Some 90km northwest of Rome, Tarquinia is the pick of Lazio’s Etruscan towns. The highlight is the magnificent Unesco-listed necropolis and its extraordinary frescoed tombs, but there is also a fantastic Etruscan museum (the best outside of Rome) and an atmospheric medieval centre.
Legend suggests that Tarquinia was founded towards the end of the Bronze Age in the 12th century BC. Later home to the Tarquin kings of Rome before the creation of the Roman Republic, it reached its prime in the 4th century BC, before a century of struggle ended with surrender to Rome in 204 BC.
Highlight of Tarquinia is the Necropoli di Monterozzi. This remarkable 7th-century BC necropolis is one of Italy’s most important Etruscan sites. Some 6000 tombs have been excavated in this area since digs started in 1489, of which 140 are painted and 19 are currently open to the public. These include the Tomba della Caccia e della Pesca , which boasts some wonderful frescoes depicting hunting and fishing scenes; the richly decorated Tomba dei Leopardi ; and the Tomba della Fustigazione with some erotic scenes of flagellation. To get to the necropolis, which is about 1.5km outside the town centre, take the shuttle bus (free, every 20 minutes from 9am to 1pm and then 4pm to 7pm Monday to Saturday) from outside the tourist office. There are also regular town buses or you can walk – head up Corso Vittorio Emanuele, turn right into Via Porta Tarquinia and follow straight into Via Ripagretta; it takes about 20 minutes.
Also, do not miss out on the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Tarquiniense. Beautifully housed in the 15th-century Palazzo Vitelleschi, this charming museum is a treasure trove of locally found Etruscan artefacts. Highlights include a breathtaking terracotta frieze of winged horses (the Cavalli Alati), a room full of painted friezes, and several frescoed tombs full of vibrant paintings.
Last but not least you should visit the old town of Tarquinia, an architectural jewel set within the medieval walls of an ancient and enchanting borough, named the “San Gimignano” of Lazio. Wandering through the narrow streets of the historical centre, and between the city towers, you discover an unexpected world, not only made of those particular bricks with a unique colour – the macco, unique element, fruit of Tarquinia territory – but also made of episodes, legends and memories full of charm. Romantic gothic and neoclassical style interlace, almost unconsciously, on the palaces and church facades, until the triumph of the enchanting church of Santa Maria in Castello, which appears at the edge of the hill. Your stroll made of memories, mystery and surprise will lead you from the keep of the Countess Matilde of Canossa, admiring the masterpieces of its walls to, onto Piazza delle Erbe, which is dominated by the shape of the Barucci Tower under which during medieval times the town’s hangmen carried out their rituals. And then continuing through the maze like streets you will admire towers and the coat of arms of the wealthy families: perfect scenery in the time in which ranks of friars used to enchant rich and poor people, the powerful and those who had nothing.