Denmark returns stolen gold cart of Etruscan prince to Italy

A whole host of looted Etruscan treasures, including a prince's golden carriage, will begin arriving back in Italy after spending the last forty years on display at a Danish museum.

Denmark returns stolen gold cart of Etruscan prince to Italy
The cart was looted from an ancient necropolis in the 1970s and sold to a Danish museum. Photo: Ministero dei Beni Culturali

The priceless artefacts were stolen from the necropolis of Eretum, in Lazio, a place where the Etruscans – a seafaring civilization of pre-Roman tribes – once buried their dead.

The stolen pieces include a gold-decorated cart thought to have belonged to a prince, ceramics, bronzes, shields and a gold breastplate.

All of the items date to between the sixth and seventh century BC and were illegally excavated and sold to Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek for 1.2 million Swiss Francs on the international art market in the 1970s.

Since 2008, Italian officials have been negotiating the return of the pieces, of which the most important is the prince's cart, which is known as the Carro sabino.

The vehicle boasts 12 gold-plated panels decorated with elaborate drawings of animals which experts say were penned by the expert hands of Phoenecian artists.

As part of the agreement to return the artefacts, Italy will provide the Danish museum with different Etruscan treasures on long-term loans so as not to leave the museum empty-handed.

The exchange will also provide Danish scholars with the opportunity to carry out fresh research into the pieces, in a bid to shed more light on the details of the mysterious Etruscan civilization, about which very little is still known.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Italy's Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini said he was delighted a deal had finally been struck to bring the artefacts home.

“It will allow us to increase the cultural offerings of our museums,” he said, adding that the pieces would “be returned to the communities where they belong.”

Flemming Friborg, director of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, also declared himself pleased with the result, saying it was “of great benefit both to the museum and to Italian and Danish scholars.”

The stolen pieces will all be back in Italy in January 2017. 

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.