In 800 B.C. the Italian peninsula was a primitive , thickly forested , sparsely populated land.Then came the migrants — from across the sea and from another continent. They came from the shores of eastern Turkey – the region adjoining ancient Troy. They were led by their king Tyrrhenus. The sea from which they set foot on the Italian peninsula is called the Tyrrhenian sea. They occupied all the land south of the Apennine mountains and north of the Tiber river. This picturesque land they called Etruria. Today, the center of that land is called Tuscany. Its people were the Etruscans.
They built their cities on hilltops. Being master builders, they raised high walls, towers and arches of stone. They had mastered the art of building bridges – a necessity in the hill country which they occupied. Today if one travels by train from Florence to Rome, one practically traverses the entire length of erstwhile Etruria. In the late evening one is treated to the enchanting sight of the lights of these hilltop towns and cities twinkling above the vast darkness of the forests and valleys below. One of these cities is Volterra where I had the priviledge of staying for a few weeks . I had work in a manufacturing unit in the valley below – Saline di Volterra. This blog is about the region and its ancient inhabitants.
Etruscan semi-circular pool
The Etruscans came from a land of cultured and civilized people. They were well versed in the smelting of bronze and iron. Since the region of Etruria had considerable copper and tin deposits – the essential ingredients for the manufacture of bronze — they produced very fine bronze artifacts and weapons in addition to implements of iron which they also mined. They traded these with the Greeks, Carthaginians and Phoenicians who were located just south and east of their land. They put them to good use too in tilling the fertile land they occupied.
The Etruscans also mined alabaster – a type of gypsum found embedded in the limestone of the region. This mineral is soft and lends itself well to sculpturing. Additionally, it is well coloured, occurring in spotted, veined, clouded, white and even black form. Today, if one walks the steep and narrow streets of Volterra – a prominent Etruscan center of alabaster carving — one can still see the small workshops where the mined stone is carved by the extraordinarily gifted artisans of that region . ‘ So creative are the machinists here ’, remarked the swiss engineer-manager in the manufacturing unit where I worked ‘ that they cannot understand why two pieces should be made alike ! ‘.
Etruscan alabaster urn
Strangely however, the Etruscans did not take to carving in marble — though they had the finest marble quarries in all Italy . Carrara marble , from which the great Italian masters of the Renaissance carved their masterpieces , comes from northern Tuscany.
Marble quarry at Carrara
A short drive from the town of Volterra, through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, brings one to Florence (Firenze) – one of the world’s great centers of art and sculpture. Most visitors to this great cultural center do not include in their itinerary the town of Fiesole overlooking Florence and built on two hills. This once was the capital city of an Etruscan state and an important military outpost for the defence of Etruria.
Hilltop town of Fiesole with fields and olive orchards
The region of Tuscany experienced severe volcanic activity in relatively recent geological times . Today the molten magma lies so close to the surface that it heats the rain-fed rivers, called aquifers, flowing underground. Superheated steam is produced under such pressure that it emerges as fumeroles and geysers in some places . For almost two centuries, ingenous Italian engineers have been harnessing this steam to produce electicity. Drilling rigs have only to dril a few hundred metres into the ground to release the steam. This steam travels under its own pressure to the power plants to run the turbo alternators that produce thousands of kilowatts of electricity daily for the national electricity company ENEL. Such ingenious use of this form of energy results in minimum environmental damage to the beautiful Tuscan environment.
Fumeroles at Larderello, Tuscany
Though the written language of the Etruscans has still not been fully understood, it is known that at the southern corner of Etruria, in the hilly region surrounding the Tiber river, was a small habitation of latin people in a nondescript collection of mud houses and thatched roofs,
The Etruscans failed to notice the formation of a small city-state on one of the hills in 753 B.C., by a group of latins led by two brothers – Romulus and Remus. This was the Palatine hill and the Etruscans called it Ruma. Though Ruma still had Etruscan kings, the latin people gradually settled the seven hills of this area , and were greatly helped by the more civilised Etruscans to build brick houses, streets, plazas and and urban infrastructure which included drainage. This, by 300 B.C. became the city of Rome from which the latins evicted the Etruscans. One by one the Etruscan towns were annexed by the Romans. The Etruscan cultural and economic power was superimposed with the Roman military power. The decline of the Etruscan state , which started around 500 B.C, was complete in 100 B.C. The Roman civilisation had been ushered in. .
She-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus
( From the Italian peninsula to the Indian peninsula, from 600 B.C. TO 600 A.D., and from the golden age of Etruscan civilization to the golden age of Indian civilisation , my next blog will take the reader. Stay posted )