This page describes the most conspicuous part of Italy’s archaeological heritage, as well as some basic information for an immediate reference, and a choice of itineraries and suggested stops divided by regions. An outline of art and culture that testifies the extraordinary richness of history and beauty that has made Italy the ultimate attraction for travelers, artists and students of all times and from all countries.
There has been human settlement in Italy since Paleolithic times, as is demonstrated by numerous discoveries: Balzi Rossi in Ventimiglia, the caves at Toirano, Grotta Guattari at Circeo. Prehistoric art is fairly widespread although it varies considerably in importance, type and age. Among the most ancient objects is the so called Venus of Savignano, dating back to the late Paleolithic period, which was found near Modena and is now held in Rome at the Museo Pigorini.In the provinces of Lecce (Romanelli), Matera (Serra d’Alto), Reggio di Calabria (Roccaforte del Greco), Palermo (Grotta dell’Addaura) and on the Egadi Islands there are many grottoes which contain pictures and graffiti depicting animals, dating back to a period between 14,000 and 9,000 BC. Dolmen and menhir, which are quite common in southern Italy, date back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Among the most important discoveries from the same period are the rock engravings in Val Camonica and the stele-statues in the Lunigiana region. Finally the megalithic monuments of the Nuragic civilization in Sardinia are unique examples of their kind.
Etruscan civilization developed between the 8th century and the 1st century BC over an area covering Tuscany, Umbria and upper Lazio. Important traces of the presence of this people have also been found in Emilia-Romagna (Marzabotto) and the Po Valley (Bologna, Spina). Etruscan art was the product of individual City-States. Stretches of their megalithic walls often remain (Volterra, Perugia). The necropolises which have been found are evidence of the great importance which the Etruscans attributed to the cult of the dead. Chiusi is famous for multicolored urns, Tarquinia for painted tombs, Cerveteri for monumental tumuli, Palestrina for oriental-style tombs. Discoveries in many tombs include delicate pieces of jewellery, important sculptures in terracotta and bronze, sarcophaguses and superb wall paintings. The most important museums of Etruscan art in Italy are in Volterra, Rome and Tarquinia.
The coastal areas of southern Italy were colonized by people from Greece. Today there is still rich evidence of that civilization, which flourished between the 8th and 5th century BC. Art in Magna Grecia developed along the same lines as in the motherland, although it sometimes had original features. The archaeological sites which remain are among the most important and the most evocative in Europe. Outstanding examples are the great complexes at Agrigento, Syracuse, Paestum and Selinunte, including vast necropolises, theatres and temples, often splendidly preserved (the uncompleted so called Temple of Segesta, Temple E at Selinunte, the Temples of Poseidon and Hera at Paestum and the Temples of Juno and Concordia at Agrigento). There are important remains of sculpture and painted ceramics (Attic vases with black and red figures). The most important collection of discoveries from Magna Grecia is held in the Archaeological Museum in Agrigento.
The cultural roots of Italy lie in Roman civilization.
The peninsula is studded with roads, bridges, aqueducts, arches and the remains of baths, forums, amphitheatres and temples. The urban ground-plan of the majority of Italian cities retains the outline of the Roman structure (Bologna, Verona, Florence) and the perpendicular streets of the original military encampments (Turin, Aosta). Roman art, blending and developing Italic, Etruscan and Greek traditions, has left?ts mark on the whole country. In addition to the great remains in the city of Rome itself and its port (Ostia Antica) and the traces which are present almost everywhere (especially in the center and the south of the country but also in the extreme north), the remains of entire cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum have survived. Here, thanks to their incredible state of preservation, it is possible ‘to reach out and touch” the daily life of that time: streets, shops, villas and inscriptions are all present as though crystallized under the ashes from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
One could mention the House of Menander, the House of the Faun and the Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii and the House of the Bicentenary and that of the Deer in Herculaneum. Roman art covers a long stretch of time and can be divided into periods connected to political events and external influences. One of the characteristic elements of Roman art was the portrait, from Brutus Capitolinus to the various emperors. Roman architecture and sculpture have been admired, studied and imitated for centuries. Mosaics are important but examples of painting are much rarer, for the most part limited to the wall paintings found in Rome and Pompeii. The main museum collections of Roman civilization are in Rome (Museo Capitolino, della Civiltà Romana, dei Conservatori, Nazionale Romano).