The Etruscan Museum in Volterra, "Museo Etrusco Guarnacci" is in the heart of Volterra and has one of the most fascinating Etruscan collections in Italy.
Volterra is deep in the heart of ancient Etruria, the territory of the people that preceded the Romans and are rumoured to be descended from ancient Phoenicians. Most of what remains of them comes from their tombs as they had a highly developed cult of the dead and constructed strong tombs, often carved into the local Tufa rock, decorated with frescoes and furnished with rich treasures.
It had long been known that there were Etruscan tombs around Volterra, in the necropolis (city of the dead) of Portone, south of the city.A local well-heeled abbé, Mario Guarnacci, had been funding archeological digs throughout the 18th century - in 1761 he donated his entire collection to the city.
In 1776 the Canon of Volterra's Cathedral found a particularly impressive "ipogeo" tomb. (Ipo - geo meaning under - ground), with around 40 sepulchral urns inside. The tomb is still there and is worth a visit - this is the Google GPS marker: Necropoli Etrusca del Marmini.
These urns were also donated to city for its newly formed museum city and gave further impetus and importance to the collection.
The museum now has one of the best collections in the world of Etruscan artefacts, with some remarkable carved sarcophagi, like the famous "Urna degli Sposi" depicting what appear to be a married couple. This piece is thought to be from around 80-90 BCE, so when Volterra and Tuscany were already under Roman rule. The carving shows notable Roman influence.
One of the most famous pieces - and you will see a thousand reproductions of it in the local shops - is known as "L'Ombra Della Sera" - "The Evening Shadow", a tall thin figure estimated to be from around the 3rd century BCE. Sit in a cafe on a west facing street on an autumn evening and you will see the long raking shadows that will have inspired the sculpture. It is a strong. evocative piece and quite magical.