Discoveries during the 1970s in the historic centre of Vione provide evidence that there was already a settlement by Early Medieval times. Memories of a settlement here may have been the basis for the stories that flourished in recent times about the role of Vione as a Lombard stronghold during the (legendary) conquest of Valle Camonica by Charlemagne.
In 1974, building work in the historic centre of Vione uncovered several tombs lined with stone slabs. We owe our knowledge of these finds to the schoolmaster Dino Marino Tognali, who understood their importance. He gathered the information that we have today and also preserved several of the objects found in the tombs. There are three elements of the funerary assemblages: a small iron knife and two copper alloy fibulae. The fibulae were accessories used by women to fasten and hold in place their garments and are of two different types: an elongated type known as a “stirrup (or stirrup arched)” fibula and a type with a circular profile known as a “disc” fibula.
The stirrup fibula and knife were in the same tomb and so belong to the same person while the disc fibula was found in a second tomb. Both the form and the decoration of the two fibulae belong to local traditions. The stirrup fibula is of a type called “Trentino” on the base of its geographic distribution – it thus signals the connections between the people living in these Alpine areas. The disc fibula, on the other hand, is a simple type found throughout northeastern Italy and both taste and technique suggest a local origin. The fibulae are dated to the 7th or 8th centuries AD on the basis of comparisons with other examples and the techniques used in their production.
In 1977, Prof. Mario Mirabella Roberti undertook further excavation in the area around where the finds had been made. These excavations yielded no new elements of funerary assemblages but were very important from the perspective of understanding the burials. Two tombs contained just a single skeleton each while the other two contained more than one individual. Mirabella and his team from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Trieste found that the tombs were oriented E-W and lined with stone slabs – and that the reuse of tombs was frequent.
In July 1977, Prof, Mario Mirabella Roberti and a group of students from the University of Trieste undertook a first campaign of historical/archaeological research in Vione. The Tor dei Pagà site was subject to limited excavations on this occasion. Interest in the site was sparked by its toponym, which was read as a reference to the pagan Lombards and the 17th century legend of a locally-fought battle between the troops of Charlemagne and these final opponents.
The 1970s research succeeded in identifying the principal structures, partially determining their ground plans and mapping their locations.
The division of the structures comprising the Tor dei Pagà fortifications and their naming derive from the plan made by the surveyor Ettore Coatti (then mayor of Vione) and later deposited in the archives (ATS) of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Lombardia (government body responsible for archaeological heritage in Lombardy) in Milan.
The structures were identified by letters of the alphabet and were, for the most part, interpreted as being towers. Their dating remained uncertain as no diagnostic finds were retrieved. However, a reading of the written sources – local historians – made it clear that the structures were definitely already in place by 1600.
The area around the site comprises a natural grassy basin just beyond the limits of the larch woods. There is a rocky ridge descending from the summit of Mount Bles and structures E (polygonal) and B (square) are sited on two rocky outcrops along this ridge. The structures are not connected and are at some distance from one another.
In the surrounding area other structures were found: two rectangular structures known as D and F are located a little downhill from Structure E to the NE and SW.
A final structure identified in the 1970s is known as Structure A and is located in a narrow small natural valley (Canali de la Tòr) that lies immediately to the east. The letter C was given to an irregularity in the ground, circular and raised, in the middle of the grassy basin downhill from the principal structures (known as Sagrà dei Pagà).