Volterra's Etruscan origins

The Etruscan Museum in Volterra, "Museo Etrusco Guarnacci" is in the heart of Volterra and has one of the most fascinating Etruscan collections in Italy.

The city of Volterra is deep in the heart of ancient Etruria, the territory of the people that preceded the Romans and are rumoured to be descended from ancient Phoenicians. Most of what remains of them comes from their tombs as they had a highly developed cult of the dead and constructed strong tombs, often carved into the local Tufa rock, decorated with frescoes and furnished with rich treasures.

It had long been known that there were Etruscan tombs around Volterra, in the necropolis (city of the dead) of Portone, south of the city. A series of digs were carried out during the 18th century, funded and run by a local well-heeled abbé, Mario Guarnacci. These digs brought to light a richness of finds, from ornaments to pottery and intricately carved sarcophagi, and in 1761 the Abbé Guarnacci donated his entire collection to the city. This impressive collection formed the basis for the city's Etruscan museum, and has been added to over later years.

In 1776 the Canon of Volterra's Cathedral found a particularly impressive "ipogeo" tomb. (Ipo - geo meaning under - ground), with around 40 sepulchral urns inside. The tomb is still there and is worth a visit - this is the Google GPS marker: Necropoli Etrusca del Marmini.

All the urns from this new and extensive tomb were also donated to the city for its newly formed museum and gave further impetus and importance to the collection.

Volterra's world-class museum

The Guarnacci museum now has one of the best collections in the world of Etruscan artefacts, with some remarkable carved sarcophagi, like the famous "Urna degli Sposi" depicting what appear to be a married couple. This piece is thought to be from around 80-90 BCE, so when Volterra and Tuscany were already under Roman rule. The carving shows notable Roman influence.

Urna degli Sposi - photo by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum retains in 19th century feel, with the finds laid out in a rather dry fashion but if you take your time to explore the shelves and cabinets there are some truly beautiful pieces, showing how advanced the Etruscan civilisation was.

There are earlier pieces too, from pre-Etruscan axes, daggers and arrow heads of the neolithic and then Bronze ages, including a wonderful crested bronze warrior's helmet.

Crested Helmet from the Tomba del Guerriero - photo by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ombra della Sera

One of the most famous pieces - and you will see a thousand reproductions of it in the local shops - is known as "L'Ombra Della Sera" - "The Evening Shadow", a tall thin figure estimated to be from around the 3rd century BCE. Sit in a cafe on a west facing street on an autumn evening and you will see the long raking shadows that will have inspired the sculpture. It is a strong. evocative piece and quite magical.

The faces on the sarcophagi may seemly vaguely familiar; this is because the same people are still walking around the town of Volterra. A few years ago a study was done in which the images of dead Etruscans were compared with local people. The profiles and features are remarkably similar, the DNA of the locals is still essentially what it was over 2000 years ago.

Ombra della Sera - photo by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to visit Museo Guarnacci

For up-to-date opening times and prices, here is the Museum's Website: Museo Etrusco Guarnacci

The address of the museum is:

Palazzo Desideri Tangassi Via Don Minzoni n° 15 56048 - Volterra (PI)

Museo Guarnacci on Google Maps

If you'd like any help booking tickets, or advice on getting to Volterra and what else to see, as always, please contact us.

Where to stay near Volterra

For places to stay in the area, have a look at our Villas near Volterra, Villas near Pisa or Villas near Siena

The closest Villa we have is Valdera, a luxury villa for 12 just 15 minutes away.

Luxury Villa for 12 with A/C and Private Pool