History of Etruscan Architecture

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History of Etruscan Architecture

The roofing style in Etruscan Architecture
The roofing style in Etruscan Architecture

Etruscan architecture is a style of architecture and other (typically handmade) arts that characterized the Etruscan civilization. In particular, this was developed on the territory of Italy before the Roman Republic and continued in use after Rome had defeated Carthage.

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Etruscan architecture is best known for its tombs, typically found in individual family units. These tombs are the best-preserved of all and allow an understanding of Etruscan society. Many smaller tombs, sometimes known as “funerary apartments,” offer a snapshot of the same era’s Etruscan temples, houses, and cemeteries.

The Etruscans are thought to have originally migrated from Central Asia to Italy about two thousand years before the time of Christ (first century BCE). Around the start of the Iron Age, they settled in the coastal area south of Rome and spread out over much of central Italy, leaving some settlements in other parts of central Europe. It had a peak population of around 200,000. The Romans eventually adopted the Etruscan language, with whom it greatly influenced Roman architecture.

What influenced Etruscan architecture

Greek architecture influenced the Etruscan civilization in the seventh century BC. At this time, leaders such as Taras and Menelaus invited Greek artists to Italy. The waves of Greek art spread from Greece to Rome and then throughout the Mediterranean. It is unknown whether these techniques were borrowed or adapted by the Etruscans. Still, they certainly introduced new techniques, concepts, and a different approach to architecture in general.

Characteristics of Etruscan architecture

1. Greek temples were comparable to Etruscan temples, although they only had columns at the front.

2. They were constructed from terracotta and mud brick.

3. Like Greek temples, they had a roof supported by columns on the front and an open front porch.

4. The temple also had an open back porch, called a cella or naos.

5. The statue of the god or goddess did not have his or her altar area but was contained within the temple.

6. They had no attached pantheon with its perimeter wall, rather than joining the main structure through a rear wall, facing towards it (as is commonly done in other civilizations). You can learn more on Ottonian architecture.

Purpose of the Etruscan art and  architecture

Etruscan architecture is a good example of religion’s importance in society. To have a temple or tomb, an Etruscan had to be pious and worship the gods. At first, temples were only for priests, but as time passed, commoners began building them to worship their gods. 

The revelation of the Etruscan art and architecture

Greeks and Etruscans had unique religious beliefs, but both were polytheistic. Their gods were anthropomorphic and would take on human form to interact with humans. The Etruscans were the more advanced regarding religion because they believed in multiple levels of the afterlife, including the underworld. This developed into a belief that the dead could communicate with their families through oracles. There are testimonies to this belief in tombs that have been well preserved.

One unique aspect of Etruscan art and architecture is that their religion significantly influenced it. The architecture for the temples might not have the same characteristics if not for the need to worship their gods.

Etruscan tombs

Although tombs were mainly used as burial areas, they also provided a place for one to be laid out in preparation for life on the other side. Like most civilizations today, the Greeks and Etruscans buried their dead in underground chambers instead of above.

Why is the Etruscan art unique

Etruscan art and architecture are unique because they differ from Greek and Roman architecture. Their temples were decorated in a way that reflected their beliefs and culture. Including the deceased in the temple was strange to Greeks, although it was a common practice for Etruscans. They also used columns on the front side of the temples instead of inside, commonly found in Greek and Roman temples.

Elements of Etruscan designs

1. The Etruscans had a unique way of designing their doorways and columns. The columns are quite different from the ones that were used in Greek temples and Roman temples. Instead of being square, the Etruscans used round ones. The door’s shape is also different, more rectangular than the round shape in other civilizations.

2. They would often pave roads with large flat stones that resemble large plates or silverware (ornaments).

3. They were very talented in sculpting the figures of their gods, which was prevalent in Egyptian architecture.

4. Unlike many other civilizations, they built their temples around a central square.

5. The Etruscans did not use the Greek style of having all the buildings connected through a perimeter wall but instead joined them through a rear wall facing towards it.

6. They used columns to support the capitals of their columns, unlike other civilizations where they used smaller stones to hold up the capital.

Significance of the Etruscan temple to the development of roman temple architecture

The Etruscan temple was the prototype for many Roman temples later on. As time passed, many of the differences between Etruscan temples and Roman temples were diminished, but the layout remains a distinct difference. 

One of the most significant things that influenced Roman architecture was the placement of columns. The Etruscans did not have columns enclosed in their temples. They used columns on their front and back porches, a characteristic inherited from Roman architecture.

The Roman temple, in comparison to the Etruscan temple.

1. The Romans built their temples slightly larger compared to the size of an Etruscan temple. They also inherited the hall-type layout from the Greeks and Etruscans.

2. The Romans placed the niches that housed the statues on Etruscans’ perimeter walls.

3. They used smaller stones to construct their temples, a common practice in Greek and Roman architecture.

Classical order that introduced the Etruscan architecture of the temple

The Doric order was the first classical order to be developed. It is a column with a base, a fluted shaft, and a capital. The height of the column adds to its grandeur and is topped off with an entablature with unbroken frieze and cornice. The entablature stands out from the wall due to its length, while the frieze is used as a decorative element.

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Categories: History