ETERNITY, ETRUSCAN STYLE? (Volterra / Florence)

An aerial view of a cluster
of Etruscan burial places.

The Inghirami Tomb is beneath the grassy mound
(tumulus) in the upper right corner.

A view of Volterra.

In 1862, Don Filippo Gori -  an erudite priest - wrote from the city of Volterra in central Tuscany, reporting on the antiquarian activities of some local aristocrats:

“Back in May of last year [1861], the two Inghirami brothers,  Signori Jacopo and Lodovico, were vacationing at their retreat."

"Being lovers of all things associated with their native place [Volterra], they began excavating that parcel of land that looks out over their villa...and they discovered a grandiose hypogeum [subterranean structure]."

"Since access is easy, those of scholarly inclination can now form a true and accurate idea of those mortuary houses in their complete state.”

View of the Inghirami Tomb from the entrance.

No one will ever forget the emotional impact of stepping into the Inghirami Tomb for the first time. 

Two tiers of alabaster funerary urns (fifty-three in number) emerge from the darkness. The Etruscan elite is staring us down - from the world beyond.

Inside the Inghirami Tomb.

This uncanny effect is heightened by the translucent alabaster of the urns. A rare and precious material - and a prized Volterran specialty.

Detail of three funerary urns.

In the shadows beyond, we can just perceive a second row of figures peering over the shoulders of the first.

An enhanced photograph from the Inghirami Tomb.

The Inghirami Tomb is an awesome nexus of cosmic powers. People who mattered immensely in their own day confront us across the Great Divide.

However, the Inghirami Tomb left Volterra more than a century ago. And its inhabitants have been  reduced to Etruscan Re-enactors in a Florentine garden, performing for visitors on cue.

A marble tablet from the (former) Reale Museo Archeologico, including the Museo Etrusco Centrale e Topografico della Etruria.

In 1880, the Royal Archeological Museum (now the National Archeological Museum) was established in the Palazzo della Crocetta in Florence (a former Medici residence). Its most famous department was (and is) The Central Etruscan Museum and Topographical Museum of Etruria

A representative series of Etruscan burials was sent to Florence from various sites throughout Central Italy.  The Inghirami Tomb made a seventy kilometer journey in 1901. Then it was reburied under a fresh tumulus, filled with empty funerary urns and quickly became a star attraction.

An aerial view of the Archeological Museum in Florence;
the Inghirami tumulus appears in the garden to the upper right.
An aerial view of  Florence. The Archeological Museum is at
 the center right and Piazza Santissima Annunziata at the lower left. 

In the luxuriant garden of the Archeological Museum, it now keeps company with a host of other corpseless (or ashless) interments. Together, they form a handy toy necropolis - a walk-in archeology textbook or a sepulchral petting zoo.

A century ago, this was hailed as a bold innovation - bringing these mysterious and evocative artifacts to the public, rather than the other way around. And judging by the reactions of present-day visitors, it still provides the kind of effortless experience that most of us seek.
A view of the lushly landscaped Etruscan neo-necropolis
 at the Archeological Museum in Florence.

Awash in oleanders, we see a fanciful Etruscan Temple (contrived in 1932) rising above two Sixth Century B.C. chamber tombs of the "rowhouse" type, transferred from Orvieto (in Umbria)  to Florence a hundred years ago.

A tomb of the archaic period from Orvieto and a Tempietto
designed by architect Luigi Ballerini (1932).

We encounter a late Seventh Century B.C. burial chamber from Vetulonia (in Southern Tuscany) – now stranded above ground, strangely indecent without its tumulus. The "pine cone" marker (cippus) at the entrance was lifted from some other Vetulonian tomb. The lintel, inscribed with the name of the departed, is a plaster replica (complete with a metal inventory tag.) The original was lost many years ago, along with the remains of the deceased.

Two views of a  free-standing former interment from Vetulonia. 

But everything tomb-like is not necessarily a tomb...  We can also admire an underground receptacle for votive gifts (favissa), lined with monumental stone slabs. It was discovered at Bolsena (in Lazio) in 1904, filled with human and other figures in gold, silver, bronze and fired clay.

An underground chamber for gifts to a deity
(Third Century B.C.), from Bolsena.

Then, after an hour or two of amiable wandering, we are ready to move on... What do we take with us from this ambiguous Garden of Repose?

It was ineffably beautiful... It was mildly instructive... It was  pleasurably creepy... Especially on bright summer days when all the flowers are out.

And like most museums, it was just a bit silly – packed with strange and wonderful objects meant to be some place else.

The view from an upper window of the Archeological Museum in Florence; moving clockwise from the upper right, we see the tumulus of the Inghirami Tomb (from Volterra), the open Tomb of the Diavolino (from Vetulonia), the base of a funerary marker (from Populonia) and a modern lily pond.  

A close-up of the Seventh Century B.C. Tomb of the Diavolino;
it was originally covered with a false dome of overlapping
stone slabs and a tumulus.


Fourteen views of the Archeological Museum in Florence
© Lyle Goldberg
PLUS: a view of the Volterra (from the Web) and
and three aerial views of Florence (from Google Earth)


  1. Taking a moment out of my day to, once again, peruse through your blog. I immensely enjoyed every word and picture of this post. So well done ~ one of the best historical blog sites I have come across. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. Sharing is what makes it fun! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Sharing is what makes it fun! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  4. Alice recommended your blog. I enjoyed reading this post. It is an experience that I would not get in my everyday life. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hi Edward,
    I came here from Alice's blog as she put up a post about your blog.

    I love history and I see that I will lean a lot from reading your posts. :)


  6. Thanks for your comments and your enthusiasm! I have a few more Etruscan posts in progress but I think that I will put them on hold and see what I can do with my brother's photos from our recent trip to Sicily. Onward and upward!

  7. So the Inghirami Tomb was moved in its entirety, not just the contents? Looking at that central pillar it seems like it was hewn on the spot. I'm amazed they were even able to pull off such a feat.

  8. You are as eagle-eyed as ever, Livius! The Inghirami Tomb, as we now see it, is mixture of reinstallation, reconstruction and (presumably) historical wish-fulfillment. I am not sure about the central column, but the wall surface of the chamber is certainly post-Etruscan(and it doesn't quite take the close-up). I need to go back and have another look. And I also need to talk to a friend of a friend who is an Etruscan expert (formerly on the staff of the Museo Archeologico in Florence, now at Populonia). The sources that I have seen are very unclear, regarding what is left on site in Volterra.

  9. Is the Volterra tumulus/large crater in the ground open to the public? Because you should totally go see what's left in Volterra in person, and bring your trusty brother, of course, to take pictures for comparison purposes. If the site is inaccessible to the public, maybe your friend of a friend can pull some strings.

    I think it would be a fascinating expedition. You could expand it to track down all the original sites of the purloined necropolis. I hereby grant you permission to use "The Purloined Necropolis" as your book title.

  10. Absolutely! We are now on a mission...!!! The Volterrans still consider the Inghirami Tomb to be "theirs" - although no one seems to be talking about how much of what remains where. In regard to title: "The Purloined Necropolis" has a nice Edgar Allen Poe ring. "In Search of the Purloined Necropolis" is perhaps a bit too Proustian. If we were doing a 1950s Broadway comedy, we could try "Your Purloined Necropolis - or Mine?"

  11. How about a boundary-busting nude revue "Oh! Purloined Necropolis!"?

  12. Or...maybe...a little retro shtick - Borscht Belt style, "Purloin my Necropolis (rimshot) PLEEZE!!!"

  13. It's a surefire winner. You'll be rich, Edward.

  14. Your mouth to God's ear! I promise to use the money only for GOOD THINGS - like hiring a troop of Etruscan Re-enactors to prowl the Garden of the Archeological Museum in Florence.

  15. Incrеdible points. Great arguments. Keeρ up the gοοd spirit.

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