The president of Atlanta’s Italian-American Business Council, attorney Tito Mazzetta, is leading a fight against New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the return of an ancient Etruscan chariot to the municipality of Monteleone di Spoleto in Italy’s Umbria region.

Currently stored in the museum’s warehouse, the Golden Chariot, or La Biga d’Oro, which dates back to 550-525 B.C., is the only Etruscan chariot ever found preserved in its original condition, Mr. Mazzetta recently told GlobalAtlanta.

Unearthed by a farmer in 1901, the artifact is made of bronze but called the Golden Chariot because of its color.

The chariot was taken apart and smuggled to the United States in 1903, in violation of Italian laws going back to 1820 that made all excavated antiquities the property of the Italian government, he said.

Until now, no one has actively sought the chariot’s return. However, a copy of the artifact is on display in Monteleone di Spoleto, said Mr. Mazzetta, who is pursuing the issue pro bono on behalf of the municipality, where his mother was born and his family still has a home.

“If it were a Leonardo da Vinci piece, we wouldn’t have a chance because there are so many of his pieces around. But the Golden Chariot is one of a kind, and is so central to the Italian people, to the Etruscan culture, that we think we have a shot at it,” Mr. Mazzetta said.

Mr. Mazzetta’s letter demanding return of the chariot is the first step in an effort by Monteleone di Spoleto officials to gain its possession. Next, the city’s mayor, Nando Durastanti, will seek the support of Italy’s Cultural Affairs Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry, the letter said.

In the letter, Mr. Mazzetta reminded Philippe de Montebello, the museum’s director, of a growing sensitivity toward the protection and recovery of stolen antiquities.

He cited the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, which was signed in Valetta, Malta, in 1992 by members of the Council of Europe to establish principles for the protection of archaeological artifacts.

The Council of Europe, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, is the continent’s oldest political organization, with 46 member countries, including Italy. Among its objectives, the council seeks to develop continent-wide agreements to standardize member countries’ social and legal practices.

Mr. Mazzetta also cited the U.S.-Italy treaty signed in 2001, which imposes import restrictions on Italian antiquities from approximately 900 B.C. to 300 A.D. unless a license or other documentation is produced certifying exportation is not in violation of Italian law.

While the museum has yet to respond to the letter dated Oct. 18, 2004, officials there indicated a response would be forth coming soon, Mr. Mazzetta said.

According to the museum’s website, at www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/04/eust/hod_03.23.1.htm, the chariot’s box illustrates three episodes in the life of a warrior or hero, perhaps the Greek hero Achilles. At the center, a woman, possibly Achilles’ mother, Thetis, brings armor. On one side, the hero fights with another warrior, possibly Memnon. On the other side, the hero driving a winged chariot may represent Achilles going to “the islands of the blessed.”

The farmer, who discovered the chariot in a burial chamber with the remains of two human beings and several artifacts, traded the chariot to a merchant for shingles for his home, Mr. Mazzetta said. After a ransom attempt by the merchant failed to induce payment by the Italian government, officials did not pursue its recovery, he said.

While return of the chariot is a significant issue in Europe, especially Italy, he said that the U.S. media has been slow to pick up the story.

The Italian-American Business Council is the Southeast region’s leading Italian business association.

For more information, contact Mr. Mazzetta at (404) 521-1808 or omero1@aol.com.