Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Skip -- The Etruscans

New!  The Sunday Hop, Skip, and Jump!

Every first Sunday of the month I'll be posting the hop (usually an interview with someone in Naples), the second Sunday the skip (a Nook of Italy), and on the third Sunday the jump (a Nook of Europe).  Hope you enjoy it!

Nook of Italy: My love of the classics led me to take an Etruscan tour of Italy, visiting three of the dodecapoli (the twelve fabled cities of the Etruscan league)-- Cerveteri, Tarquinia, and Orvieto. 

The Etruscans once lived in the Umbria and Tuscany region, some settling all the way down to Capua in Campania.  Archeological remains set their beginnings at 1200 B.C.  Through the centuries, they co-existed with the Greek colonizers and then with the Romans, trading and warring with them.  Cross-cultural integration also occurred as exemplified through the three Etruscan Kings of Rome from 600-500 B.C. and the large number of Greek vases found in Etruscan tombs.  

What made the Etruscans well-known throughout the ancient world was their technological savvy in mining metals.  It seems that the Etruscans traded their metals thanks to a bottomless desire for gold, which they could only acquire through contact with the outside world.  

The Etruscans left no written documents.  We know about their non-Indo-European language only by what's scratched on stones. Their art shows they likely were either heavily influenced by Eastern dress and artwork, or even came from the East.  As a consequence, questions always persist as to whether they were indigenous or first settled the region from a faraway land.

We have no records of a single person's life.  We know of them predominantly through their cemeteries, which they left burgeoning with red & black painted vases, opulently sculpted sarcophagi, and multi-colored frescoes on the walls of their tombs. 

Cerveteri has the largest necropolis in the world next to the Egyptian pyramids, the cemetery layered with centuries of now empty Etruscan tombs:

What archeologists found inside the tombs, they preserved at the Etruscan museum in downtown Cerverteri:

In Tarquinia, twenty some-odd Etruscan tombs can also be found.  The tombs remain buried under several feet of dirt, thereby better preserving the paintings inside.  The frescoes -- in various conditions -- depict dolphins jumping next to seamen and lavish banquets with their accompanying musicians.  It seems that the above-ground urns kept the cremated remains of poor people, while the rich received the tombs.

(Urns in the front.  The hut-like entrance to two underground tombs in the back.) 

Beyond the Tarquinia tombs, visitors can look out to the Tyrrhenian Sea where the Etruscans once sailed their ships.  According to Roman writers, the Etruscans were also notorious pirates.

The Etruscans liked to send their dearly departed into the next world with an abundance of goodies.  What remained in them by the nineteenth century was taken out by the city of Tarquinia and placed into the city's own Etruscan Museum:

Our last stop was Orvieto, a city perched up on sheer cliffs. The Etruscan necropolis sat right below the city and had a very different look from the Cerveteri and Tarquinia cemeteries:

I must mention, as an aside, that the Duomo in Orvieto's central square dazzled:

Starting at the visitor's information center in this piazza, a tour of the underground showed how monks during the medieval ages created wine-cellar-like spaces that, in fact, housed pigeons for cultivation and eating:

The monks also used a stone olive oil press in this underground:

Most impressive for our Etruscan tour was the one-hundred meter deep well, replete with carved footholds. Archeologists ask many questions about what kind of technology the Etruscans had in order to build this well. What did they use to dig it?  How did they survive once they got to the bottom since 100 meters down there is only carbon dioxide and no oxygen?

(The footholds are at the top of the picture.)

The Etruscans were wiped off the map of existence when the Romans annexed their territory during the 1st century B.C.  The Romans probably looted and burned most of their cities and ancient writers then recounted only stories about Etruscan ruthlessness in war and reckless piracy.  Today, what little remains of the Etruscans incites in us an intense curiosity as well as a hopeless desire to uncover their mysteries.

Getting There:  We drove to these cities with the help of a GPS.  Once we came close, signs were everywhere and easy to follow.

Book Recommendation:  I read two layperson books along the way.  The Etruscans by Michael Grant and D.H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places.

Website Recommendation:  The Mysterious Etruscans has pictures and comprehensive data on the twelve dodecapoli.


Simply Life said...

wow, gorgeous photos! looks like an incredible experience!

BBQ Bill said...

Thanks for "Taking me away" this Sunday morning in South Carolina!

Barbara said...

Thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed it!