Italian Underground

I’m still basking in the reflective light of my recent trip to Italy. Writing one more post about the Etruscans will help keep the glow lit a little longer. Besides, maple sugaring hasn’t been anything to write home about. Unusually warm days, and nighttime temperatures above freezing, has meant zero sap flow. Maybe this week will bring back more seasonable weather.

In the 1950 and 60’s excavations took place outside the city of Tarquinia that revealed burial chambers from the 4th and 5th century BC. Nineteen of them are now open to public viewing. The tombs were carved in the limestone bedrock deep below the surface of the ground. Frescoes on the walls and ceilings are in some cases as fresh and lively looking as the day they were painted.

As interesting as the archaeological findings are, I was especially drawn to the manner in which they were made accessible. There’s a peculiar kind of architecture that often develops around the display of ancient artifacts. It tries to be unobtrusive while satisfying the needs of a high volume of pedestrian traffic. At Tarquinia, sloping entry halls were created by cutting a shaft in the bedrock and covering it with a tile roof. A chimney exhausts humidity. At the bottom of the staircase a glass panel separates the viewer from the tomb interior. A light switch on a timer allows the viewer to briefly illuminate the tomb.

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