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The Hypogeum of the Volumni

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In 1840, the construction of a new road from Perugia to Rome led to the accidental find of a large and well-preserved subterranean chamber tomb on the outskirts of the former city. The owner of the land then undertook a series of excavations around his villa, "il Palazzone", and a large number of smaller tombs were found in the area. In keeping with the practice of the time, the stelae and other material were recovered, no particular records were kept of the locations, stratigraphy and details of the finds, and the excavations were filled in, so that the exact extent of the necropolis is now unknown and unrecoverable.

A few tombs have since been found in the area, also by accident, and a series of digs starting in 1963 and stretching over a number of years have provided some details about the Palazzone necropolis: most of the chamber tombs are of the Hellenistic period, but some are much older. Current work is focusing on visitor access and display of the finds.

The entrance to the hypogeum was covered in the 19th century by a small building; in the aboveground vestibule, a large collection of funerary urns from the nearby necropolis has been assembled, most of them found in family chamber tombs of the later Etruscan period. Most of these urns are of travertine, a very few of terracotta, one of sandstone, and only one also of marble: and that one with a Latin rather than an Etruscan inscription; many show definite traces of polychromy. Although some few urns depict the deceased in a semi-recumbent position, most are of an architectural type with a pitched roof, the tympanum plain or inscribed or decorated with reliefs, the subjects of which are largely mythological: the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the killing of Troilus, the duel of Eteocles and Polynices, the hunting of the Calydonian boar, combats between Griffins and Arimaspes; incidents from the Odyssey; as well as sea monsters, Medusa's heads, bucrania, etc.

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To your right, the tomb's only entrance. Notice the mold: you are, in effect, in an artificial cave; and as you walk down this steep staircase leading to the hypogeum proper, the temperature drops noticeably. By the time we reach the foot of the stairs, the temperature is near constant year-round, probably about 15C (60°F). Visitors are normally allowed in for a few minutes, and in small groups, for fear that the excessive warmth and humidity of our breath damage the tomb, which still bears faint traces of ancient paint, by favoring the growth of further mold.

A vertical inscription on the right jamb, in Etruscan, relates to the construction of the tomb.

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	The hypogeum itself, measuring 10.38 m long by 10.70 m wide, is laid out much like a house of the period, with a main atrium  [A] and side chambers or cubicula ('bedrooms'), 3 on either side, with secondary chambers opening off the ones in the far corners. There is also a somewhat larger axial chamber at the far end, referred to in the literature as a tablinium [T], a sort of funerary 'dining-room'. In the photo at the top of this page, you are standing in the atrium — notice the beamed roof by the way, except that those beams are stone! — looking at the brilliantly lit tablinium.

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	Finally, the serious student will want to read the section of Chapter 58 of George Dennis's Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria that covers this tomb, which goes into much more detail.

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Page updated: 7 Aug 12