Etruscan Burial Tombs of Tarquinia

Recently,  I had the opportunity to visit Tarquinia in Italy.  It is, de rigeur, of course, to visit the outdoor museum of Etruscan burial tombs.  As I have mentioned before, much of what little we do know about the Etruscans has been learned from their burial tombs and their contents.  The contents have been removed from the tombs and have been preserved in several museums, one of which is located in Tarquinia, only a few miles from the burial tombs.  We shall discuss the museum and its artifacts I another post.  I this post, we shall focus upon the burial tombs.

The tombs, from the surface, do not look like much.

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In this photograph, in the foreground, are carvings, by Etruscans which amount to tombstones.  The entrance to the burial tombs are the small buildings in the upper left corner of the photograph.   These buildings are of modern vintage and were designed to protect the stairways which lead down to the burial tombs.  This type of tomb is called a hypogea, which is a Greek word meaning that part of a building which is underground or a vault.


One climbs downstairs to reach the vaults.

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As you can see from this picture, the descent is quite steep.  This entrance hallway is called a dromos.  The hypogea are cut into stone which is well below ground.  The Italian Government has put in handrails and has covered the ancient stone steps with wooden steps.


In Tarquinia, unlike some other places, groundwater did not seep into the hypogea, and, thus, the painting are very well preserved.  Because the frescoes at Tarquinia are so well preserved, much of what we know about the Etruscans comes from these tombs.  This photo shows the camera, that is the main chamber of a tomb.

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The predominant color of the Tarquinia tombs is a red-ochre color.  The predominant decoration of the hypogea is geometric in nature.


Archaeologists believe that the tombs mirror Etruscan homes.  Thus, scientists believe that the Etruscans invented rectangular homes, having evolved from round shepherd huts.  The hypogea are mainly oriented southwest to northeast, which again scientists believe is because the next world was to be found in the southwest.


Other hypogea are decorated with beautiful frescoes of Etruscans involved in many activities, such as dancing and eating.  It is thought that the Romans copied the Etruscans in reclining to eat.

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Even those tombs with frescoes of figures of  Etruscans still have mainly geometric  designs gracing the tombs’ ceilings, in particular, but also the walls.  Note in the picture above the use of  blue color, as well as the leopards.  It should be noted that the artwork always seems to enhance the architectural features of the tomb.  The paintings appear to be been painted directly on the stone and without any undercoating.


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Another tomb with beautiful frescoes.  All photos were taken by the author.

There are any number of useful websites to explore these tombs further.  One is

In my next blog, I will turn to the museum in Tarquinia.






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