ORVIETO … Etruscan Civilisation once an underground city!
On the way from Florence to Rome we visited fascinating Orvieto. Between Orvieto em Rome
The underground city.
The city of Orvieto has long kept the secret of its labyrinth of caves and tunnels that lie beneath the surface. Dug deep into the tuff, a volcanic rock, these secret hidden tunnels are only now open to view through guided tours. Their spectacular nature has also yielded many historical and archeological finds. Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, the United States, has set up a program, where each summer, students travel to Italy to work at the college’s archaeology site located at the Coriglia excavation site, just outside of town.
The underground city boasts tunnels, galleries, wells, stairs, quarries, cellars, unexpected passageways, cisterns, superimposed rooms with numerous small square niches, detailing its creation over the centuries. Many of the homes of noble families were equipped with a means of escape from the elevated city during times of siege through secret escape tunnels carved from the soft rock. The tunnels would lead from the city palazzo to emerge at a safe exit point some distance away from city walls.
According to research into Orvieto’s HistoryPopulated since Etruscan times, Orvieto was certainly a major centre of Etruscan civilization; the archaeological museum (Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico) houses some of the Etruscan artefacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighbourhood. An interesting survival that might show the complexity of ethnic relations in ancient Italy and how such relations could be peaceful, is the inscription on a tomb in the Orvieto Cannicella necropolis: mi aviles katacinas, “I am of Avile Katacina”, with an Etruscan-Latin first name (Aulus) and a family name that is believed to be of Celtic (“Catacos”) origin.
Roman and post-Roman eras
Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the third century BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire its defensible site gained new importance.
During so many years of continuous contact between Etruscans and Roman many elements of Etruscan culture permeated into that of Rome. Writing, religion, construction, hydraulics and even wine and the socio-political structure was taken from that of Etruria. Many of these became so Roman that their Etruscan origin was forgotten. An amazing example of this is the very name “Caesar” so strongly associated with the might of Rome. The name has roots in the Etruscan “Aisar” which meant “Great”.
The end of the Etruscan civilisation is dated at 54ac. It was in this year that Emperor Claudius, great lover of the Etruscan civilisation and husband of the Etruscan princess Urgulanilla died. Claudius was supposedly the last speaker of the ancient language and used his access to the private libraries to write 20 books entitled “Tyrrhenika” on the history of the Etruscan people (now sadly lost).