The Etruscans in Italy
Who Are They? Where Can You Find Their Work?

The Etruscans, who thrived in Italy from the 8th to the 5th century B.C., lived in what is modern southern Tuscany and northern Lazio, historically called Tuscia, an area bounded by the Tiber and Arno rivers, the Apennines and the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can see the territory in the map below. Eventually they were assimilated into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars. The last Etruscan cities were formally absorbed by Rome around 100 BC.

It's quite likely that the aboriginal Etruscans may have evolved from the earlier Villanovan Culture. There is always a continuum. But why, amongst all the people who've wandered in and out of Italy, should we be concerned with the Etruscans?

Just visit any one of the many museums and then head for an Etruscan tomb (easily done in the Etruscan town of Chiusi). The Etruscans were running about around 2800 long years ago, yet they imported iron ore from Elba and smelted it on the coast around the modern city of Populonia, an excellent place to visit. They did great things with bronze as well. You'll see some wonderous works resulting from all this in any of the many Etruscan museums. The tombs will advertise, through frescos and other art, the pleasures celebrated by the living. They fought well, lived well, and loved exhuberantly. What's not to like? It's also good for the tourist that they chose to live in a very good place to visit, even millenia later. The Etruscan coast wines are some of the best lesser-known fine wines in Italy, for example, and the area isn't overrun by tourists. Ever heard of Bolgheri?

etruscan sarcophagus
Etruscans enjoying themselves

Looking below at the map you see that Etruscans built many cities along the Tuscan coast into Lazio, and a line of cities almost along the border of Tuscany and Umbria. Each autonomous city, originally ruled by a powerful, wealthy king, had a sacred boundary or pomerium. In southern Etruria, the bodies of the dead were buried, but in the north, the Etruscans cremated their dead. The tourist can see many of the burial grounds called necropoli, which are quite well preserved, especially at the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Tarquinia and Cerveteri.

Map of the Etruscan Territory

Map of Etruscan territory within Italy
Map of Etruscan Cities in Italy By NormanEinstein [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Coastal Route: A Fine Etruscan Itinerary

You can make a fine exploration of the Etruscan civilization in Italy by hugging the coast from ancient Fufluna which is today the city of Populonia. Nearby the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia will allow you to take interesting walks through the Etruscan countryside loaded with Etruscan tombs and quarries. 

Just north, Felathri, now called Volterra is a major center for anyone interested in the Etruscans. The town itself is girded in Etruscan walls and tombs are scattered about in the countryside. Volterra's Guarnacci Museum houses one of the most interesting displays of Etruscan antiquities in existence.

Velch is the modern Volci, where you can visit the remains of the ancient city. It was a town known for its bronze sculptures. Thousands of Vulci's ancient tombs were discovered during the 19th century and became part of the Grand Tour of Europe. The folks of Velch traded with Sardinia; the necropolis of Cavalupo includes the impressive Tomb of the Sardinian Bronzes.

Two of the next Etruscan destinations share UNESCO World Heritage Site honors: Tarquinia and Cerveteri, marked as Tarchna and Caisra on the map. The pained tombs of Tarquinia are amazing for their scenes of people enjoying life. The tombs of Banditaccia Necropolis on the outskirts of modern Cerveteri show some remarkable architectural skill, and the sheer number of tombs makes it truly a "city of the dead".

From here you can turn left and head to the scattered Etruscan remains at Veii or continue on the 12 miles to Rome, where the important National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia contains many of the finds from Cerveteri and other Etruscan sites.

Inland Etruscan Cities

The Etruscan League Cities in the East include ancient Perusia (modern Umbrian capital Perugia, where a 3rd century BC Etruscan well, the Etruscan Arch (one of the 7 city gates), and parts of the city wall are remnants of the city’s Etruscan past. Arretium is the modern Arezzo and Curtun is Cortona, which has Etruscan walls. Velsna might be Orvietto. You'll also find Clevsin, or the modern Chiusi. 

If you're in a hurry but still want the full Etruscan experience, Chiusi is where you'd want to go. Not only is it surrounded by other compelling cities--mostly Etruscan in origin--but the town itself is quite pleasant and has a great museum which includes a visit to a nearby tomb in its ticket structure. You can also visit the The Labyrinth of Porsenna. The Labyrinth is actually just some underground Etruscan acqueducts that were mistaken for the burial space of the legendary Etruscan king Porsenna, who Pliny the Elder told us was buried in a tomb inside a very intricate labyrinth. The journey starts from inside the Museum of the Cathedral and ends at the Etruscan-Roman cistern, an interesting construction in itself. Here are the options for visiting the treasures in Chiusi

Recommended Lodging in Chiusi

Residenza Dei Ricci

One of the great locations in Chiusi, free WiFi and parking. Very high rating by visitors to the bed and breakfast.

Porsenna Resort

If you have a car and have a desire to stay in a beautiful property a short drive away in Umbria, this is the place for you.

Palazzlina "Chiusi Antica"

Need an apartment right in the center of Etruscan Chiusi? This might be exactly the place for you.

etruscan sarcophagus
Etruscan Painted sarcophagus, Chiusi Archaeological Museum

Etruscans: The Enigma

We know quite a bit about the Etruscans, and we've verified it by our exploration of the cultural remains. The conquering Romans wrote about them, and if the victors can be trusted, Etruscans made up a culture with many accomplishments and a rather open sexuality with the women leading the way. But there is still a mystery. There should always be a mystery.

The mystery is this: le Vie Cave, the cave ways or roads, which might not have been roads at all, although we're pretty certain they were carved out by Etruscans during the bronze age.  You'll find them just outside of the town nicknamed "little Jeruselem" for the concentration of Jews who weren't able to cross the Tuscan border into Lazio because the Papal States were anti-Semitic. The town perched on a limestone oucrop is properly called Pitigliano. There are more of the sunken roads around pretty little Sorano as well. Learn more about the Vie Cave.

etruscan sarcophagus
Etruscan carved "way" outside Pitigliano

Here is another opportunity for a short stay, which could become a long one; Pitigliano and environs are crowded with pleasures for the tourist. I have been known to take root in a rental apartment while trying to see all the sights, from the underground ghetto to Mackanzie Cooke's little butterfly museum.

Recommended Lodging in or Near Pitigliano

Le Camere Del Ceccottino

Highly-rated apartment in a great location inside the walls of Pitigliano; the owner has a restaurant across the street.

Appartamento Palazzo Sadun

Apartment with river views and great WiFi plus free parking at a nearby location

Agriturismo Ecosostenibile Villa Vacasio

Have a car? Need to be in the countryside near Pitigliano with a pool?

We hope you've enjoyed this little journey into the semi-lost world of the industrious, artistic, and sexually energetic Etruscans. It's just one of the attractions of this living museum we call Italy. Poke around the site a bit and you'll find many more.