Monday, 17 October 2016

Etruscans Italy

On one of my previous Travel Talk Radio segments on ABC Radio 612 Brisbane, my guest was the lovely Kylie Lang, who had recently spent a month in the Umbria area of Italy. 

Listen to the podcast if you are interested. 612abc Brisbane - Umbria

Most of us know of the region of Tuscany but not a lot of people know about it's neighbour Umbria. 

Orvieto, Umbria is a great base, it is around 1.30hrs from Rome, 2hrs from Florence and around 4.30hrs from Milan.


Etruscan civilisation is the modern name given to a civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci. Etruscan civilisation is the modern English name given to a civilisation of ancient Italy. Its homeland was in the area of central Italy, just north of Rome, which is today called Tuscany. 

Image result for etruscans italy

The ancient Romans loved to pile stone; today, Tuscany is full of their ruins. But much more remarkable and intriguing are the necropolises, tombs, and engineering feats left behind by the Etruscans—a people who thrived in Tuscany five hundred years before the first Roman stones were laid. Whereas the Romans piled, the Etruscans dug. They created vast, 60-foot-deep chambers for their dead; erected enormous half-buried domes; cut long canals through stone hills; and sliced 100-foot-deep roads into cliffs. They also built the first architectural arches, and invented roof structures the Romans only copied.

But above all, the Etruscans had what D.H. Lawrence much later called, “a religion of life.” They had a deep love for food, music, dancing, sex, and wine. 

This is why their art was so elegant, and why we still strive to emulate their ancient cuisine and wines today. It’s little wonder that the archeological sites they’ve left behind are some of the most spectacular in Tuscan.

The Etruscan civilization lasted from the 8th century BC to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. In the 6th century the Etruscans expanded their influence over a wide area of Italy. 

They founded city-states in northern Italy, and to the south, their influence expanded down into Latium and beyond. Early Rome was deeply influenced by Etruscan culture (the word "Rome" is Etruscan). The Etruscans also gained control of Corsica.

Only since the nineteenth century has the extent of Etruscan civilization been brought to light, and the Etruscans restored as ‘true ancestors’ of modern Italy.

The ancient Etruscans were the first civilization native to ancient Italy & a dominant power on the peninsula for some 300 years, during part of which time Etruscan kings ruled Rome & bestowed on it the attributes of a city. The Etruscans have been regarded as a mysterious people, a misleading label, because most of the mysteriousness is simply a product of the paucity of information that archaeologists & historians have succeeded in wresting from very meager sources.


Here is a suggested itinerary to see this wonderful area.

Visit Villa Giulia, National Etruscan Museum, the world's foremost collection of Etruscan art & artifacts. It is housed in a Renaissance villa created from an earlier villa by Pope Julius III shortly after 1550 to entertain his guests & to get away from the pressures as head of the Church & of the Papal States, which covered much of central Italy.

Drive out to Cerveteri, site of one of the most powerful of Etruscan city-states, to the necropolis which furnished some of the objects in the Villa Giulia Museum. See the tombs & large burial mounds laid out along streets forming a true city of the dead.

A full day in Tarquinia, another important Etruscan city a bit further to the north of
Cerveteri, which is largely unexcavated and is famous for its frescoed tombs dating from the 6th to 2nd centuries B.C. These are unmatched in the ancient world for their sheer number, their engaging color, and their vitality. They amply reveal the Etruscan outlook on life and death.

Tarquinia has a local Etruscan museum, which is housed in a Gothic-Renaissance palace and is truly a jewel. In the museum's very fine collection, there is a truly unique piece, a sculpted terracotta decorative plaque depicting a pair of winged horses. This sculpture once adorned the pediment of an Etruscan temple, visit the ruins at the site of the ancient city on a nearby plateau.

Visit San Giovenale, one of only a handful Etruscan town-sites so far excavated in central Italy. The site was excavated in the late 1950's and early 1960's by the king of Sweden and a team of Swedish and Italian archaeologists. San Giovenale another site, Acquarossa, have provided Etruscologists with most of the available information on Etruscan houses and are among the very few sites where ruins of Etruscan houses can be seen.

On your way to San Giovenale make a brief stop at Blera to walk down to a small Roman bridge which spans a brook lost in a ravine far below the modern road. Then a brief stop at the gracious medieval town of Barbarano Romano, after which proceed to Viterbo, a gracious provincial capital north of Rome with one of the most picturesque
medieval quarters in central Italy.

But first a visit to the unique exhibit on Etruscan houses, the only one of its kind in the world. All the material on display has come from the San Giovenale & Acquarossa.

Visit to Orvieto, a gracious medieval town with a past reaching back to Etruscan times. It
was the Etruscan Velzna, called Volsinii by the Romans, before they destroyed it in the 3rd century B.C.

If driving from Rome you would approach Orvieto from the west offering stunning views of the city atop its high outcropping with sheer cliffs on all sides. It fills the high outcropping on which it sits right up to the sheer cliffs that dominate the valleys on all sides.

Orvieto's table-like plateau, made of soft tuff stone is riddled with underground chambers and drainage channels carved out by the Etruscans. They can be visited on a tour of "Underground Orvieto." Also of particular interest is the cathedral begun in 1290 following a miracle that occurred in nearby Bolsena, while the Pope was in residence in Orvieto.
The real treasures of Orvieto are the frescoes in a side chapel of the Last Judgment painted by Luca Signorelli, an exquisite work which provided the inspiration for Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. These frescoes were re-opened to the public after a 9-year restoration. A walk down the 34-meter deep well built at the time of the sack of Rome in 1527 illustrates how far below the surface the water table is. Just a short drive from the well which is at one end of Orvieto is a necropolis with a number of inscriptions in the Etruscan language, which identify the ancient occupants of the tombs.Image result for Last Judgment painted by Luca Signorelli