Tarquinia is a charming city of about 16,000 souls, about 54miles (86km) north east of Rome, filled with churches and markets.
One of the original 12 cities of the Etruscans, Tarquinia is a disarming place filled with churches, a market, and, despite being a touristy town, the feel of a real working town that's just getting on with life. A lovely city that's worth a visit in its own right, but we were there for another reason, the 6000 Etruscan tombs....
Long-time readers will know of my fascination with the Etruscans. Sometimes though, life gets in the way and I don't get to see as much of them as I would like. This time though, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Tarquinia. So, like a modern day D.H.Lawrence , here's my account of the trip. Etruscans, un caffé, and a spot of getting lost on the way.
We set off quite early. Well, early for us, at 8:30am, with my in-laws setting a quick pace across the country from Sant'Oreste. Taking the road through castagne and nocciole filled Capranica, west across Tuscia to Tarquinia, we chased the few patches of blue beyond the billowing black clouds. If you're coming from Rome, you could drive the 86 km to Tarquinia on the A12 Roma-Civitavecchia road. As with most posts I write about traveling in Lazio, I'm going to recommend you bring a SatNav/GPS/Navigatore, as the roads are winding and the signs are confusing, absent, or sometimes simply wrong (it does happen). If the train is more your thing, Tarquinia can be reached on the Roma-Ventimiglia line departing from Roma Ostiense station. The tombs are on a hill a little walk outside of town.
The Tombs of Tarquinia
The Necropolis of Tarquinia is in an area known as Monterozzi (meaning 'humpy' or undulating). Over 6000 tombs have been found, peppering the hill and surrounding farmland with strange 'tumuli' or mounds (with picturesque little chimneys that were added later). Entrance is a very reasonable 6€ and the area covered in the UNESCO World Heritage site is relatively small and eminently walkable. The steps down to some of the tombs are quite steep, however (and can be wet and mouldy) so this trip may not be for everyone.
The tombs are all cut directly into the rock and most of them were made for a single couple and constitute one burial chamber. Approximately 3% of the 6000 tombs at Monterozzi are painted, and these are thought to have belonged to aristocratic Etruscan families. The tombs were dug and decorated between the 7th and 3rd century B.C. All of the tombs open for viewing had paintings of some kind. To preserve the paintings, the tombs are sealed off with perspex. However, even with this obstacle, they are still quite awe-inspiring and fascinating. Each tomb has an information board outside, in both English and Italian, which explains the construction of the tomb and the symbolism of the paintings therein. Overall, we spent about 3 hours exploring, and even though all we did was go from tomb to tomb, the time passed quickly and we didn't get bored.
The Town of Tarquinia
Tarquinia itself is a charming mix of ancient town and modern convenience. We drove down the hill and managed to find a reasonably-priced car park just inside the city walls. We wandered down the hill towards the bustling market and took the pulse of the town in the local bar. I was a bit worried for the price in the bar, given it was right on the main square but, with that wonderful Italian charm of not knowing how good you have it, the coffee was both cheap and tasty. Passing through the market, past a big fountain, the town hall and plenty of shops, I was surprised to see signs for tourist attractions, not only with the directions to places of interest, but also with QR codes that linked to information about each place. How cool is that?
The town seemed pretty clean and well prepared for tourists, with plenty to see and do (see their tourist information site). I guess one way to ascertain feelings towards a place is to think back as to what you were thinking as you were walking around. Me? I was thinking about how nice it would be to get fresh bread from the bakers, to sit outside the cafe on the main square, to look out across the landscape below the town, to the coast, to see what's around the next corner. Oh, and whether we could afford to buy there. Yes, dear reader, I liked Tarquinia. Sadly though, time was running away from us and we didn't get chance to check out the Tarquinia National Museum, the free navette bus that toured around the town, and the numerous churches and palaces that dotted around the town. We spent a full day there, and there's still more to do.
Overall then, can I recommend a trip out to Tarquinia? Absolutely. Both the tombs and the town were good value and seemed perfectly set up for tourism without losing any of their innate charm. It's only a short train ride or drive from the hustle and bustle of Rome, yet seems another world entirely. Tarquinia and the Etruscan Necropolis at Monterozzi are a great day trip from Rome. Put them on your list when visiting Rome and Lazio.