Christian Ostrosky / Alamy
Ferenc Máté
November 13, 2014

The ancient Romans loved to pile stone; today, Tuscany is full of their ruins. But much more remarkable and intriguing are the necropolises, tombs, and engineering feats left behind by the Etruscans—a people who thrived in Tuscany five hundred years before the first Roman stones were laid. Whereas the Romans piled, the Etruscans dug. They created vast, 60-foot-deep chambers for their dead; erected enormous half-buried domes; cut long canals through stone hills; and sliced 100-foot-deep roads into cliffs. They also built the first architectural arches, and invented roof structures the Romans only copied.

But above all, the Etruscans had what D.H. Lawrence much later called, “a religion of life.” They had a deep love for food, music, dancing, sex, and wine. This is why their art was so elegant, and why we still strive to emulate their ancient cuisine and wines today. It’s little wonder that the archeological sites they’ve left behind are some of the most spectacular in Tuscany.

Cosa

On a remarkable bluff overlooking the sea, this enormous, ancient walled town is not to be missed. The architecture incorporates huge stones that have been fitted together as perfectly as the Incan construction at Macchu Picchu. At this lovely, rarely visited place, I once saw “Louisa will you marry me?” spelled out on the grass with petals of wild roses. Clearly, Etruscan passion is contagious. 

Roselle

This site is historically and culturally deep; the ruined architecture here was started by the Etruscans, continued by the Romans, and finished with the construction of a Paleo-Christian church. (Today, it’s a McDonalds…just kidding.) The Etruscan remnants include a still-imposing boundary wall that was built between the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.

Chiusi

A few miles from this town’s small but densely packed Etruscan museum is the perfectly preserved, deep, and complex Tomb of the Monkey.  Discovered only in the mid-1800s, this amazing three-chambered tomb full of beautiful frescoes and carvings is one of Tuscany’s best. Bring the kids; they’ll love it, too.

Sovana

Not only does this tiny, two-street village contain a 150-foot deep, incredibly narrow road that the Etruscans sliced through a mountain; it also houses some of the region’s most beautiful temple remains in Ildebranda’s Tomb. According to believers, this is one of those sites (like the chambers in some Egyptian pyramids) that emit powerful, life-changing energy. 

Populonia

This spectacular ruined city is one of the only Etruscan sites that overlooks the sea. Thought to have once been a major hub of metalworking in the Mediterranean, the ruined city includes 3,000-year-old tombs that were cut into soaring cliffs, built into great stone vaults, and set in elegant small temples. There’s also a perfectly preserved medieval fortress with 360-degree views.

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