Paintings from a lost mysterious race

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Paintings from a lost mysterious race

  |   21 Comments

The Etruscans

The Etruscan tombs in Italy represent more than just the deaths of nobles of the past. They can also been seen as the symbol of the mightiest race that never was. You see, it was these mysterious people we know little about who established Rome and set into motion the great empire that would conquer the known world.

When you think of Ancient Italy, the first thing that normally comes to mind is the Romans. They brought the country into the first millennium AD with a strength and power unrivalled across the world. Their influence is still felt today in lands spanning an entire continent and beyond.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

But if it wasn’t for the Romans, it may be the Etruscans we all learn about it history class instead. The Romans didn’t always control the Italian lands, of course, and right before them it was the Etruscans who were building a civilisation.

Based in the north of the country, it was around Tuscany, Umbria and northern Latium that the Etruscans called their heartland. (In fact, Tuscany is named after them.) It’s believed that they emerged as a unique race in about 800BC with their own language – Etruscan – that was unlike much else that existed at the time. Clearly there had been humans on these lands for millennia but they had generally been simple hunters and gatherers. The Etruscans were the beginning of the age of empires in this part of the world.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

They took control of a collection of shepherd’s huts in 650 BC on the land that is today called Rome. They introduced rectangular urban planning, built underground sewers, laid out roads and bridges, and began to promote agriculture and trade. The great city grew from there and eventually its power reached a point where the Etruscans were thrown from their creation 150 years or so later.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Not much documentation has survived from the time of the Etruscans and trying to understand them is a mystery of historians. They used to read the flights of bird to try to tell the future; they dressed with pointy shoes; they introduced the arch into architecture; they would get gladiators to fight to the death at the funeral of a king. These are some of the snippets that remain from a mighty race.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia

Much of what we know about the Etruscans is from their tombs here in Tarquinia, a short trip north of Rome. The largest collection is in the Necropolis of Monterozzi, which has about 6000 graves dating back from the 7th century BC. Within many of them are intricately painted wall frescoes which show us an insight into Etruscan life.

You can see slaves pouring drinks for noblemen, scenes of hunting and dancing, musical instruments, sports, and the clothing of the time. Amazingly, the frescoes have been well-protected and are still vivid today.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

There are 16 tombs that you can see for yourself on this site. From the outside it looks like they’re in small stone huts but these constructions are actually just the entranceways. Once you go into one, you’ll have to walk down a long flight of stairs to the actual tomb. Each is about the size of a bedroom and the entrance is protected with a door with a glass window. Press a button outside the door and a light will come on inside for you. Peering through the window you can then see the frescoes for yourself. There are similarities between each one but each is unique and I recommend seeing them all if you visit.

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

Monterrozi Necropolis, Etruscan tombs, Tarquinia, Italy

To get to Tarquinia from Rome, you can catch the train, which takes just over an hour. It’s a long way from the station into either the centre of town or the necropolis so it’s best to then take a bus. I made the mistake of thinking I could walk it and got extremely hot and extremely lost.

Roman ruins may dominate the ancient sites across Italy… but don’t neglect those who laid down the foundations for the Roman Empire to flourish. The Etruscans gave a lot to the world as we know it and, by studying their history, we may find they have a lot more still to give.

Price

Tickets to the necropolis cost € 6.00 for adults and € 3.00 reduced.
Opening Hours
It is open from 8:30am to 5pm and closed all Monday.
Directions
The Necropolis of Monterozzi is at Provincial Road, Monterozzi 01016 Tarquinia, Viterbo, Italy.
By public transport, get the train to Tarquinia and then the bus to the city centre.
(Click to load in Google Maps.)
Tips
It will take about an hour to see all the tombs that are available.
You can find out more information about the Necropolis of Tarquinia here

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

21 Comments
  • Laura | Nov 29, 2013 at 5:18 am

    Beautiful paintings and interesting site. I just can’t stop wondering how beautiful and colorful they must have been in the beginning.

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      They’re still pretty colourful even as they are today. But, yeah, they would have been quite amazing back in the day, I imagine.

  • Deia @ Nomad Wallet | Nov 30, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Haunting site, makes you think about what life was like for them. I imagine them having a big party after a successful hunting session. I see similarities with Roman paintings, by the way.

    • Michael Turtle | Nov 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      From some of the paintings, I’m guessing the parties would have been pretty crazy. It looks like there was a lot of booze and a lot of nudity. you can use your imagination to work out where that would have gone…

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel | Dec 3, 2013 at 3:54 am

    You have so beautifully blended gorgeous images with historical detail to form a wonderful education as to the Etruscans and their place in history,

    • Michael Turtle | Dec 4, 2013 at 4:23 am

      Thanks. I guess the images and the history go hand in hand for a race like the Etruscans who we don’t know too much about.

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  • philoden | Dec 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    In point of fact there were enormous differences between Etruscan and Roman sensibilities.Greek and Roman sources are scandalized by the Etruscan habit of sharing wives and the apparent lacks of concern for the paternity of children.If Etruscan civilization had persisted we would certainly have a different society today!

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      Oh, my word, indeed! They sounded like they were very liberal and quite scandalous by our standards today. The Romans picked up some of their influences (particularly the violent ones) but not the ones about relationships and the like.

  • Dan | Dec 16, 2013 at 6:09 am

    I’ve never heard of the Etruscan people. Thanks for sharing.

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 20, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      I never had either. That’s what I love so much about travel – learning new things about history through the places that still exist!

  • Erik | Dec 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing the photos of the Etruscan tombs. It is always interesting to learn about the ancient world, in some ways they had it more figured out then us today. Peace Dude!

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Ha – I’m not sure what you mean by having it more figured out. Yes, from an urban development point of view, they were very advanced. But they also had a very relaxed way of looking at life… and maybe a little too relaxed in some ways…

  • Raffaella | Dec 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    It’s amazing how just a few turns of history can make such a big change. I’ll be in Rome & Umbria next year, and plan to take in at least some Etruscan sights – perhaps Tarquinia now that I’ve read this. Thanks!

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 20, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Let me know if you make it there and what you think. Tarquinia is a little bit out of the way and not as overtly impressive as the other ruins around Rome. Still, it’s a fascinating insight into this lost race.

  • Nancy | Dec 23, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Interesting! I wasn’t aware there were Etruscan ruins in such good condition. Those dotted ceilings almost look like modern wallpaper.

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 20, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      They are in really good condition, considering their age, aren’t they? You’re right about the dotted ceilings – I wonder whether there was any inspiration from that or whether humans just have similar tastes, even hundreds of years later.

  • Wandering Carol | Feb 1, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I’m fascinated by the Etruscans. When I went to a lot of hot springs spas in Tuscany it always seemed as if the Etruscans had been there before the Romans, and I became interested. The other thing that got me intrigued was reading about Etruscan sculpture and the many fine forgeries of it. Thanks for letting me know more.
    Wandering Carol recently posted..Traveling solo on Valentine’s DayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 10, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Oh, I hadn’t heard about the forgeries of Etruscan sculptures. That sounds quite interesting – I might have to look into it a bit myself. (I don’t mean by doing it myself, though…)

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