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Etruscan Necropolises

Etruscan Necropolises
The Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture.

The necropolises of Tarquinia have some 6,000 tombs, 60 of which include wall paintings.

The most famous attraction of Cerveteri is the Necropoli della Banditaccia, encompassing a total of 1,000 tombs often housed in characteristic mounds. It is the largest ancient necropolis in the Mediterranean area.

Year Decision Comments
2004 Inscribed Reasons for inscription



Visit February 2009

The Etruscan cemeteries of Cerveteri and Tarquinia had been on my wishlist for long. Unfortunately they are rather remote, northwest of Rome and poorly accessible by public transport. Actually, they were not on the program for this trip either. But after another look at the map, they seemed just within reach for a daytrip from Tuscany. So I thought 'Now or Never!'.

Tarquinia was the main city of the Etruscans. This pre-Roman people lived in central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio). More than 6,000 of their tombs have been discovered near Tarquinia, of which 20 are open to the public. They date from the 6th and 5th century BC. Most tombs are carved into the rock, and were hidden under burial mounds. Now they are covered by stone constructions for protection.

The interior of each of the tombs can be visited. There are staircases that take you down a few meters underground, so you'll end up at eye level with the burial chamber itself. For convenience sake, they have added electric lighting which you can start by pushing a button. The light illuminates the painted walls of the tomb: red and blue are the most common colors. The illustrations are numerous, ranging from banquets to hunting scenes. False doors are also often depicted, meant as access to the afterlife. Only the tombs of the wealthy were painted, about 3%.

The entry fee for the burial monuments (8 EUR) also gives access to the Etruscan archaeological museum. This museum is located in an old palace in the center of Tarquinia, about 4 kilometers away from the tombs. There are three floors of exhibition rooms, all dedicated to the Etruscans. Here you see all kinds of moveable objects that have been found inside the tombs. The dead themselves were placed in sarcophagi, bearing an image of themselves on the cover. Contents of the graves include statues, vases, pots, jewelry and urns. Even ostrich eggs from the Nile Delta were found (a coveted luxury product for the rich).

Forty-five minutes south of Tarquinia lies Cerveteri, another major Etruscan city. The tombs here are located in a kind of park. It encompasses no fewer than 1,000 tombs, some dating back to the 9th century BC. The graves here are still covered under mounds (tumuli), which are overgrown with grass and shrubs.

Except for one couple, I'm the only visitor here on this sunny day in February. I follow the designated walking route along and around the tombs. It's all a bit spooky here. It is also possible to enter the tombs. But these burial chambers aren't painted (anymore). However, some have beautiful stone reliefs. The Tomba dei Relievi for example holds reliefs of animals, carts and tools.

Cerveteri is a real Necropolis - a city for the dead. It looks like La Recoleta (the famous cemetery in Buenos Aires), but with tumuli instead of marble graves. The 'city' has one main road, and there are side streets with smaller, rectangular graves for ordinary people.

This WHS has definitely met my expectations: Tarquinia and Cerveteri complement each other well!

More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery

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Reviews

Clyde (Malta):
I visited this WHS in August 2013. I drove from Tuscany and slept over in Tarquinia to be able to visit the painted Etruscan tombs at 08:30. What a marvel! There are 16 painted tombs open to the public. The painted tombs are kept at a constant temperature and a controlled environment which means that you can only see them from behind a glass door. Still, photography is allowed and with a lot of patience, time and a good zoom lens you can enjoy the site and take great photos. I was the only soul around at 08:30 which meant that I had the tombs for myself till around 09:45! The beauty of these painted tombs is comparable to that of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. I also visited the Etruscan Museum in Tarquinia which houses several Etruscan artefacts, vases, jewellery and coins found inside the painted tombs, the famous winged horses, and also whole painted tomb walls !!! So it definitely shouldn't be missed!
Date posted: August 2013
bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero (The Philippines):
I went to Cerveteri - Necropolis through a bus ride to the town, and a relatively short walk from the terminal to the site. Firsty, these are perhaps the oldest monuments I've seen so far, and that really raised my excitement to see the place. According to most reviews, they say that Cerveteri is the better among the two sites inscribed (but I was told that there is another Etruscan Necropolis that is not included however). The paintings are highly interesting and decorative, and suggest how rich their culture as a people were back in their time.

Its interesting how the Etruscans really made a great deal in preparing a planned city of the dead for their departed ones. One way of looking at this site is to compare it with the burial pyramids in Egypt, among others.

Over all, I felt that the Etruscan Necropolis is quite a surprise! I guess, this is one of the few experiences where in there is so much to enjoy in a site that isn't living/alive.
Date posted: December 2012
john booth (New Zealand):
With careful planning I found that I could reach both Cerveteri and Tarquinia by public transport on a day trip from Rome. I took a train to Cerveteri-Ladispoli which connected with a bus to Cerveteri town centre, from where I got a shuttle bus to the necropolis.
After a very satisfactory walk amongst the tombs I retraced my route to Cerveteri-Ladispoli station and caught a train to Tarquinia, changing at Civitavecchia on the way. At Tarquinia a CD bus took me to Piazza Cavour and then continued to the Necropolis.
After the visit I walked back down to Piazza Cavour to catch a bus to Tarquinia station and caught a train direct to Rome.
Date posted: September 2011
Linnea Caproni (United States of America):
I visited both Tarquinia and Cerveteri on a goregous sunny day late November, 2004. I was just about to finish a course on Etruscan history, offered by the University of Arizona in Orvieto, Italy. Having studied both Tarquinia and Cerveteri in detail during the three-month course, I was greatly anticipating the fieldtrip to these necropolises.

The trip did not disappoint me. As soon as I stepped off the bus at Tarquinia that cool, sunny morning and saw the signs leading to much-studied tombs, like the Tomb of the Leopards, chills shimmied down my body. Aside from the personal knowledge I had with this particular UNESCO World Heritage Site, its ancient aesthetic qualities alone inspired awe.

Tarquinia has been well maintained. My first impression was of cleanliness and well-marked paths. I noticed attempts at ongoing conservation procedures, as some tombs were closed to the public as part of a regular tomb-maintenance rotation procedure. Additionally, a small espresso bar offered to-go cups of cappuccinos, etc., adding to the cultural experience! It was a perfect moment. Yet apparently perfection can be topped!

The sensations I felt at Cerveteri were once-in-a-lifetime. The site emanates with mystery and days long past. The enormous tumuli tombs, some with steps leading to their grassy, rounded platforms, are like green furry mushrooms. A person could meander amongst the tombs and explore their dark interiors for hours on end, becoming lost in Etruscan history.

Both of these sites deserve visits. But whoever does so should first brush up on the sites' importance in Etruscan history, in order to gain more from the experience than purely aesthetic awe.
 


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