Art & Culture (le cose belle) / Day Trips (tutte le strade portano a Roma) / Historical Sites (l'antichità)

Rome Day Trip: Etruscan Tombs at Tarquinia

Tomb of the Leopards

The details:

What: Etruscan tombs, ancient artifacts, Italian hill town

Time of trip: 5+ hours

Cost: 20-25 € (potentially less due to student discounts and general thriftiness)

Fun: A ton of

The ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinii once adorned a hilltop in what is now the Italian province of Viterbo, around 2,500 years ago. Little is known about the specifics of Etruscan civilization, as they left practically no written record. We do know, however, that they died. Through a bold display of logic, I can infer that they probably even lived, too. Death, however, was just as important as life for the Etruscans and in a strange twist of fate, as it is for many ancient civilizations, our present-day understanding of their life stems from our excavation of their tombs.

Getting to Tarquinia is simple; from Termini take the train in the direction of Pisa that leaves every hour for €6.20 (€12.40 round-trip). After an 1:15 ride to Tarquinia, it is a short bus ride (€.60) from the back of the station up into the town. You can also take a Ferrovia-nord train from the Flaminio metro stop, disembark at Saxa Ruba, and take a Cotral bus straight into Tarquinia that also leaves every hour (this option is more economic, maybe €6-8, but less convenient).  Just to the right of the main gate of Tarquinia is a tourist office with plenty of maps and smiles. Maps are surprisingly not a necessity, as the signs of Tarquinia are plentiful and easy to read. Coming from Rome, where a troop of blindfolded chimpanzees walking backwards and listening to Dead or Alive on repeat could have done a better job of signage, it is a welcome sight.

Join me after the jump for a description of the many sights this sleepy town has to offer:

The main attraction in Tarquinia is the necropolis: a set of fifteen recently excavated tombs that lie just northeast of the city walls, a mere 10-15 minute walk from the center. For each individual tomb one must descend a set of steep stairs into its muggy chambers, turn on a light, and view the remains from the other side of a thick plexi-glass window (so as to protect the frescoes from moisture). Some highlights include the vivid Tomb of the Leopards (pictured above) and the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing. Various scenes of pleasure, parties, Etruscan kottabos, animals, and deities dance across the walls of the others. The tumuli stand solemnly perched above the valley, offering a fantastic view and potentially nasty winds (bring a coat).

Due to worries of conservation and grave-robbing, the individual artifacts of the tombs have been moved to the Museo Archeologico in the center of town (you can buy a combined ticket for the necropolis and museum for €8). I would highly recommend the museum; two highlights include the magnificent, life-sized, winged horses and a bizarre sarcophagus known as “il obeso” (the obese man). I also suggest leaving yourself time to explore the town itself. It is a classic Italian hill town with plenty of poignant artistic touches dotted along its walls. At one vantage point above the windswept valley is a painted brick with a fantastic phrase:

“Da qua, tutto e fermo” (“From here, everything is still.”)

Given the neighbors, I found this quote particularly apt.

5 thoughts on “Rome Day Trip: Etruscan Tombs at Tarquinia

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