Hands down the best Etruscan art collection in Tuscany, for that matter Italy. The Guarnacci Etruscan Museum will delight you even if you’re not an Etruscan connoisseur. Richly decorated alabaster and terracotta urns and the famous statuette “Ombra della Sera” are the highlights.

Anyone with even the most passing interest in ancient history can’t pass up the opportunity to see this museum in the town of Volterra. It doesn’t offer much in the way of explanations, or indeed decent lighting, but the value and quality of the collection is staggering nonetheless.

The journey starts on the ground floor, dedicated to the most ancient finds, and proceeds chronologically through different stages of Etruscan culture to works from the Roman era. Funerary urns constitute the main body of the museum, plus a great collection of Etruscan, Roman and Greek coins and some Roman mosaic floors.

etruscan museum volterra
Di I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5, Collegamento

A great collection of funerary urns:

While the earlier funerary urns are very simple, the most striking artefacts of the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum are the later urns with elaborated sculptures on the lids that can be found on the second floor.

The men and women depicted here are not portraits of the deceased but prefabricated figures that were produced in large numbers with just slight variations. The disproportion between body and head is typical, and so is the pose.

Usually the people are reclining on the Kline (couch). The images that decorate the urn are mostly scenes from Greek or local mythology, that generally record a fatal struggle or a similarly portentous event. Some of the urns depict horse and carriage rides into the underworld, demonic figures and fantastical beasts.

Guarnacci etruscan museum volterra
Di I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5, Collegamento

 The Highlights of the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum:

Urna degli Sposi (1st century BC) – Terracotta. There’s more realism than usual in this portrait of a married couple, they testify the importance of family values in Etruscan society as the couple is eating together. It’s clear from the sculpture that Etruscan wives went out in public, and played an integral part in these sophisticated banquets.

The Death of Actaeon (2nd century BC) – An elegant, bejewelled woman, holding a patera , the vessel used to catch the blood of sacrificed animals. Underneath her, is the hunter Actaeon who, after being discovered spying on the goddess Artemis as she bathed, is transformed into a stag and attacked by his two dogs that don’t recognise him.

Statuette of a Youth The so-called “Ombra della Sera” (3rd century BC) – Bronze . Critics have long struggled to understand this curious-looking statue. A thin and mysterious young man who could almost be a piece of modern art. Similar figures, thought to be warriors or priests, were votive offerings but it’s unclear if this one is indicative of a specific cult.

Opening hours
From 14th March to 1st November, daily from 09:00 a.m. until 07:00 p.m.

From 2nd November to 13rd March daily
from 10:00 a.m. until 04:30 p.m.

The museum is closed on 25th December and 1st January. – see official site.

Entrance at time of writing (2023) is 10 €, but if you’re planning to visit other attractions, check the Volterra Card (valid 72 hours) that includes: Etruscan Guarnacci Museum, Pinacoteca, Alabaster Ecomuseo, Palazzo Priori, Roman Theatre

Planning a trip to Volterra? Here’s a one day itinerary to help you enjoy the best this charming town has to offer.