When I was still working as a concierge at a famous five-star luxury hotel in Rome, I used to meet people madly in love with the Eternal City who kept on coming back to Italy just to spend several days in its outstanding capital.
But that choice inevitably led to one important consequence: even if Rome has the infinity of touristic activities to offer and curious discoveries to make, the one who knows the city well might happen to be looking for ‘something new’ to see or ‘something different’ to do. It’s all about the human nature, after all.
So, when your inborn curiosity starts to push you towards the edge of despair and boredom, opt for a day-trip outside Rome to have some rest from its chaos and imposing magnificence, even if just for a while.
If you’ve already decided this is exactly the solution you need, take into consideration the option of going to Tarquinia.
Tarquinia used to be an important Etruscan city that at a certain point of its history fell under the dominion of the Roman Empire. As the capital of one of the biggest reigns of the antique Etruscan confederation it controlled a huge territory that spread from the Tyrrhenian sea to the Lake of Bolsena being one of the most powerful and well-developed centres of the Etruscan civilization.
The legend claims that the city was founded but the hero named Tarchunu, or Tarconte in Italian. The richly decorated tombs discovered in the area confirm the wealth of Tarquinia as early as in the 8th century B.C. But already four centuries later, following numerous military conflicts and fights for independence, the city entered into the political orbit of Rome.
Tarquinia, though, ceased to exist as the inhabited centre only at the beginning of the Middle Ages when its residents moved to the neighbouring area known as Corneto.
Nowadays, Tarquinia is one of the brightest testimonies of the Etruscan art, especially that of the mural painting, and the immense culture of that ancient people. It is easy to reach from Rome, it has a vast cultural heritage to offer and amazing views to soothe the soul and calm the mind. So, if you have a day to spend far from Rome, here’s how you can reach the town of Tarquinia and what you can’t miss in it:
- It takes about an hour and a quarter to reach the train station of Tarquinia from the central Roman train station Roma Termini. Click here to check the timetable and train fares relative to the trip.
- As far as the train station is situated several kilometres down the hill from the historical centre of Tarquinia, it is very convenient to reach the latter by a regular city bus (linea BC/Stazione) that it is possible to catch right outside that train station. The one way ride costs only 1 euro per person and the ticket can be purchased directly from the driver. Seasonal changes are introduced to the timetables of the public means of transport, so be careful to stay updated.
3. Once you reach the city, have a look at the Tourist Information office situated next to the bus stop (linea BC/Barriera (capolinea)) to the right of the city gate. Grab a city map there and ask any question regarding your day/stay in Tarquinia you might have. There’s one question I will suggest you to ask and there’s one more I’ll be more than glad to answer myself:
– ask for the timetable of the bus to take to get back to the train station. Make sure you have enough time to make it on time for the train you chose for your return trip to Rome. Remember, it is possible to purchase your return train ticket in advance in Rome or directly at the train station of Tarquinia. Mind though, that in autumn 2017 the station was under reconstruction, so the regular ticket office was closed, but the self-service machines outside the station building functioned regularly. Remember also that you can always check the train timetable here.
– If you are looking for a public bathroom, there is one right in front of the bus stop. And it is free.
4. Start your visit with a short walk through the city that will allow you to reach its most amazing monument – the Monterozzi Etruscan Necropolis. As far as the visit of the latter is concerned, take into consideration the following two things:
– The Monterozzi Necropolis is a site that develops outdoors and underground, so choose a sunny day for your trip otherwise the whole experience risks to become too uncomfortable.
– Every tomb of the site is situated underground and has a separate entrance with e sometimes a very steep and narrow staircase. So, leave something like two hours for the visit and be prepared to have some hard leg work to go through. Even if it is absolutely worth it.
– If you don’t feel like visiting all 20 tombs of the necropolis, here is my personal top five must-sees for you not to miss:
Tomba delle Leonesse that dates back to 520 B.C. The double slope ceiling of the only pavilion-like room that makes up the tomb is decorated with a checkerboard motif while its walls are adorned by two she-lions facing each other, dolphins diving in the sea, musicians, dancers and banqueting diners. The scene represents an aristocratic occasion of meeting together within the limits of the restricted social class.
Tomba della Caccia e Pesca that dates back to 520-510 B.C. This tomb is made up of two rooms decorated with the scenes of hunting and fishing, banqueting, diving and dancing among the trees that summarize the ideals of the Etruscan aristocratic lifestyle.
Tomba della Fustigazione that dates back to 490 B.C. The biggest peculiarity of the decoration of this tomb lays in the presence of two erotic groups depicted on the right wall. In one of them two men are whipping a woman. The emphatic erotic element is interpreted in the key of the Dionysian influence.
Tomba dei Leopardi that dates back to 470 B.C. The decoration of the tomb features two leopards facing one another within the fronton of the bottom wall. The main decoration carried out in bright colours represents the scene of the banquet in the honour of the dead.
Tomba dei due tetti that dates back to the second half of the third century B.C. The painted decoration of the right wall represents Caronte sitting in front of the Hades’door and a scene of the walk towards the afterlife where the dark way is lit up by the torch held by the Etruscan female demon of the death Vanth.
– There is a public bathroom at the entrance to the book store that is at the same time the site’s ticket office.
– The site’s entrance fee is 6 euro per person. Check here for more information on the opening hours.
5. The entrance ticket to the Necropolis costs 6 euro. The entrance ticket to the National Etruscan museum also costs 6 euro. But if you combine both visits, the total entrance price will fall from 12 to 8 euro which is economically convenient. Such a ticket can be purchased at any of the two locations.
6. The National Etruscan museum of Tarquinia is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit. Leave at least an hour and a half to discover some of its treasures, among which you will find 4 more painted tombs that in attempt of conservation were placed here and the famous two winged-horses high relief discovered among the remains of the Queen’s Altar, the largest temple of Etruria built on the Civita height.
7. Once a week the city’s main square hosts the market. During the rest of the time off the high summer season the city is quite and seems almost uninhabited with many restaurants being closed. In summer the proximity of the sea changes the situation drastically. So, if you are planning your summer vacation to be somewhere not far from Rome, you could as well put Tarquinia on your to-take-into-consideration list.
I have to admit I found Tarquinia surprising and highly satisfying as a one-day trip destination. It proved to a be a true pleasure to discover the entity, the beauty and the importance of the immense Etruscan culture and its influence over that of the Roman Empire. For all those truly curious who are looking forward to widen their historic and artistic horizons, it is a valid travel option when in Italy, in Lazio, in Rome.
Being not only a pleasant city to visit but also a huge cultural heritage all to discover and witness makes Tarquinia a great candidate to land on your bucket list.