Sunday, May 4, 2008

Descent to the Underworld

In the renowned Sumerian account of Innana's descent into the Underworld, the perception is that of an actual journey down flights of stairs, through tunnels, into buildings that possess portals leading to the Underworld.

Visiting the Necropolis of Tarquinia, I experienced a little of that journey, albeit brief and hampered by locked glass doors that prevent the viewer actually from completing the transition from this world to the Other.

Here is an article that deals with Etruscan Tombs:

Etruscan Necropolis of Tarquinia

The path invariably does take the visitor underground, beneath the tumulus built as a landmark above the surface of the land. The actual door to the Other Realm, however, is a painted one and thus would not be accessible to an ordinary living being, except in a trance state or after death.

Where sarcophagi once stood, now only hollowed points in the sand show their original position. No funerary goods or meals remain. All furnishings have been carted off either by grave robbers or museum curators. Many can be found in the marvelous palace converted into the best Etruscan museum in Italia, situated in modern Tarquinia.

Why do the Etruscans fascinate us so? Is it because so little 'hard' evidence remains of their civilisation and philosophy? They were very much a part of the ancient world, not isolated, and trade with other cultures and civilisations influenced their fashions and beliefs somewhat, as evidenced in their art... Even so, they remain a mystery in many respects, swallowed by the Romans, and ultimately known in history as a lesser civilisation.

Etruscan murals and frescoes depict fair-skinned blondes as well as dark-haired youths and maidens. They obviously drew upon a large gene pool as an international mercantile power. They had slaves, but slavery was a state of affairs from which an individual could be freed rather easily apparently and the slaves of the Etruscans had the reputation internationally of being a favoured class, elegantly attired and demonstrating a high level of artistic skills.

The necropolis of Tarquinia is a city of little houses, each one possessing its own unique personality. Very much unlike the majestic pyramids of ancient Egypt, Etruscan tombs possess a rather cozy atmosphere, truly a city of houses for the dead.

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