Paintings from a lost mysterious race

The mysterious Etruscans is one of the greatest races that never was… yet we know so little of them.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

Updated:

Visiting Tarquinia and its Etruscan tombs

Walk in the footsteps of the Etruscans in the Italian town of Tarquinia, where you'll find the astounding legacy of what could've been one of the world's greatest civilisations.

If you're planning to visit Tarquinia from Rome, I've got some information to help.

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.

Etruscan tombs at 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.

History of the Etruscans

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.

Etruscan tombs at 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.

Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy

Not much documentation has survived from the time of the Etruscans and trying to understand them is a mystery of historians. But here are a few things we know about the Etruscans:

  • 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

Just a few snippets that remain from a mighty race.

Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy

The Etruscan tombs in Tarquinia

Much of what we know about this civilisation is from the Etruscan 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.

Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy
Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy

There are 16 Etruscan tombs that you can see for yourself on this site. From the outside it looks like they’re in small stone huts but these modern constructions are just to protect 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.

Where are the Etruscan Tombs at Tarquinia?

The Etruscan Tombs are located at Via Ripagretta, 01016 Tarquinia VT, Italy.

You can see them on a map here.

When are the Etruscan Tombs open?

The tombs are open from 0830 until an hour before sunset. The museum is open from 0830 – 1930.

The site is closed on Mondays.

How much does it cost to visit the Etruscan Tombs?

An entrance ticket for either the Etruscan Tombs or the Tarquinia National Archaeological Museum is €6 for adults and €3 for a concession. However, you can get a combined ticket for both for €8 for adults and €4 for a concession.

More information

You can find out more information at the official website of the tombs.

Oddly, there aren’t that many tours to the tombs at Tarquinia – I guess maybe there isn’t enough demand. However, if you would like to have a guide, there is one option that I would recommend.

This full day tour will show you all the highlights with excellent guides. The only catch is that it starts from Civitavecchia, so you’ll have to get yourself to that point if you’re staying somewhere like Rome.

There are some other options here:

Having a local guide with you will certainly open up a whole new world of Etruscan history that you won’t get visiting Tarquinia on your own.

Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy
Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy

Things to see in Tarquinia

Although the Necropolis of Monterozzi will undoubtedly by the highlight of visiting Tarquinia, there are actually a few other good things to do here, more than justifying a day trip to Tarquinia from Rome or Civitavecchia.

National Etruscan Museum

A visit to the Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia is complemented well by the National Etruscan Museum in the centre of Tarquinia, where you can see artefacts that were taken from the city of the dead, including sarcophagi decorated with carvings of animals.

There’s an impressive collection of items from the era of the Etruscans, with things like vases, statues, coins, and jewellery. Possibly the most impressive item on display is the large pair of life-sized winged horses that once decorated a temple.

The National Etruscan Museum is housed in the Palazzo Vitelleschi, a beautiful grand mansion that was built in the middle of the 15th century – and is an added bonus of a visit here!

Historic Centre of Tarquinia

Although the Etruscan history may be the focus, the Historic Centre of Tarquinia captures a different part of history – the Middle Ages. The medieval buildings and the streets between them evoke a sense of magic and it’s worth wandering around to see the architecture.

Look out for some of the palaces, particularly the Palazzo dei Priori, as well as the important religious monuments like the Church of St Mary in the Castle and the Church of the Holy Spirit. There are also several medieval piazzas which are perfect for a coffee while you watch the local life go by.

Tarquinia Cathedral

One particular building in historic Tarquinia that I want to make special mention of is Tarquinia Cathedral, known officially as the Cathedral of Saints Margherita and Martino.

It was built originally in 1260 but has been rebuilt and expanded over the centuries, with the latest version in a neoclassical style from the 19th century. It has some beautiful frescoes inside… perhaps an unintentional connection with the paintings of the Etruscan tombs…

Tips to visit Tarquinia

Visiting Tarquinia from Rome is quick easy as a day trip, although you need to do a little bit of planning to make the public transport line up, if you’re doing it that way. Otherwise I’ve got a couple of suggestions for tours.

Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, Italy

Getting to Tarquinia from Rome

If you’re driving from Rome to Tarquinia, it will take about 1h 20m. Take the road along the coast through Civitavecchia.

By public transport, the easiest way to get to Tarquinia is by train. There’s a direct train from Roma Termini to Tarquinia station that takes about 1h 20m. Alternatively, you can get a train to Civitavecchia and then jump on a 30-minute bus trip.

Once you arrive at Tarquinia, it’s a long walk to the necropolis from the train station, so you will probably want to take a bus or taxi from the station.

Getting to Tarquinia from Civitavecchia

You can get the train from Civitavecchia to Tarquinia. Just look for one that is heading towards Pisa Centrale/Grosseto and it should stop there.

Alternatively, you can take the bus – either the Cotral line from Piazza Vittoria Emanuele, or the Eusepi line from near Largo della Pace and Fort Michelangelo.

Once you arrive at Tarquinia, it’s a long walk to the necropolis from the train station, so you will probably want to take a bus or taxi from the station.

Tours to Tarquinia

If you want to learn more about the Etruscans and get the most out of your time at the necropolis, a guided tour is the best way to do that.

There are a few tour options, although none of them leave from Rome. The best option is this tour from Civitavecchia, which includes the necropolis and the Etruscan museum.

There are some other options here that might suit you:

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.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TARQUINIA

It is possible to stay in Rome and come to Tarquinia as a day trip, but there are also some wonderful places to stay here.

BACKPACKER

For a good budget option, I would suggest the Tarchon Luxury B&B, which has a nice breakfast.

BUDGET

For a really friendly place that feels like home, try B&B Nonna Luisa.

BOUTIQUE

Although it’s on the coast rather than in town, I think you’ll love Civico Zero Resort.

LUXURY

And if you want to splurge, then have a look at the very special Agriturismo Valle del Marta.

UNESCO logo

This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

22 thoughts on “Paintings from a lost mysterious race”

    • 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…

      Reply
  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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!

    Reply
    • 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…

      Reply
  3. 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!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply

Leave a comment