Etruscan architecture

Etruscan architecture was the form of architecture produced by the Etruscan civilization in Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC.

The Etruscan city

The first Etruscan villages were built from four-sided huts, either rectangular or round, with a very sloping roof (generally in straw or clay). Etruscan towns were different from other Italic settlements in that they were not arranged at random, but followed a precise economical or strategic logic. For example, some towns were sited atop hills, giving strategic control over a large area of land and/or sea. Other towns, like Veii and Tarquinius, arose in especially fertile agricultural territory. Unlike the first Etruscan towns, formed in order to progressively subsume the neighboring villages, settlements begun after 500 BC were carefully chosen not only by strategic and military leaders, but also by the priests who blessed them.

Etruscan towns were mapped out, first tracing with a plough two main perpendicular axes, called the cardo (north-south) and decumanus (east-west), then dividing the four areas thus obtained into insulae using roads running parallel to the cardo and decumanus. This precise city planning is still to be seen today in some towns of ancient Etruria, though it is not unique to Etruria - the idea of a town based on two perpendicular roads was commonly used in Greece and was taken up again in later periods by Rome for its military camps and town (for example, Augusta Praetoria and Augusta Taurinorum, the present-day Aosta and Turin).

The towns were enclosed by thick walls, which (with graves and temples) provide the only evidence for Etruscan stone architecture. Other materials used were clay, tuff and limestone; marble was all but unknown. Towns were entered through gates, of which there were usually seven or four (though some towns had five), with the main ones being at the ends of the decumanus and cardo. At first they were simple lintels, but from the 5th century BC they began to assume the form of artists, built with dry-stone joints between enormous blocks of tuff . Late Etruscan gates, such as the arch of Volterra, were further decorated with friezes and bas-reliefs on their main sections (the keystone and the upper levels). With the growth of Rome's military power, the Etruscan town was progressively assimililated into the Roman world and mentality. In a disadvantageous position (economically, socially, militarily and politically), Etruscan towns were reduced from the beating heart of Mediterranean commerce itself to merely settlement centres directed by an Etrusco-Roman elite which brought an end to an independent Etruscan architectural and artistic tradition.


Near the Etruscan center of Viterbo, an Etruscan citadel now called Acquarossa was destroyed ca 500 BC and never rebuilt, [It was replaced by the Etruscan-Roman town of Ferento nearby.] thus preserving relatively undisturbed Etruscan structures, which have been excavated under the auspices of the Swedish Institute at Rome. The walls of the houses were of various construction, some built of dressed blocks of volcanic tuff, some of sun-dried bricks framed within wooden poles and beams that formed a kind of half-timbered construction, and some of wattle and daub construction, in which hurdles of brushwood or reed were covered with clay. House plans range to two or three rooms in a row, with an entrance that was normally on the long side; the hearth was set either near the center of the room or into the back wall. The rock-cut chamber tombs executed in the same time-frame display close analogies with these house types. Decorative architectural features of terracotta, which have usually been associated with temple constructions, were found at Acquarossa in domestic settings: acroteria, painted roof tiles, and antefixes.

Etruscan architectural features are too extensive at Rome to be considered a mere influence. The oldest wall at Rome, dating to the early monarchy, is built in the style called "opus quadratum" after the roughly 4-sided blocks. The style was in use at Sutri, Falerii, Ardea, and Tarquinia.

In addition to their walls, the Etruscans insisted on sewage and drainage systems, which are extensive in all Etruscan cities. The "cloaca maxima", “great sewer”, at Rome is Etruscan. The initial Roman roads, dikes, diversion channels and drainage ditches were Etruscan. More importantly, the Etruscans brought the arch to Rome, both barreled arches and corbelled arches, which can be seen in gates, bridges, depictions of temple fronts, and vaulted passages.

Homes also were built in Etruscan style: a quadrangle of rooms around an open courtyard. The roof was of a type called "cavoedium tuscanicum": two parallel beams crossing in one direction on which rafters were hung at right angles.

Funerary architecture and decoration

Etruscan graves have survived since they were made of stone. In Etruscan religion man, weak and insignificant in life, ' required a cosy and familiar environment in which to spend the afterlife, with personal objects from life. This explains the care with which necropoleis were built and the fact that Etruscan painting is almost exclusively found in a funerary context. The walls of necropoleis were painted in lively colors (imitating, in some cases, the vault of the sky, or scenes of everyday life) to contrast against the darkness, symbol of spiritual death. The necropoleis were generally placed outside a town's city wall, but oriented parallel to the cardo or decumanus street. Therefore Etruscan necropoleis are a very significant source, historiographically speaking, as they allow us to see Etruscans' daily life, beliefs and habits, which we could not get exclusively from the written texts. Etruscan tombs and catacombs are classified into three types:

Hypogeum tombs

Dug entirely underground or built inside natural pre-existing hollows (caves, grottos, etc.), the best known example of this type is the Hypogeum of the Volumni, located in the city of Perugia and excavated in 1840. This type of catacomb was formed via a steep flight of steps, leading directly into a lobby, either as single tombs or in groups accessed off narrow corridors. It is thought that this burial type was reserved for persons of a certain social rank, especially politicians, soldiers and priests.

Aedicula tombs

Built entirely on open land, they were built in the shape of miniature temples in theory, but in practice were modelled on the earliest Etruscan homes. In Etruscan imagery, the shape of a temple was very significant, representing the intermediate point on the journey the dead took from life to death, a sort of last stage on the road of earthly life. The best conserved example is the Bronzetto dell'Offerente in Populonia.

Tumulus tombs

Covered with heaps of earth, to create an artificial hill, each of these graves, like the hypogeum tombs, is in different dimensions according to the riches and reputation of the deceased or of their family. Usually circular in plan, the best surviving example is the "Tomba dei Rilievi" (Tomb of the Reliefs), within the necropolis of Banditaccia, near Cerveteri.


External links

* [ Hypogeum of the Volumnis digital media archive] (creative commons-licensed photos, laser scans, panoramas), data from a University of Ferrara/CyArk research partnership

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • ETRUSCAN ARCHITECTURE —    Etruscan architecture is not fully understood today, given that Etruscan civilization predates Roman culture, and therefore Etruscan ruins very often lie beneath Roman ruins in modern day Italy. Beginning in the Bronze Age, Villanovans lived… …   Historical Dictionary of Architecture

  • Etruscan art — was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in northern Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly life size on sarcophagi or… …   Wikipedia

  • Etruscan — may refer to:Etruscans* Etruscan alphabet * Etruscan architecture * Etruscan chariot * Etruscan cities * Etruscan civilization * Etruscan history * Etruscan jewelry * Etruscan language * Etruscan mythology * Etruscan numerals * Etruscan Sibyl *… …   Wikipedia

  • Etruscan mythology — Etruscan mural of the God Typhon, from Tarquinia …   Wikipedia

  • ETRUSCAN ART —    Etruscan art has traditionally been seen as a passive eclectic reflection of external influences, situated awkwardly between the Phoenician, Greek, and Roman worlds. Innovative reassessment by a small group of scholars has examined the… …   Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans

  • Etruscan origins — A map showing the extent of Etruria and the Etruscan civilization. The map includes the 12 cities of the Etruscan League and notable cities founded by the Etruscans. There are two main hypotheses as to the origins of the Etruscan civilization in… …   Wikipedia

  • Etruscan military history — The Siege of Rome by the Etruscan military against the Roman military The Etruscans, like the contemporary cultures of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had a persistent military tradition. In addition to marking the rank and power of certain… …   Wikipedia

  • Etruscan art — (с 8th–4th centuries BC) Art of the people of Etruria. The art of the Etruscans falls into three categories: funerary, urban, and sacred. Because of Etruscan attitudes toward the afterlife, most of the art that remains is funerary. Characteristic …   Universalium

  • Architecture étrusque — Porta all Arco de Volterra, intégrée ensuite dans les murailles médiévales …   Wikipédia en Français

  • architecture — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) Building design Nouns 1. architectural or building design, form; architectural or structural engineering; landscape architecture or gardening; architectonics. See building. 2. (architectural styles) a.… …   English dictionary for students

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.