- 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 in the northern part of the Italic Peninsula, while Greeks had settled the southern part. In the seventh century BC, Etruscan peoples, perhaps derived from the Villanovans, expanded their settlements through central Italy and spoke a pre-Latin language. They farmed and traded metals across much of Europe, including the whole Greek world and as far away as Phoenicia in modern-day Lebanon. For that reason, Etruscan architecture reveals a blending of Ancient Greek and Ancient Near Eastern styles and anticipates Roman design.What is known of Etruscan architecture today consists of ongoing excavation work (mainly at funerary sites), ceramic funerary urns made in the shape of houses, and finally, written descriptions made by subsequent Romans, for example, the architect Vitruvius, who saw the remains of the vanquished Etruscan civilization firsthand. Etruscan cities were often located on hills to have a natural defense against rival city-states. The Porta Augusta in Perugia, from the 100s BC, is a rare example of surviving Etruscan construction. The monumental arch entranceway, made from local stone, provides a guarded entry into these walled towns. Above the arch is a lintel decoration of five circles carved in relief and separated by column designs that function the same way as Ancient Greek triglyphs. Two large towers flank the entrance. The structure of the arch developed gradually from the keystones used by previous cultures, but it was the Ancient Romans who developed the arch to its fullest potential.From funerary urns it can be surmised that Etruscan homes had small open atria or courtyards, with shallow pools in the center that stored rainwater. From textual descriptions of an Etruscan temple, according to Vitruvius in the first century BC, these square temples, made of mud brick, were axially aligned and elevated on a platform called a podium. A front porch, supported by a row of four or six columns, was accessed by a single flight of stairs in the middle. These led up to a sanctuary that might be one room or else divided into three spaces accessed by three separate doors. The columns were typically made of wood or volcanic rock, and the capitals were modified from the Greek orders. The Tuscan order, used later in the Renaissance, was a modified Ancient Greek order devised by the Etruscans. The roofs of these temples, and perhaps the roofs of homes as well, were slanted and covered with terracotta tiles. Small terracotta figurines often decorated the edges of the roofline and the central ridgepole of the roof, perhaps in recognition of the many gods and goddesses borrowed by the Etruscans from the Greek pantheon.Burial chambers designed to mimic domestic interiors also show Etruscan architectural aesthetics. The Tomb of the Reliefs in Cerveteri, outside Rome, dates to the third century BC and was carved out of rock, and then the walls were plastered and painted in white and red tones. Square posts, with ornate capitals like columns, were carved with low-relief images of jugs, household tools, and small human and animal figures. Around the edges of the room, raised ledges were carved and sectioned off to hold sarcophagi. Etruscan artisans also painted beautiful scenes of musicians, people dancing, and dolphins swimming, as seen on a wall painting in the Tomb of the Lionesses, dated around 480 BC, and located in the necropolis, or cemetery, at Tarquinia, outside Rome. Ultimately the Etruscans, unable to unify their city-states against sustained attacks by the Latin-speaking peoples in the area around Rome, succumbed to Roman domination. Despite the fact that little remains of Etruscan architecture, scholars have continued to improve their understanding of Etruscan culture in Italy through more sophisticated excavations done beneath modern-day cities.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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