road connected the lucumoniae (Etruscan city-states) of Arezzo and Fiesole, paved, later, during the Republican period, perhaps by the censor Lucio Cassio Longino Ravilla (c. 125 B.C.). A part of this original road is still visible in the locality of Monticello, just south of San Giustino Valdarno, where clay fragments and the remains of a well, clear signs of a town, were found. The Etruscan presence in the zone is intangible – remaining only in the names: no artefacts or architectural remains have been found so far in Gropina, except for traces of the primitive Cassia Vetus, which the Romans, who disliked winding roads, were to attempt to straighten, at least at its most impassable points. With the new inhabitants, who never completely replaced the Rasenna, the first signs of a settlement appear in Gropina: in addition to the walls of a building and to ceramic, glass and impasto (unrefined fired clay) fragments, the lower part of a dolium was found in situ. Dolia were enormous spherical terracotta vases used as containers for grains or even wine, and sometimes even for burial. A meter to a meter and a half in height, and about a meter and a half in diameter, they had the capacity of eleven amphorae and could hold 1500 to 2000 liters. The dolium discovered in Gropina indicates that there was a domus right on the site of the present pieve, but we do not know if this dwelling was erected over a pre-existent Etruscan construction.
The Cassia Vetus was gradually abandoned by the Romans, in favour of a new communication route between Chiusi and Florence, the Cassia Adrianea, built by the emperor Hadrian in 123 A.C, lower down in the valley and therefore more convenient and more viable. And it was by this route that a new religion, one which would slowly replace the ancient gods, was going to reach Gropina: Christianity.