The Etruscan Next Door

November 19, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
The Etruscans are in the news again!  Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell’Orvietano has uncovered the first of possibly five 5th century B.C. – or earlier – Etruscan hypogean pyramidal spaces.  These are the first discovered in Etruria (Umbria, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Lazio)The team dug through 20th century earth to find space beneath the medieval floor of a wine cellar in the historical center of Orvieto.  The discovery is an important find and one that’s sparked a renewed interest in this fascinating civilization that had its heyday nearly 1,000 years before Rome was a gleam in Mars’ eye.

My Etruscan Neighbors

What would it have been like to live next door to an Etruscan?

Etruscans were short in stature but long on engineering and cultural sophistication.  They were adept at making wine, perfected the terracotta potter’s wheel, and were stellar metalworkers. Etruscan authority Professor Claudio Bizzarri recounts how Etruscan clay sculptors were called to Rome to decorate the Temple of Jupiter with statues. “They taught Romans to use civil engineering instruments to survey and build their famous roads”. Etruscan innovation is astounding, especially when you consider they didn’t have the benefit of modern machinery.  Their civilization survived from 900 B.C. until its decline and integration into Roman culture around 100 B.C.

Can I Borrow a Cup of “Zucchero?”

Fine, maybe the Etruscans didn’t have sugar, but they lived an orderly and communal lifestyle – adept at dividing land and spaces.  In fact, the architectural feature “atrium tuscanicum”, was originally Etruscan, not Roman.  Etruscan houses were covered with stucco and painted bright colors.  “They might have been considered a little “kitschy” for our tastes today”, laughed Prof. Bizzarri.

(part II coming soon..)

6th Century BCE Cup

Toni DeBella

by Toni DeBella

A Freelance writer and blogger at Orvieto or Bust, Toni recently packed everything she owns into two suitcases and headed to Orvieto, Italy.  She’s adjusted her tennis game to the clay courts and drinks way too many caffe lattes. 

15 Responses to “The Etruscan Next Door”

  1. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed ! Toni, immagine you have heard about the threat to Etruscan sites in the Orvieto area due to the recent flooding? Recent Sovana Etruscan finds in a most precarious state.
    Mamma mia.

  2. Toni DeBella

    Hi Anne,
    Yes, it’s really devastating to both the archeological digs and the people here. I arrived just days before the flood! Terrible. I am glad that you enjoyed. Let me know when you find yourself in Orvieto, perhaps we could take a coffee together. toni

  3. Colleen Simmpson

    Cannot wait for Part II! Thoroughly enjoy and any light shed on these remarkable people is welcome. I sure hope that the Etruscan digs can be salvaged from the terrible flood of last week that affected so much of Umbria and Tuscany, especially the Maremma. Orvieto got hit so badly…the photos of the car park below the station showed just how devastating it was. Grazie mille for a wonderful note about the Etruscans!

    • Toni DeBella

      Colleen, Thanks for the “thumbs up”. So much of what I learned about the Etruscans from Claudio Bizzarri was enlightening. There is much more about these amazing people that I hope will surface in the coming months! I hope you will enjoy Part II also! Toni

  4. Toni,You could easily have a part 3-4 concerning this article if you wanted to. Sometimes I read articles and I get hungry other times I want the wine. This time I wished I could play in the dirt and help dig around. Your article reminded me why I love history and of course my favorite ITALY!!!!

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Toni DeBella

      Tom, Glad you enjoyed it. Maybe the team could use more folks to dig in the mud….put on your waders and get to Orvieto pronto!!! :) toni

  5. Kim Schultz

    Wonderful – can’t wait for the rest! Orvieto is on my travel wish list for 2013! Ciao for now! -K

  6. Pat Carney-Ceccarelli

    Toni, how wonderful and exciting! Wonderful photographs! I, too, await your next articles. My plot is Populonia, the only Etruscan city built on the sea and am contributing some articles about the area to our Italian notebook. Tom, indeed you can come and dig- search out italian notebook post on Archeodig and another on Populonia- more on the way. I like our italian notebook community sharing their comments and experiences!!

    • Toni DeBella

      Hi Pat,
      The Etruscans, I have also learned, were great sailors and fishermen. Looking forward to reading your pieces of Etruscan history as well. Thanks so much for writing. Toni

  7. Great piece. I wonder if Claudio’s mother is an American translator who lives in Orvieto. A woman with that surname once helped us when we had to do a business transaction in Orvieto. Will be watching your blog, Toni, with great interest!

    • Toni DeBella

      Joe, Yes that’s her. She is a friend of mine and set up my interview with Claudio. Small world. Part II should be coming around shortly. Thanks so much for stopping by. See you the next time you are in Orvieto. Toni

  8. Rina Maslow

    Having spent my childhood in Southern Tuscany, I’ m partial to the area. I’ve gone back many times and always love it even more. My interest in the Etruscan civilization is only recent and I’d like to learn more. I really enjoyed your article and envy you for living there. Please write more. Thanks.


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