A 20-foot-tall Moai statue carved in local peperino stone looks towards the city of Vitorchiano. It is claimed to be the only original Moai statue outside of Easter Island (apart of the one at the British Museum in London). But how did it come to be standing some 9,000 miles away from its Polynesian brethren in the Pacific?
Vitorchiano is a small town about 45 miles north of Rome, near the local provincial capital of Viterbo. It is built above an Etruscan settlement and like other such sites in the region, it clings to a peperino rock bluff perched above two deep gorges, an impregnable position. The town is surrounded by 13th-century walls and the beautifully preserved historical center can be accessed from the main gate, Porta Romana. Several panoramic viewpoints look over the gorges below. One such viewpoint across the gorge, facing the historical town, is adorned by an exotic and unexpected monument.
The lone Moai statue was carved by hand with axes and stones by 11 members of the Atan family (Juan Atan Paoa being a descendant of Ororoina, the only survivor of a civil war between the Long Ears and Short Ears clans on Rapa Nui). The Easter Islanders had traveled to Vitorchiano to visit the Anselmi family, owners of a large peperino quarry in the nearby Cimini mountain range (symbolically connecting the Monti Cimini, an extinct volcanic complex, to the volcano of Rano-Raraku on Easter Island).
Their intention had been to carve a Moai statue in local stone (peperino being a volcanic stone that is high in demand around the world) to raise awareness about the poor state of conservation of the Moai statues on Easter Island. Upon completing and raising the statue, the Easter Islanders performed a sacred ceremony called “Kuranto,” which was broadcast on Italian public television. The statue had initially been placed in the center of Vitorchiano, where it was replaced by a fountain from the 1700s and moved to its present location. Like all others, the Vitorchiano Moai is crowned by a Pukao in pink peperino and its hands are wrapped around its navel. Today it stands out as one of the most unique and unusual monuments in Lazio, a powerful connection between two ancient civilizations: Rapa Nui and the Etruscans.
Know Before You Go
Driving along the provincial road from Vitorchiano to Grotte Santo Stefano you will come across the statue by the viewpoint on the right.
Historically, Vitorchiano had always been an ally of Rome, and the keen observer may notice traces of this ancient alliance on the lintels and doors of the old houses in the old town, such as the inscription "Deo Roma eque esto fidelis" ("be loyal to God and Rome").