Tarquinia is a medieval Italian town of 16.279 inhabitants in the province of Viterbo. It houses the largest testimony of Etruscan art in the world.
Medieval town of immense charm, it’s the symbol par excellence of the Etruscan era and art.
Tarquinia was founded by Tarconte, the mythical leader of the Tyrrhenian people; Tarquinia manifests itself in Tages which in Tarconte dictates the books of the Etruscan Discipline. The exiled Demarate lands in Tarquinia and the first Etruscan king of Rome originates from Tarquinia.
Against Tarquinia, Rome fought one of the most difficult anti-Etruscan wars in the 4th century. From Tarquinia Scipione receives the canvases necessary for the veiling of the ships that bring him to Africa, at the appointment of Zama. In the Tarquinian territory in 181 BC, the Romans deduce the colony of Graviscae, mentioned in the itinerary of Antoninus and in the De Reditu of Namaziano.
The topographical references are almost non-existent and it is difficult for anyone to have known how to connect the Tarquinia of the sources with the Civita hill, even if the toponyms of Castel Tarquinio, Tarquene, Turchina were quite transparent.
It was modern archaeological research that revealed most of what we know today about Etruscan Tarquinia and our knowledge is probably superior to what the same ancient historians who left us memory of our city knew.
Let’s start our virtual tour in this gem of a city!
Necropolis of Tarquinia
The Necropolis of Tarquinia also known as the Etruscan Necropolis of Monterozzi is located on a hill east of the current Tarquinia and has about 6,000 burials inside. These are largely chambers carved into the rock and topped with mounds, of which the oldest are dated to the seventh century BC.
Among the thousands of burials, there are about 200 which contain a series of frescoes representing the most conspicuous pictorial nucleus that has come to us from Etruscan art as well as the most extensive documentation of all ancient painting prior to the Roman age. Together with the necropolis of Cerveteri it is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Etruscan civilization.
With its over two hundred painted tombs – it is the most important existing pictorial nucleus of the art of that period, as well as the most significant of ancient painting, prior to the Roman age.
The tombs here are truly extraordinary, more than in any other center of Etruria: magical-religious scenes are depicted, with bright colors representing dancers, players, jugglers and funeral banquets.
Among the most interesting tombs are the tombs which are called the Warrior, the Hunting and the Fishing, the lionesses, the Greetings, the Jugglers, the Leopards, the Festoons, the Baron, the Orc and the Shields. Part of the paintings, detached from some tombs in order to preserve them (Tomb of the Chariots, the Triclinium, the Funeral Bed and the Ship), are kept in the Tarquiniense National Museum; others are visible directly on the wall on which they were made, giving us back the knowledge of the disappearance of Greek painting, to which they are linked by bonds of affinity and dependence.
The stone sculpture appears to be of a lesser artistic level, present in reliefs on slabs or in the figure of the deceased lying on the sarcophagus; notable among others is the limestone sarcophagus of the Partunu tomb, a work of fine workmanship, datable to the Hellenistic age; among the clay decorations, a high-relief fragment from the pediment of the Ara della Regina is preserved in the Tarquiniense National Museum, where an important series of ceramic finds, laminated bronzes, reliefs and terracotta from the area, dating from the geometric period to the late Etruscan period.
The necropolises are part of the Etruscan necropolis group of Cerveteri and Tarquinia, UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
Tomb of the Leopards
The Leopardi tomb is part of the Monterozzi Etruscan necropolis, in Tarquinia, Italy. The tomb, dated to 473 BC, is one of the most significant and important works of Etruscan funerary art: together with the rest of the necropolis, it has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2004. It is a chamber tomb with a rectangular plan, with gabled roof and ridge beam. Access is via a short corridor with steps.
Its name is due to the representation of two leopards represented in the trapezoidal space in front of the entrance, portrayed with large jaws and around a tree. The painted scenes represent a symposium, which takes place outdoors, among some fruitful olive trees, with men and women lying on some tricliniums while they eat the meal brought to them by young naked servants.
The slopes of the ceiling are decorated with parallel rows of white, red and green chess. The same colors recur in the parallel lines that delimit the ridge beam and in the series of concentric circles on a white field inside.
On the right wall, there is a dancer with a cup in his hand wearing the Tebenna, the typical Etruscan dress while dancing. The cup dancer is together with two players. The three of them together are called The Three Musicians. The Three Musicians are the only fresco on the right wall of the Leopardi’s Tomb. The player in the center, the one dressed in yellow with blue and red lines on the dress, is a young man playing an aulos, and the one to the right of the wall (therefore closer to the entrance) plays a zither. The Three Musicians are the best known fresco of the Leopardi Tomb and the most famous image of all the Etruscan people.
On the central wall, the diners, three married couples lying on a pair of beds, sip wine and are portrayed with their heads surrounded by a branch of myrtle, and two ladies show a blond hair. There are also two servants. In the painting the men have a darker complexion and all have an uncovered torso but the women have a very light complexion and are all well dressed.
The man on the right holds an egg, a symbol of rebirth, and shows it. From these frescoes it is possible to notice the richness of details, the body care and the clothing of the Etruscan men and women.
National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia
The museum is housed in the splendid Palazzo Vitelleschi, built between 1436 and 1439 by the will of Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi, under the pontificate of Eugene IV. The building, one of the most important monuments of the early Renaissance in Lazio, was used among other things as a princely accommodation for the popes during their stops in Corneto.
Subsequently passed to the Soderini family, in 1900 the palace was purchased by the Municipality of Tarquinia which, in 1916, gave it to the State in perpetuity for its use as the seat of the Archaeological Museum.
Inaugurated in 1924 with the fusion of two historical nineteenth-century collections, the municipal collection and the private collection of the Bruschi-Falgari counts, the Museum has gradually been enriched with the introduction of materials from excavations conducted in the area of the ancient Etruscan city and its vast necropolises.
The renovation of many rooms in the Museum and the revision of the old fittings have been underway since the early 1980s. The museum is divided into three floors: on the ground floor it is possible to admire the funerary stone sculptures, in particular the splendid sarcophagi from the Hellenistic noble sepulchres.
The first floor houses the furnishings from the rich city necropolises, but also the famous clay high relief with a pair of winged horses from the pediment of the great temple of the Ara della Regina.
On the second floor, the paintings of some well-known painted tombs were relocated, torn in the 1950s for conservation reasons from the natural rock support and reassembled on frames that allow the evocative reconstruction of the funeral chamber.
In this section, you will find the most famous piece of the whole museum, a unique work in the world, the high relief of the Winged Horses, also from the Queen’s Altar.
Church of Santa Maria in Castello
Not far from the Etruscan Museum of Tarquinia, there is the Church of Santa Maria di Castello, a magnificent example of medieval Romanesque art.
Located outside the city walls, the church can be reached in a few minutes on foot from the city center, crossing Via di Porta Castello and passing under the Matilde di Canossa Tower. Going through these arches you will feel catapulted back 1000 years!
The atmosphere you breathe here is simply magical, especially at night when the streets are illuminated by the light of the street lamps only … the ideal place for a romantic walk in history.
The church of Santa Maria in Castello is the most representative building of Romanesque architecture in the city.
The construction of the church has a very articulated history: the project began in 1121 and the location on which the building was to rise was a dislocated and uninhabited area of the city called Castrum Corgnetum. The construction of the church was most likely entrusted to several architects as there are inscriptions on the jambs of the main portal where Pietro di Ranuccio, Nicola di Ranuccio, Giovanni and Guittone to whom Nicola was born were mentioned. We still don’t have enough reliable information to confirm that these are the architects of the building, but we know for sure that they contributed to the decorations.
The church was completed in 1207 and consecrated in the same year by Innocent III. It was fully active until 1435 and was restored several times until it was completely abandoned in 1567 with its deconsecration.
The grandiose interior of the Church of Santa Maria di Castello is also Romanesque in style. The structure is arranged on three naves supported by massive pillars on which arches rest in the center.
On the sides, there are four large spans crossed by cross vaults. The third nave was dominated by a dome, of which unfortunately only fragments remain following the earthquake of 1819. The accident seriously damaged part of the mosaic flooring of the span. However, this is fortunately still well preserved in the left and central spans.
Palazzo dei Priori
The ancient town hall building dates from the 12th or 13th of the 19th century. It is located in Via delle “Torii” near the church of S. Pancrazio and is currently home to the Ceramics Museum, which houses medieval pottery found in two butts (drainage wells) of the historic center.
In the historical center of Tarquinia, it is possible to observe the remains of what was once the Palazzo dei Priori and numerous towers that stand out among the houses of the village. In the northern area of Tarquinia, in fact, the ancient walls and the mighty towers that give a distinctly medieval aspect to the landscape are visible.
Located just beyond the thirteenth-century former church of S. Pancrazio, today an auditorium, it consists of four towers of the century. XII, used to bring together existing buildings.
The palace is one of the architectural highlights of the medieval quarter, a picturesque tangle of alleys and small open spaces unfortunately in a state of partial degradation.
There are towers and churches dotting it, including that of S. Martino, perhaps dating back to the century. XII and with apses of Arab-Norman derivation, and that of the SS. Annunziata (XII-XIII centuries), whose portal recalls Sicilian-Norman motifs and the interior Romanesque-Gothic forms.
The new building of the Duomo dates back to the 17th century, especially notable for the frescoes by Pastura (early 16th century) in the choir and for the Byzantine Madonna in the 1st left chapel, from S. Maria di Valverde.
The archaeological area of Gravisca, better known as Porto Clementino is considered one of the most important in Tuscia. It is located on the northern coast of Lazio, about 6 km from Tarquinia. The first traces of human presence in the Gravisca area date back to the 6th century BC. when the builders of what would become the port of Tarquinia began to settle.
During the period of Etruscan domination, in fact, it was a thriving port used above all to favor commercial exchanges with the other economic powers of the eastern Mediterranean. After being subjected to Rome, it became an important maritime colony and held this role until the period of the barbarian invasions.
The most important building built in the area was the Greek emporium sanctuary, that is, a long religious cult with significant commercial functions. Here, three female deities were venerated: Hera, Aphrodite and Demeter. When the Romans arrived in 281 BC, the sanctuary stopped being active. Subsequently, in 408, the Visigoths of Alaric looted the entire area, starting the slow and inexorable abandonment of the port.
Between 1969 and 1979, the most important excavations were carried out which allowed to bring to light much of the Roman settlement and the original structure of the Etruscan period. As already mentioned, the discovery of the sanctuary was the culminating moment of the campaign of excavations carried out in the area. The building was built between 600 BC and 580 BC Originally the base had a square plan of 25 meters on each side; subsequently, between 480 B.C. and in 470 BC, the sanctuary was enlarged and its base was transformed into the rectangular one of 27 x 15 meters and a square in front was created.
During the excavations in Gravisca, important archaeological finds were found such as the kantharos of Exechias, a valuable Attic pottery from the 6th century BC, together with a dedication to Apollo Egineta.
In addition to the numerous Attic ceramics found at the sanctuary, a patrician domus of the imperial age, with annexes of the baths, has also been brought to light; in the courtyard a small treasure consisting of 147 solids from the 5th century was discovered.
Saline di Tarquinia Nature Reserve
Located close to the ancient port of Gravisca (today Porto Clementino), the Saline di Tarquinia Nature Reserve is a naturalistic site of extreme importance, in addition to being the only salt pan in Lazio and one of the few remaining along the Italian coast.
Extended for about 150 hectares, of which 100 of coastal lagoon, the reserve welcomes and protects numerous species of migratory and permanent avifauna including a prominent place belongs to the beautiful specimens of pink flamingos, permanent “guests” of the reserve and main attraction for photographers and bird watchers.
The Saline di Tarquinia have very ancient origins and there are traces that document its existence since Etruscan and Roman times. During the Middle Ages, however, the activity declined to be resumed only in 1802 under the push of Pope Pius XIX.
The Church, in fact, was looking for a place suitable for the production of salt, which would replace the salt pans of Ostia which had become impassable by the constant floods.
About 6 miles from Corneto (ancient name of Tarquinia) in 1802 work began on the construction of the new salt pans for which the prisoners of the Porto Clementino prison were initially employed. Subsequently, towards the end of the 19th century, a small eclectic village was built to house the factories for the production and storage of salt and to offer hospitality to the staff.
In 1980, given the importance of the area for migratory and permanent avifauna, the Nature Reserve of Animal Population was established and entrusted first to the State Forestry Corps and today to the Unit Command for the Environmental and Agro-Food Forestry Protection of the Carabinieri.
Since 1997, the salt extraction activity has been inactive.
Visiting the Saline di Tarquinia is a fun and educational experience at the same time, suitable for adults and children.
In fact, the site welcomes all year round many species of sedentary and migratory birds including the pink flamingo, the little egret, the gray heron, the cavalier of Italy, the coral gull, the white heron, the osprey, the Germano Reale, the Cormorant, the Quail, the Pheasant and many others.
It is also possible to make other nice encounters with specimens of Fox, Porcupine, Nutria, Porcupine, Squirrel and Common Tortoise.
It goes without saying that the reserve is an ideal place for photographers, amateurs and birdwatchers. If you have the right equipment and technique and a good dose of patience, you can bring excellent shots home!