Tarquinia, about 60 miles northwest of Rome, is one of the best spots in Italy to see Etruscan tombs. Once one of the 12 major cities in ancient Etruruia (before the Romans), Tarquinia has a huge necropolis with more than 6000 family tombs, about 200 of them decorated with frescoes painted in the 7th through 2nd centuries BC. The town also has an excellent archaeological museum with a top collection of Etruscan artifacts and a good medieval center.
Visiting the Etruscan Tombs in Tarquinia
Many of the painted tombs are open to visitors, however not all of them are always open at the same time. Each day there are usually 15 to 30 tombs open in the Necropolis. Frescoes on the tombs depict scenes from everyday life such as hunting and fishing or leisure activities including athletes and entertainers. Signs in front of the tombs tell visitors the name of the tomb and what to see inside. Most are accessed by gong down a few steep stairs from where you can press a button to turn on the light inside to see the tomb through the window.
The Necropolis of Monterozzi is located outside the town center on Strada provinciale Monterozzi Marina. It’s open from 8:30 until one hour before sunset every day except Mondays, Christmas and New Year’s Day (with free admission the first Sunday of the month). It’s not necessary to reserve in advance, just buy a ticket at the ticket office. If you also want to visit the museum, buy a combination ticket for both. Plan to spend at least an hour wandering through the vast area and visiting tombs. On the site there’s also a snack bar and bookstore.
- Take a Tarquinia and Etruscan Tombs Excursion from Rome with transportation, guided tour of Tarquinia with lunch, and visits to the Monterozzi Necropolis and the Cerveteri necropolis.
Described by UNESCO as “the first chapter in the history of great Italian painting”, the Necropolis with its painted tombs (along with the Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri) has been a World Heritage Site since 2004.
Tarquinia Archaeological Museum
On Piazza Cavour, in the center of town, the Museo Archeologico, holds artifacts discovered during the excavations of the ancient city and tombs. Collections include Etruscan sarcophagi, Greek pottery, gold jewelry, and painted tomb decorations removed from the tombs for conservation during the 1950’s. One of the top artifacts is the stone relief of winged horses that was part of the Altar of the Queen that’s now the symbol of the city of Tarquinia.
The museum is open daily except Mondays, Christmas and New Year’s Day from 8:30 AM until 7:30 PM. Plan to spend at least an hour in the museum. Buy a combination ticket is you’re also visiting the Necropolis. See Tarquinia Museum and Necropolis for current prices and hours.
Tarquinia Transportation and Hotels
Tarquinia is on a regional rail line and can be visited as a day trip from Rome (about an hour by train) or the cruise ship port of Civitavecchia (a very short train ride). From the station, take the local bus into town. From town it’s about a 20 minute walk to the Necropolis although there’s sometimes a shuttle bus from the museum.
- Where to Stay in Tarquinia: See and compare Tarquinia hotels
What Else to See in Tarquinia
While most people head to Tarquinia to see the tombs and museum, the medieval center is interesting as well and not full of tourists. The town sits on a rocky hill overlooking the sea. Piazza Cavour is the main square where you’ll find the museum, a fountain, and the Romanesque town hall. Palazzo dei Priori has frescoes from the early 15th century and the cathedral has early 16th century frescoes. Several churches date from the 12th and 13th centuries, one of the most interesting being the Church of Santa Maria di Castello. Medieval towers, a fort, and a few remnants of the Etruscan walls can also be seen while walking through town. There’s also a ceramics museum.
More Etruscan Sites:
- Populonia Etruscan Tombs by the sea in Tuscany.
- Le Vie Cave – Etruscan rock-cut pathways and tombs in southern Tuscany.
- Map of Etruscan cities, more about this pre-Roman civilization and where to see their works.
Photo credits: James Martin, Wandering Italy