What is Villa Giulia?
Villa Giulia is a 16th-century villa in Rome that houses a museum of pre-Roman antiquities.
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Villa Giulia History
Before the rise of Rome, Italy was an assortment of different communities. One of these ancient peoples grew to dominate central Italy and would have a wide-ranging influence on Roman culture. These people traded across the Mediterranean and had a rich artistic heritage. These people were the Etruscans, who lived in Etruria (in central Italy) from around the 9th century BC until their assimilation into the Roman world some 500 years later.
The Etruscans have always been an intriguing people, however not as mysterious as some guidebooks make out (scholars know a great deal about their culture and can understand the Etruscan language). As for their origins, it’s still debated whether they emigrated from modern day Turkey, Greece, or in fact were native to Italy. However, we do know that the Etruscans mined their land for iron, silver and copper with which they acquired luxury goods from the Mediterranean, and accumulated vast wealth. With the proceeds, they built hilltop towns all over central Italy.
Much of what we know about the Etruscans comes from artefacts that are now on display here, at Villa Giulia. The villa has one of the most extensive collections of Etruscan art in Italy. You’ll find superb examples of vases, sculptures, and jewellery all made two and a half thousand years ago, much of which was discovered in Etruscan tombs. These tombs, shaped like houses, were decorated with magnificent wall paintings of fantastic animals, and scenes of feasting and funeral games. Some even contained lifelike sculptures and eerily realistic portraits of the dead housed inside. One of the highlights of the museum’s collection, the Sarcophagus of the Spouses, is a touching portrayal of a husband and wife reclining together at a banquet.
Roman art was deeply indebted to the Etruscans, who were celebrated artists and craftspeople. In Room 13b, you’ll find the Head of Leucotea which was recovered from a temple in an ancient port northwest of here. Created in the Late Classical style of Greek sculpture, it demonstrates the Etruscans’ remarkable artistic abilities. They didn’t just create art, they also bought it: precious Greek vases have been discovered within their tombs.
Before you leave the museum, make sure to see the Pyrgi Tablets, three beautiful gold-leaf plaques, two inscribed in Etruscan and one in Phoenician. Dated to the end of the 6th century BC, these are the oldest historical inscriptions known from pre-Roman Italy. Their immaculate condition, due to the fact they were rolled up and then buried with care, makes the trip to see them well worth it.
Lastly, as you head for the exit, take a minute to appreciate the semi-circular loggia by the entrance vestibule. Its vaulted ceiling is painted with vine trellises and birds, and its walls are decorated with a series of vibrant 16th-century frescoes. Despite being subject to the elements, all have been brilliantly preserved.
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