Villa Giulia

Villa GiuliaThe existing house was small, but the Pope Julius III, a real Renaissance man - he interested himself in art, architecture, classical statuary - consulted the great artists of his time, including Michelangelo, on how to transform it.

His tastes were so lavish that it cost him a pretty packet. The Pope would go by boat up the Tiber with a group of friends to a little landing stage, take a carriage, and be at his country villa in time for lunch.

The formal garden behind had a cool Nympheum for alfresco dining, and there they would while away the afternoons and evenings in pleasant company. Sometimes very pleasant.

This is a wonderful setting for the Etruscan Museum, specially since the Etruscans were as partial to banquets and parties as the Pope, who used this place for lavish entertainment.

In the garden, apart from Papa Julio's Nympheum, on the other side is a reconstructed Etruscan Temple: the end tiles that stand up like a frightened fringe, are a handsome device to finish a roof, and at the corners are the high priestesses, peering out disapprovingly.

Villa Giulia


1553. (Vignola) When Pope Julius III Chiocci del Monte, (a compromise choice when the English Cardinal Reginald Pole lost by one vote!) had this splendid palace built it seemed bucolic and quite far out of town.

Etruscan Museum of Villa GiuliaBride and Groom Sarcophagus

The Etruscans were a mysterious people, whose language is still not fully understood. Their way of life is well documented in their tomb paintings and we have gleaned some information from what was buried with them.

Yet we still know little about them. 9C - 4C BC they lived in an area between Florence and Rome - but did they come from further North? Or Asia Minor? It was their engineering skills which drained the swamps in the Roman Forum.

They invented the Roman arch by inserting the "key stone" in the center. Much more sophisticated than the early Roman shepherds, the latter were so dazzled by the Etruscans they chose them to be their Kings for 300 years.

Ground Floor. First rooms: bronze copies of the round huts they lived in during their early period were used as containers for ashes of the dead. These show how simply their startling culture began. In their tombs all their favorite utensils were buried for use in their next life - like the ancient Egyptians.

Very soon you come upon the stars of the Museum; even more sensational than the jewelry, and the specialized instruments (doctors' scalpels, cooking tools, massaging utensils) are the lifelike and almost life-size Bride and Groom.

Made of terracotta which once had been highly painted, they are reclining happily on their own coffin, as if they were at a dinner party. They seem so in love, so young and beautiful. Was it life they were celebrating, or death? Were women equal with men, as they seem to be in sculptures like this, or were they deemed inferior?

Further on, don't miss the sculptures of Hercules and Apollo. They too are wonderfully expressive, and have that peculiar Etruscan look about the eyes.

There is a plethora of black vases with terracotta figures (leaving out the bodies and painting in the black background first), and terracotta vases with "black face" design (when the figures are painted black and the background is left clay-colored).

Most are from Greece and at that time were so highly prized by the Etruscans that they copied them! Their own buccari pottery is very fine: extremely thin, black and shiny.

Sports were an important part of life in Etruria, and there are many objects celebrating this in the Museum.

The sheer plethora of wonderful artifacts, in the end makes one too lazy to visit the upper floor.

Piazza Villa Giulia, 9. Tel. 06 3201951
Open Tuesday to Saturday 9 am -7 pm. Sunday and holidays 9 am -2 pm. Closed Monday
Snack Bar. On summer evenings there are occasional concerts in the garden.