The Crown Princess sailed through the Tyrrhenian Sea into Rome’s port of Civitavecchia during the night. We had to make a decision; would we explore the region around the port or would we take the train into Rome.
Since we had flown into Rome at the beginning of our trip and already visited the major sites, Peggy and I, along with her brother John and wife Frances, decided to stay local. Our other two travelling companions, Kathi and Lee, opted for the hour train ride into Rome.
I had read in Rick Steve’s book on Mediterranean Ports about the Etruscan town of Tarquinia with its necropolis of 6000 tombs dating from 700-200 BC. I was eager to explore it. The Etruscans were precursors to the Romans… i.e. ancient. Also, in this age of movie vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night, how could we resist visiting a city of the dead?
We scarfed down a quick breakfast onboard, grabbed the shuttle to town, and were soon knee-deep in cab drivers offering tours. Ninety euros bought the four of us a trip to the tombs and a visit to the National Museum of Tarquinia. Thirty minutes later we had made the short trip north of the port and were preparing to visit our first tomb.
Walking out to the site, we passed a number of large mushroom and hut shaped stone objects that had served as funerary urns for cremated bodies. Apparently these strange-looking urns, as well as more sophisticated sarcophagi (coffins), were found buried in the tombs.
The tombs were dug into stone and covered by small mounds, creating what might best be described as a bumpy hill. A number of the burial sites contained elaborate paintings. Small, modern buildings covered the stairs leading down into tombs. We switched on lights for our trip into the darkness. The tombs were sealed to protect the paintings. Miniature windows provided viewing for one person at a time. It was best to be first in line, rather than last and left alone with the dead… especially when the automatic lights shut off.
The paintings provided a fascinating look into early Etruscan life. The Etruscans, it seems, believed that the soul remains with the body after death. The dead were stuck in their tombs for a long, long time. Make that eternity. With this in mind, people did what they could to make the tombs pleasant places to live. Family and friends were painted on the walls, as were parties and dancing and music and feasts and sex. Who could ask for more? At least that’s what the living hoped. The dead were dangerous if they started wandering around outside. Best they have fun in their own little underground houses.
The following examples are from the Lioness House.
Visiting the National Museum of Tarquinia finished off our tour. It is housed in a handsome building, the Palazzo Vitelleschi, which was begun in 1436 and completed around 1490.
NEXT BLOG: We begin our visit to Rome by walking along the Tiber River and stopping off at the Vatican.