Just under 100km up the coast from Rome is the medieval city of Tarquinia, known best for it’s well preserved field of underground Etruscan burial tombs. The well-maintained park is a perfect day trip from Rome, easily reached by train, bus or car. The beautiful ancient city of Tarquinia is charming to walk around, peaking into old churches, artisanal shops, and stopping somewhere local for lunch. Meanwhile the Etruscan necropolis is just a few minutes away by foot through the more modern district.
Tarquinia is a great option for families seeking to escape the congestion and crowds of Rome for a quaint town that rivals in history and culture. Just like the ancient Etruscan city of Cerveteri, Tarquinia is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Who were the Etruscans?
The Etruscans were an ancient civilization of the Italian peninsula that was at its height from the 8th to 5th century BC until they were conquered and assimilated into the growing Roman empire. The origins of the population are controversially attributed to a subset of an ancient Greek migration, but this remains unverified.
Not much is known about typical daily life and culture of the Etruscans, but what is known has been derived from ancient Greek and Roman texts as well as elaborate burial tombs and sarcophagi that have survived nearly 3,000 years. This is what makes places like Cerveteri and Tarquinia so important in understanding this ancient civilization.
What is the Etruscan Necropolis?
The Etruscan Necropolis at Tarquinia is an elaborate network of underground tombs that have survived from nearly 3,000 years ago. The tombs feature elaborate interior paintings that were important for the deceased, particularly for life after death. Different motifs depict lavish parties with people (likely other family members, nobles, or deities) lounging around, exotic animals like leopards, and even doors that were meant to provide a smooth access to the next realm. Many of the tombs are decorated like homes, with wooden, beam ceilings, likely to make the deceased feel comfortable in their afterlife.
Apart from the interior decoration, the tombs all have “shelves” that line the inside because this is where the sarcophagi were placed with the body inside. Each tomb was dedicated to a family where all of the members would take their final resting place. The tombs visible today are of course those of wealthy and political families, as a typical family wouldn’t have had the means to afford such a lavish burial place.
Tips for Visiting Tarquinia
If you’re planning to visit Tarquinia and the Etruscan Necropolis, here are a few words of advice to consider before you go:
- Expect stairs and possibly wait times: to access each tomb you’ll need to walk down about 10-15 stairs which can get tiring after a while. During high season or when large groups are present, you may also experience wait times to go down the tombs as well since the access is quite narrow and usually allows for a single file line for “up” and another for “down”.
- Bring sunglasses: If you’re not used to bringing your sunglasses with you, you’ll appreciate them during your visit to the Etruscan necropolis. Heading into the dark to visit each tomb and then back into the sun light a couple dozen times can tire out your eyes quickly. Sunglasses will help your eyes adjust easier to the sunlight
- Start with the last tomb and work your way back to the ticket office: The length of the necropolis is quite long, so especially if you plan to visit in the afternoon, make your way to the furthest tomb first so that you slowly make your way back to the exit once you’ve visited them all.
- Take a picture of the park map at the ticket office before you visit the tombs: there are no maps posted along the walk way, so especially if you’re looking for specific tombs or to remember the names, take a photo of the map at the entrance.
- Wear comfortable shoes and bring water with you: As with any activity where you’ll be walking a lot, it’s always a good idea to wear comfortable shoes and carry some water with you since it’s not accessible in the park grounds.
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Have you visited Tarquinia and its Etruscan necropolis? Share your experience with us in the comments below!