Founded in 1889 in the splendid Villa Giulia, this collection charts the development of the sophisticated, mysterious Etruscans. The villa was originally constructed in the mid-16th century as a sumptuous summer residence for Pope Julius III; Michelangelo gave his friend Vignola a hand with the design. The rustic façade leads into an elegantly frescoed loggia. Across the courtyard, stairs go down to the nymphaeum. Restored in 2004, the sixth-century BC Apollo of Veio, in coloured terracotta, is in a separate room by the nymphaeum.
In the main body of the museum, a number of rooms are dedicated to objects unearthed at the Etruscan necropolis at Cerveteri; the centerpiece is the almost life-size sixth-century BC sarcophagus of a married couple, reclining as though at a dinner party. The Etruscan fondness for eating and drinking is apparent from the vast number of bronze cooking utensils, as well as ceramic cups and amphorae (often decorated with scenes from imported Greek myths). The Room of the Seven Hills (a frescoed frieze names them) contains the Castellani collection of extraordinarily delicate jewellery from the eighth century BC right up to the 19th century.
Next door is the Room of Venus, with pieces unearthed at the fifth-century BC temples of Pyrgi. The Etruscans went well prepared to their graves, and the majority of the collection comes from excavations of tombs: hundreds of vases, pieces of furniture and models of buildings made to accompany the dead. Detailed notes in English detail the excavation sites and provide information on how gold, bronze and clay were worked. In the gardens there is a reconstruction of an Etruscan temple and a pleasant café. As this guide went to press, part of the collection (not including pieces mentioned here) was closed for restoration.