The Etruscans and Bologna

The origin of the Etruscan people is still a subject of debate, however their culture developed in Italy after approximately 800 BC.  This first occurred in areas north of Rome, including modern day Tuscany which derives its name from them. The earliest known Etruscan inscriptions date from around 700BC .

Around Bologna, the Etruscans seem to have supplanted the pre-existing iron age Villanovan culture from early in the 7th century BC. They established the town of Bologna, which they called Velzna o Felzna (Felsina in Latin) some time around the 6th century BC.  Felsina reached its apogee as a city state around the 4th century BC after which conquering Celtic tribes from the north arrived in the area and destroyed many Etruscan cities. The Romans supplanted the Celts at the beginning of the 2nd century BC and absorbed the Etruscan population as well as many aspects of their civilisation.

Estruscan settlements map
Etruscan Towns

The earlier Villanovan culture was unknown until discovered by the amateur archeologist Giovanni Gozzadini in 1853. He uncovered a large necropolis at Villanova near Castenaso which is about 13km north east of Bologna. The Villanovan culture is now thought to have been the first stage of Etruscan civilisation and dates from around the 10th to the 7th century BC.

Reproduction Villanovan hut Bologna
Reproduction of a Villanovan Hut – Margherita Gardens Bologna


Villanova is today home to MUV – Museo della Civiltà Villanoviana, a very small museum displaying finds from the tombs in the area. Villanova is a 20 minute train ride from Bologna to Cà dell’Orbo station and then there’s a 10 minute walk to the museum.

One of the most important objects on display is a tombstone known as ‘The Stone of the Swords’. It features a complex decoration including a cat, a procession of goslings and two warriors.

Villanova Etruscan tombstone stone of Swords
The Stone of Swords MUV Villanova.
Villanova Etruscan cup handle bronze
Bronze Cup Handle – MUV

Further detail can be found the museum’s website.

Margherita Gardens

The Margherita Gardens on the south side of Bologna are located on the site of an Etruscan necropolis where over 230 tombs are thought to have existed. They dated from the middle of the 6th century to the beginning of the 4th century B.C.

An Etruscan tomb in the Margherita gardens, Bologna.

Many finds from these tombs as well as earlier Villanovan discoveries can be seen in the Archeological Museum of Bologna located in Palazzo Pepoli in Via dell’Archiginnasio.

The Archaeological Museum

Bologna’s Archaeological Museum has a huge collection of items found in the many tombs that have been discovered around the city.

A section of the Etruscan section of the Bologna Archeological Museum.

The diagram below from the museum’s display shows the location of tombs discovered over the years. In particular, a large number lined the road that headed west towards Etruria in central Italy. The centre of Bologna lies within the line of the walls shown by the black dotted line (see my post The Walls of Bologna) while the Etruscan town of Felsina is indicated in yellow.

One of the prized items is a situla or bucket found at point 15 in the map above beneath the cemetery at the Certosa in the western suburbs of Bologna (see my post La Certosa – Bologna’s Fascinating Monumental Cemetery.  ), demonstrating a continuity of usage of the area stretching back thousands of  years.

An Etruscan situla or bucket from around 600–550 BC, found in a tomb at the Certosa necropolis and now in Bologna’s Archeological Museum. (Wikimedia)


About half an hour south of Bologna by local train is the town of Marzabotto. A short walk out of the small town are the ruins of the Etruscan city of Kaiuna, established around the end of the 6th century BC. It enjoyed a fine position in the valley of the River Reno leading up into the Apennine mountains.

There is a small museum building with a café as well as the open air museum comprising the ruins of the town. Further details can be found at this site.

etrusc 7
A figurine from the museum

This is probably the only location where the 3 major components of an Etruscan town can all be seen. These are the town itself, the acropolis with temple ruins above the town and the necropolis or cemetery below. Other Etruscan towns have been continuously occupied up to the present day and Etruscan ruins are largely buried beneath subsequent construction.

The town itself is laid out on a grid pattern.

The street layout of the Etruscan town Marzabotto
The grid layout of the Etruscan town of Kaiuna

Above the town are the ruins of the acropolis, which included a temple to the Greek god Zeus.

Etruscan Temple Area Marzabotto
The Acropolis

Below the town are the remains of the Necropolis, including the gateway from the town.

Etruscan Necropolis Marzabotto
The Necropolis at Marzabotto. The gateway can be seen in the distance


Ferrara, also a short train ride from Bologna, is well worth a day’s visit to explore the fully walled renaissance town- see my post A Day Trip to Ferrara . The National Archeological Museum is one of the city’s important attractions.

Here you can see a large assortment of the finds from the Etruscan city of Spina.

Greek Vase from Etruscan Tomb Ferrara
An Attic symposium vase, used for watering down wine.

This city was known to have existed but its location remained a mystery for centuries. In 1922 it was discovered in the course of land reclamation work in swamps near the delta of the River Po, although local eel fishermen had been secretly dredging up Greek pottery for years and selling it on the black market.

The town, being a port,  was an important trading center from around the middle of the 6th century BC until the 3rd century BC.  The museum displays an extraordinary collection of ancient Greek pottery as well as jewelry and  everyday items found in the town‘s necropolis which contains over 4,000 tombs.

Jewellery from Etruscan tomb Ferrara Archeological Museum
Etruscan Jewelry – Ferrara
Plate from Etruscan tomb Ferrara Archeological Museum
A Fish Plate from around 400BC
etrusc 11
Etruscan Bronze Work

If you’re travelling further afield and have in interest in the Etruscans, there are many other museums and archeological sites in northern and central Italy. Here’s one list of these. If you’re travelling to to Rome, the museum at Villa Giulia  is probably the most important.

Further reading :


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