A museum worth discovering: the ETRU at Villa Giulia
The North-West tip of the Villa Borghese park doesn’t get much love from tourists, in spite of being in a stunning part of Rome.
Wedged between the base of the Parioli hill and the busy Flaminio district, the astounding National Gallery of Modern Art is also here, as well as the Japanese Institute of Culture, the Austrian Cultural Forum of Rome, the Egyptian Academy of Fine Arts and many more educational bodies.
Among all of these buildings, none is more spectacular than what Romans call simply “Villa Giulia”, from the name of the small valley that it occupies (we’ll get to the reason why it’s called like that in a minute!).
In all actuality, its full name of the museum is Museo Nazionale di Arte Etrusca a Villa Giulia e Villa Poniatowski (the “National Museum of Etruscan Art at Villa Giulia and Villa Poniatowski”): ETRU, for short. It is, as the name suggests, the biggest and one of the most fascinating collection of archaeological finds pertaining to this mysterious pre-Roman civilization.
Who were the Etruscans, anyway?
The jury is still out on the actual origin of the Etruscans, who roughly lived in the area that’s bordered by the river Po in the north of Italy and the river Tiber in the South. To many scholars, they arrived by sea from modern-day Turkey.
If we call them “mysterious”, it’s because their poetry and literature have gone lost, as their houses and temples – what we could learn about their customs and language we could gather from inscriptions and, most of all, their necropolises, with some of them within easy reach from Rome.
Vanquished by the Romans, they were nonetheless able to influence the expanding city in more ways than one: the word Rome itself is Etruscan, the rites for the foundation of the city are taken from that civilization, three of early Rome’s seven kings came from there… There are many more examples!
Why visit the ETRU Museum at Villa Giulia?
Which is exactly why the ETRU museum is deserving of a visit: history buffs as well as those who like enigmas will love the collection.
And they will adore its spectacular setting, too: Villa Giulia itself was built as a “place of repose” by Pope Julius III in the 16th century in an area formerly known as “Vigna Vecchia” (“the old vineyard”, probably dating back to the Roman era) – a perfect photo setting that will remind you of Florence.
Nearby second branch of the museum is equally mindblowing – Villa Poniatowski is a smaller, less monumental affair, which passed hands many times during the last 500 years before being bought by the Italian Ministry of Culture exactly to extend the surface of the ETRU.
The permanent collection is not the sole attraction of the gallery, either: on top of the world-famous Sarcophagus of the spouses, the statue of the Veian Apollo, the golden tablets from Pyrgi and many other precious artifacts, the Museum hosts a number of temporary exhibitions every year, as well as special events ranging from conferences on ancient fashion to “archaeo-astronomy lessons”.
All of the above comes in a place seldom crowded – most days of the year, you may very well feel like you’re the only visitors. The queues and stress of the Vatican Museums are unheard of here!
Practical information about the ETRU Museum
The Museum is on Piazzale di Villa Giulia, 9.
How to get there: by subway, the nearest station is Flaminio, then get on tram no. 19 from Piazza della Marina, towards Valle Giulia.
The ETRU opens Tuesdays to Sundays from 9AM to 8PM (last entrance is at 7PM). Regular ticket is 10 Euros.
For more details, the official website has an English version!