Etruscan Arch Perugia
Ancient history
Urban trekking

On the Trails of the Etruscans

Urban trekking on the places of the founders of Perugia, the Etruscan Phersna

A route to discover the most important monuments in Perugia left by the fascinating and mysterious Etruscan people.

Perugia boasts ancient origins, with traces of settlements dating back to the 9th century. However, it is from the 7th-6th centuries B.C. that the city became one of the most important in the Etruscan area, assuming a dominant role in the surrounding territory. During the centuries of its hegemony, Etruscan Phersna experienced significant building development.

Etruscan Arch

The route to discover Etruscan Perugia begins at the Etruscan Arch, in Via Ulisse Rocchi, one of the city’s most representative monuments.

The monumental entrance was erected around the middle of the 3rd century B.C., using large blocks of travertine, and preserves its original structure: two trapezoidal towers at the sides that house a façade composed of two overlapping round arches in the middle.

The other five gates built along the walls, on the other hand, have undergone significant modifications over the centuries.

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Etruscan Walls

From the southern tower of the Etruscan Arch, it is possible to climb up Via Battisti along the panoramic road that runs alongside a significant section of the Etruscan walls, built between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.

Some parts of the original wall, which is about three kilometres long, remain today due to reconstructions carried out in later periods.

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Acropolis and underground Perugia

The centre of Perugia represents the oldest core of the settlement, as well as the acropolis of the Etruscan Phersna. In Piazza IV Novembre, under the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, lies a surprising underground archaeological route, the entrance to which is in the Museum of the Chapter of San Lorenzo, housed in the cloister of the building adjacent to the cathedral.

The itinerary leads to the discovery of important archaeological remains that reveal the hidden face of an underground Perugia, such as those of the city’s main temple, the terracing walls of the Etruscan acropolis and sections of roads in use during the Etruscan and Roman periods.

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Etruscan Well

On the other side of Piazza IV Novembre, the basement of the 17th-century Palazzo Bourbon-Sorbello houses one of the most extraordinary examples of hydraulic engineering and architecture of the ancient world: the Etruscan Well, built in the second half of the 3rd century BC.

The well reaches a total depth of 37 metres and is excavated in a soil of sedimentary origin called “mandorlato tessello”. The upper part is a cylindrical cavity with a diameter of 5.6 metres, lined with large travertine blocks similar to those used for the city walls. After about 12 metres, the diameter of the shaft reduces to 3 metres, reaching its total depth, where it collects water from three perennial water springs.

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Porta Marzia

From Piazza IV Novembre, a short stroll along Corso Vannucci leads to Piazza Italia and the splendid Rocca Paolina, a papal fortress built in the 16th century. It is here that one of the monumental Etruscan entrances, Porta Marzia, is kept, which once represented the southern entrance to the city.

During the construction of the Rocca Paolina, the gate was partially dismantled and ingeniously reassembled by the architect Antonio da Sangallo. He succeeded in preserving a significant part of the ancient entrance, setting it into the brickwork of the fortress, where the images of Tinia/Iuppiter (Jupiter) flanked by two male figures interpreted as the Dioscuri appear in the centre, while two equine protomes are depicted at the ends.

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National Archaeological Museum of Umbria

The perfect end to this itinerary is the National Archaeological Museum of Umbria, which houses numerous artefacts left behind by the Etruscan civilisation, many of which come from the extraordinary monumental tombs built by aristocratic families throughout the Perugia area, such as the famous Hypogeum of the Volumni. Among these, one of the most curious is the kottabos, a metal plate used to play a game much appreciated by the Etruscans, which took place during libations and consisted in hitting the metal disc with the last drops of wine in a cup.

Inside the museum’s exhibition spaces, it is possible to admire the exact reconstruction of the tomb discovered in 1983 in Perugia at Monteluce and belonging to the Cai Cutu family.

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