Ancient Tarquinia was one of Eturuia's most important cities. Tarquinia is one of the best places to see Etruscan tombs and it is one of central Italy's UNESCO World Heritage sites. There is an excellent archaeological museum with Etruscan finds and its medieval center and main piazza, Piazza Cavour, are interesting. The cathedral has good frescoes dating from 1508 and there are several other churches you can visit. Tourist Information can be found in Piazza Cavour.
Tarquinia is 92 km north of Rome and 5 km from the sea in the area known as Northern Lazio. The town can be reached by train from Rome or northern coast towns on the Roma-Ventimiglia line.
If arriving by car, take the road to Vetralla from the coast and turn left at the sign for the Necropolis rather than driving into town. You can park free on the road near the entrance. From there you can also walk to the museum.
The Etruscans were Italy's first real civilization, settling in what is now northern Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria. Tarxuna, now Tarquinia, was one of the 12 Etruscan cities. Tarquinii later became a Roman colony. In the eighth or ninth century, the town was completely abandoned and the town of Corneto was founded on the opposite hill. In 1489 the first recorded archaeological dig in modern times took place in Tarquinia.
Tarquinia's Etruscan Necropolis
The Etruscan tombs are on a hilltop just outside the main town. About 6000 tombs were dug into the soft volcanic tufa and some were painted inside with colorful frescoes. Paintings date from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC. 15 tombs are usually open each day for visitors including some from each of the various periods showing the different tomb styles. This is probably the best collection of painted Etruscan tombs.
Visiting Tarquinia's Tombs
Each tomb has a sign at the entrance with a description and picture. Although walking amongst the tombs is easy, the tombs have fairly steep stairways leading down to the paintings. You'll see the tomb painting through a window by pressing a button to turn on the light (you may have to squat or bend down to see it well). There is also a snack bar with drinks and a small bookstore.
Tarquinia's Archeological Museum
The Museo Archeologico is in the Palazzo Vitelleschi in Piazza Cavour, Tarquinia's main square and the entrance to the town. You can buy a ticket that includes both the Necropolis and the museum if you're going to visit both. The museum has one of Italy's best collections of Etruscan finds, including a fabulous group of terra-cotta winged horses from the 4th century BC. You'll also see Etruscan sarcophagi and statues.
More Etruscan Places Near Tarquinia
Norchia, inland from Tarquinia, has tombs carved out of rocks on the large cliffs. You can visit the tombs for free but they are difficult to access. Cerveteri, along the coast to the south, has a different style of Etruscan tomb. The necropolis is a network of streets lined with tombs from the 7th to 1st century BC. Some of the larger tombs are arranged like houses. Sutri, also inland, has an Etruscan ampitheater. A little farther away, Orvieto has Etruscan sites and an archeological museum with Etruscan finds.
More Sights in Tarquinia
Modern Tarquinia is a small town with medieval and Renaissance sights that makes it interesting to visit as well.