Etruscan Italy: A Roadmap
[Regions of Italy]

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Tuscany, Umbria and upper Latium are the places to go to encounter the fascinating Etruscans. Little is known about these people, except that they were great artisans. They seemed to care a great deal more about the afterworld than about life on this earth, so they built magnificent tombs which they sometimes decorated with exquisitely detailed wall paintings and sometimes stocked with a lifetime supply of household goods. Among the most interesting places to visit are:

  • Tarquinia
    • Museo Nazionale Tarquiniense, Palazzo Vitelleschi featuring material dating mostly from the 6th to 3rd century BC, including a few pieces from Greece and Egypt. Open winter 9-2 and summer 9-7; closed Monday.

    • Necropolis of Monterozzi. In the countryside east of town, these underground rooms can be visited only by guided tour, included in the price of the museum ticket. Inquire at the museum, because you may have to wait for a group to form. You can walk, take a bus or drive to the tombs, which feature unforgettable wall paintings that depict mythological or social scenes and constitute the basis for almost all we know about the Etruscans.
  • Tuscania
    • Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located in the church of Santa Maria del Riposo just outside town, open Tues-Sun 8:30-7:30, tel. 0761-436-209, no entrance fee. Inquire here for visits to the 5th-century BC necropolis.
  • Cerveteri
    • Necropolis of the Banditaccia. Unlike Tarquinia, which is essentially an underground world of 10,000 unconnected rooms, this burial ground was constructed as a true city of the dead. It has also lost most of its paintings. But it makes up for that by offering a wealth of household items, stucco reliefs and gifts to the dead in its monumental tumuli, mound-like tombs. Most are open Tues-Sun 9-7 from May to September, and 9-4 the rest of the year.
The tumli at Cerveteri
  • Palestrina
    • An easy half-hour train ride from Rome (and a short bus ride into town), Palestrina is a charming medieval village built on six levels that were actually the original tiers of a 7th-century Etruscan temple. Everywhere you look there are relics of the so-called "Oriental" style of Etruscan art that reigned here, and the local museum houses a scale model of the temple. The ticket admits you to the nearby excavations as well. Open Tues-Sun 9-1.
The tumli at Cerveteri
  • Volterra
    • Etruscan Arch. The Porta all'Arco is at the center of the city's many alabaster workshops. One of the medieval gates into the city, it rests on a foundation of Etruscan blocks and features the badly deteriorated sculpted heads of three Etruscan deities.

    • Museo Guarnacci, Via Don Minzoni 15. Houses a nice collection of cinerary urns and statues, and more than 3000 ancient coins. Open April-Oct 9:30-1 and 3-6:30; Nov-March 9-2.
The tumli at Cerveteri
  • Chiusi
    • Necropolis. Though it is much much smaller than those in Tarquinia and Cerveteri, it is a perfect introductory course to the Etruscan lifestyle, because its three tombs are: Tomba della Pellegrina, which preserves every single item found in the tomb when it was first discovered in 1928; Tomba della Scimmia, whose wall paintings give a good idea of Etruscan social life; and Tomba del Granduca, containing eight multi-colored urns.

      The Museo Nazionale Etrusco in Via Porsenna has one of the best Etruscan collections. Open Tues-Sat 8:30-12:30 and Sun 9-1.
  • Rome
    • Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9, open Tues-Sat 9-7, Sun 9-1:30. A dazzling array of Etruscan treasures, crowned by the touching Sacrofago degli Sposi, a polychrome terracotta statue of a loving young husband and wife who seem to be stretched out on a banquette at their own funeral.

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