This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Dream of Italy.
On a recent visit to the National Etruscan Museum in Rome at the height of the tourist season, my kids and I arrived at opening time and had the entire museum to ourselves for nearly an hour. What a treat!
Across central Italy lie hundreds of little-visited museums and archeological sites that transport you to the world of the Etruscans. If you want the pleasure of enjoying fantastic treasure troves of Etruscan art, put at least one of these destinations on your itinerary:
Bologna: Archaeological Museum
Museo Civico Archeologico
Via dell’Archiginnasio, 2
(39) 051 2757211
This museum displays works from prehistory, ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, in addition to a large collection of Etruscan works from Emilia-Romagna. The region around Bologna is known for some of the earliest archeological finds related to the Etruscans. These so-called “proto-Etruscan” objects offer a fascinating window into the emergence of the Etruscan culture from the more remote story of prehistoric Italy.
Marzabotto: Etruscan Museum and Archaeological Site
Museo Nazionale Etrusco Pompeo Aria
Via Porrettana Sud, 13
(39) 051 932353
This off-the-beaten track museum and archaeological park offers an excellent overview of the Etruscan town of Marzabotto. You can wander among the foundations of temples, a foundry, and other buildings that give you a feel for what a prosperous Etruscan town must have been like. The adjacent museum holds many of the bronzes and other objects uncovered in Marzabotto and elsewhere in the region.
Museo Nazionale Cerite
Piazza Santa Maria
(39) 345 9193132
After visiting the Banditaccia necropolis outside of town, don’t forget the local museum, which occupies a medieval castle of the princes of Ruspoli and displays a plethora of Etruscan grave goods from the region. My favorite: a pair of shoe soles made of iron!
Rome: National Etruscan Museum
Piazzale di Villa Giulia, 9
Along with the Etruscan collection of the Vatican, the Villa Giulia holds some of the most important masterpieces of Etruscan art, including the famous terra-cotta Sarcophagus of the Spouses, the Apollo from Veii, the Ficoroni Cista, the Tita Vendia vase, and the Centaur of Vulci, among many other specimens of pottery, painting, bronzes, and other works. This must be one of my favorite museums in all of Italy—and that’s saying a lot!
Etruscan Collection of the Vatican Museums
Museo Gregoriano Etrusco
(39) 06 69884676
Many visitors miss this museum as they are being pushed along by the crowds headed toward the Sistine Chapel. Take a detour into the Museo Gregoriano, and immerse yourself in the world of the Etruscans. Several galleries are dedicated to masterpieces of Etruscan art, including the Mars of Todi and the spectacular finds from the Regolini-Galassi Tomb from Cerveteri.
Tarquinia National Archaeological Museum
Piazza Cavour, 2
(39) 0766 850080
This archeological museum, housed in Palazzo Vitelleschi, is dedicated primarily to Etruscan civilization and contains many works excavated from the necropolis of Monterozzi, located to the east of the city. One of its most impressive holdings are the winged horses that once decorated the pediment of the Ara della Regina temple.
Castellina in Chianti: Archaeological Museum
Piazza del Comune, 17
Castellina in Chianti
(39) 0577 742090
Visit Museo Archeologico del Chianti Senese as much for the views from the castle tower as for the collection of Etruscan finds from the local area. One of its treasures is a restored Etruscan chariot pulled from one of the nearby tombs at Montecalvario.
Chiusi: National Archaeological Museum and Tomb of the Pilgrim
Via Porsenna, 93
(39) 0578 20177
This excellent museum is one of the best of Etruria. It displays a wide range of Etruscan objects from cinerary urns to sarcophagi, pottery, gold jewelry, works in bronze and other metals. If you want a spine-tingling experience, don’t miss the display of sarcophagi as they were originally placed in the tomb.
Chiusi: Underground Civic Museum
Via Il Ciminia, 1
(39) 0578 20915
This “underground city” consists of subterranean tunnels, passages, caves, and a large cistern. The guided tour takes you along rows of Etruscan sarcophagi, carved tablets, pottery, and other items from Chiusi’s archeological record.
Florence: National Archaeological Museum
Piazza Santissima Annunziata, 9b
(39) 055 23575
This collection is the prime repository of Etruscan goods discovered within the boundaries of Tuscany. The museum holds the famous Chimera of Arezzo, the life-sized Etruscan bronze statues of Minerva and the Orator (L’Arringatore), as well as many other important works from ancient Egypt and Rome.
Poggio Civitate: Archaeological Museum
Murlo / Poggio Civitate
Ancient Murlo (Poggio Civitate) was an important early Etruscan town, and the remains of its now-destroyed necropolis are housed in this wonderful small museum filled with pottery, gold fibulae, sculpture, and other grave goods.
Volterra: Guarnacci Etruscan Museum
Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, 15
Volterra is one of my favorite destinations of central Italy, and it is an important place for the Etruscans. This museum contains a vast assortment of Etruscan funerary urns and characteristic vases made in Volterra during Etruscan times. There are also many examples of alabaster wares made with the translucent material mined near Volterra and still worked today.
Orvieto: Archaeological Museum
Piazza del Duomo
(39) 0763 341039
The museum holds the grave goods from the Crocifisso del Tufo necropolis and other tombs from the region around Orvieto, which is particularly rich in Etruscan finds.
Laura Morelli is an art historian and historical novelist with a passion for Italy. She holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and has taught college students in the U.S. and in Rome. You can find more about what to bring home from Italy in her guidebook series, including Made in Florence and Made in Italy. Learn more about these books, along with Laura’s Venice-inspired historical novels, The Painter’s Apprentice and The Gondola Maker, at www.lauramorelli.com Laura also offers an online course in Etruscan art, find out more at www.lauramorelli.com/etruscans.