Female archaeology: The case of Francesca Girasoli

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The analysis of the archives kept at the State Archive of Bari has provided some great surprises for the staff of Rubi Antiqua. During the second mission, held from March 17th to 27th, the history of the archaeological research of Ruvo has turned decidedly pink! The protagonist is a resourceful lady of Ruvo called Francesca Girasoli. On August 6th 1839 Donna Francesca wrote to the Minister of Interior of the Kingdom of Naples to ask permission to carry out an archaeological excavation in some of her lands, in the contrada Croce dei Cappuccini in Ruvo (ASBa, MSA, B4, F. 104, f. 44). The Lady was the recent widow of Giuseppe Simia, himself the protagonist of several excavations and purchases of antiquities in Ruvo. Leafing gently through these ancient papers we go back in time and can imagine this peculiar nineteenth-century couple with a shared passion for archaeology and history during their excavations, hoping to find “that refined brush” that characterised the vases of Giulio Jatta (ASBa, MSA, B5, F. 125). Together with Giulio and Giovanni Jatta, Francesca and Giuseppe were part of a very small intellectual élite in Ruvo, highly competitive but sharing a real passion for local art and history.

However, in that period women were not considered as the equals of men: even a cultivated man like Giovanni Jatta, speaking about his much loved sister-in-law Giulia Viesti, says that she was endowed with a remarkable intelligence “although she was a woman”! Needless to say Francesca Girasoli did not escape this chauvinist outlook. Despite receiving several letters from the Inspector of the Province of Bari communicating that His Majesty had accepted the request of Donna Francesca Girasoli, the Superintendent of Barletta, charged with monitoring the excavations, dismissed any thought of a woman leading an excavation of antiquities! In fact in an official letter of October 16th 1839 from the Superintendent, Donna Francesca becomes Mr Francesco Girasoli (ASBa, MSA, B5, F.110, f. 3). This small detail reveals the enterprise shown by this archaeologist who was truly ahead of her times!

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