Volterra’s Museo Etrusco Guarnacci Review – Getting Acquainted with a Pre-Patriarchy Culture

Oh the happy pre-patriarchal Etruscan couple!

One look at the happy older couple pictured on one of the Etruscan funerary urns in this collection at Museo Etrusco Guarnacci, and you wonder why anyone thought of this patriarchy idea in the first place.  

Granted, it may have been more of a moment in Etruscan history and very local to the Etruscans of Volterra (as we learned later in the Archeological Park of Baratti and Populonia), but the happy couples depicted on the many funerary urns of the museum make quite an impression. 


The museum’s director Fabirzio Burchianti explains, “The Etruscans were one of the oldest peoples of pre-Roman times and helped create the modern culture of Italy.  Most people know of the Romans but know less of the Etruscans.  This collection is the second largest Etruscan collection in the world, outside of Rome’s Archeology Museum.  All of the artifacts you see here are from the Volterra area.”

After touring through exhibits of arrowheads and other artifacts of prehistoric times, we came to the first of the many cinerary urns in the collection.

Director Burchianti continues, “When you see the conical urns from the 10th and 11th Centuries BC you’ll note that no rings or other jewelry are present.  That’s because initially this was a very egalitarian society and it is only later when you see jewelry and such that class distinctions have arisen, about the time of contact with the Greek culture.  You’ll also see urns with depictions of helmets to signify that the person was a warrior. 


“…The modern aristocracy was born here, which we know from understanding the multi-chamber tombs of the rich families.  In 6th Century BC in Cecina Valley a rich family became the leaders in the area, the clan of nobles that were the rulers.  That same family went to Rome in the 1st Century BC…The story of Volterra is the story of family.


“Men and women were equal in this Etruscan culture and this only changed when the Romans conquered the area, making it a more typical patriarchal structure.  Before then, if a woman’s family was rich and important it defined her family.  Or, if the man’s family was more important it went the other way.  It was the richest family that was more important.” 

Wow! Who knew? 

You’ll find other non-Etruscan treasures in this museum as well.  In particular, the mosaic floor from a restored Roman bath is in great condition and very worth seeing. 


Fans of Giacometti will especially find the sculpture known as “Shadow of the Evening” of interest, a symbol of Etruscan culture dating back to 3rd Century BC, which is an iconic image of those times and said to have inspired Giacometti’s work. 

Museo Etrusco Guarnacci 

Via Don Minzoni, 15

56048 Volterra (PI)

(+39) 0588 86347


Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated









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