The History of the Moai Statue of Vitorchiano

Just a few kilometres from Viterbo lies Vitorchiano, the splendid village in Tuscia suspended on volcanic rocks. And here you will find the only Moai statue in the world, outside Easter Island.
Table of contents:
  1. What is a suspended village
  2. What is the Moai of Vitorchiano
  3. What a Moai looks like
  4. Where is the Italian Moai

Just fifteen minutes by car from Viterbo, stands Vitorchiano, an ancient village and historical jewel set among the volcanic rocks of Tuscia. Considered one of the most evocative historic centres in the province of Viterbo, it also enjoys the prestigious accolade of one of the 'most beautiful villages in Italy'. And here we also find the only original Moai monolith in the world, outside Easter Island (or Rapa Nui).

What Borgo Sospeso means

The integrity of its ancient core, the dwellings that seem to blend harmoniously with the peperino cliffs on which they are erected, give Vitorchiano its distinctive appellation: the Borgo Sospeso (Suspended Village). The origin of this name lies in the unique geology of the area. Deposits of volcanic materials, modelled over millennia by the activity of volcanoes, have created the imposing cliffs on which the villages of Tuscia rise. However, what makes Vitorchiano truly special is its peperino bank, fractured into enormous boulders, on which the village buildings rest directly. This peculiarity creates a fascinating visual illusion, making it seem as if the village has been carved into the rock. The houses, clinging and overhanging, merge with the lava rock, creating a perfect harmony with the Valle del Vezza and the surrounding landscape, rich in oak, ash, beech, elm and chestnut forests.

What is the Moai of Vitorchiano

And it was precisely the abundance of peperino that made Vitorchiano the perfect place to build a gigantic Moai statue. Moai statues are anthropomorphic monoliths carved by the indigenous Polynesian population Rapa Nui (which is also the original name of Easter Island), mostly between 1100 and 1500. They are veritable stone giants up to 21 metres high, probably augural monoliths bringing wellbeing and prosperity wherever they look. The Moai of Vitorchiano was built in 1990 by the Atan family, originally from Rapa Nui and consisting of 19 people. The occasion for the construction of the Vitorchiano monolith was the RAI television programme 'In Search of the Ark' by journalist Mino D'Amato. Intent on promoting the restoration of the Easter Island Moai, the journalist was looking for a stone in Italy that was as close as possible to the volcanic stone from which the giants of Rapa Nui were made, with which to build an Italian Moai. Vitorchiano, home of the peperino stone, was identified as the ideal place to realise the work, and the Atan family the right craftsmen.

What the Moai of Vitorchiano looks like

After months of work, the Atans created an original Moai by working the stone with the same ancient techniques used on Easter Island for the construction of the original Maoi. From an artistic point of view, the Moai of Vitorchiano is a testimony to the skill and mastery of the sculptors. Faithful to the originals, the statue has deep grooves, hard, simple and linear features, and fine details such as the long ears, the emphasised navel and the tapered hands clinging to the belly. To this day, the Moai of Vitorchiano represents the only Moai stone sculpture of original size found outside Easter Island.

Where the Moai of Vitorchiano is located

The Moai statue has gone through various locations over the years. First located in the centre of Piazzale Umberto I, in 2007 it was temporarily transferred to Sardinia to be displayed in an exhibition of pre-Columbian art. Returning to Vitorchiano after nine months, the statue found its definitive location on Largo Padre Ettore Salimbeni, in the municipality's camper van area that overlooks the suggestive belvedere of the 'Borgo Sospeso'.

The Moai of Vitorchiano, with its imposing presence and fascinating history, stands as an icon of one of Italy's most beautiful villages, representing a unique link between the millenary history of Easter Island and the timeless beauty of Vitorchiano, the suspended village of Tuscia.