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davidx Cerveteri - A travel report by David
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Cerveteri,  Italy - flag Italy
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davidx's travel reports

Looking for Etruscans in Lazio

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Many people of my age learned by heart about the Etrurian attack on Rome with ‘the Tuscan Army, right glorious to behold’ under Lars Porsena of Clusium – and never learned anything else about this fascinating civilisation. Here’s a bit more.


Well hewn tomb
Well hewn tomb
Yes, I did realise the Etruscans had all died a long time ago, as their civilisation was pre-Roman, but I’m afraid that’s nearly all I knew of them. I am still somewhat confused about their origins but that’s not surprising because there’s no written record left by them. The Greek historian, Herodotus, would have them coming from Lydia but there is much thought that they were indigenous Italians. What is certain is that they were in Italy in the 8th century BC and came to the height of their powers in the 6th, when their empire spread well beyond Tuscany. Quite how an Etruscan derived family came to be rulers of Rome in the 5th century BC is a bit obscure as well. Returning to certainty, their culture was completely absorbed by that of Rome after the foundation of the Roman republic. However it seems probable that the Etrurian culture contributed much to the Roman one that ‘absorbed’ it. Why bother with them, if there is so little certain? Because some of what they have left reveals a deep culture that was much influenced by the Greeks, with whom they traded, but saw them producing Greek style artefacts of pottery and metal every bit as impressive as the true Greek ones of Sicily. Above all though, now, there are their tombs and necropolises. To my mind those at Cerveteri and Tarquinia should be regarded as coming well within the greatest sights in Europe. Why am I restricting this to Lazio, when there are Etruscan remains in Tuscany as well? You jest. Even getting from Tarquinia to Cerveteri by public transport is a major operation. The idea of getting into a different region on a short break is Quixotic in the extreme. It’s interesting that, although Cerveteri and Tarquinia are no distance apart, without a car it’s impossible to see both necropolises in the same day. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To see both in the same day would be far too physically taxing for somebody with a dicky ticker. See under sights for more on the Etruscans.

Favourite spots:
City of the dead
City of the dead
I can’t choose a favourite from Cerveteri and Tarquinia. Each has some distinct and wonderful features and both came as a revelation to me but as Tarquinia has more non-Etruscan remains, I’m putting it in a report with Viterbo and concentrating on Cerveteri here. However Tarquinia is THE place for seeing painted tombs and the section on the paintings applies more to there. Cerveteri; I wonder how many non-Italian members have even heard of it! I hadn’t before November of this year. Now I think its necropolis should be regarded as one of the great sights of Europe. This is a true ‘necropolis’ or ‘city for the dead.’ The same design principles were used that were also used for the Etruscan places of the living. There are definite ‘streets’ of tombs and many of them are like houses with inter-connection rooms built into the tufa. Whereas few are lit here, if you take a torch and feel fit, you can examine a very large number of tombs.

What's really great:
Cerveteri travelogue picture
It was in the morning I went to the necropolis of Banditaccia on the first [0830] bus and they had just opened. I had it almost to myself. I admit that the two living people I saw just before leaving were two more than the number of dead – but it’s hardly a multitude. This was in a place approaching three kilometres in length! You will have gathered that you should allow a lot of time. I would never claim to be the fastest person in the world but two hours passed in no time. While giving advice I’ll point out that the bus back into the centre left two minutes before it was due and left me stranded! It didn’t matter a lot because when I blew, they called over a car and got the driver to take me back. Hence I was in time for the 1110 bus to Rome – but as it failed to show up it hardly mattered!!

Sights:
Light presents a real problem here
Light presents a real problem here
Most of the information we have about the Etruscans comes from their tomb paintings. What would people in 2500 years time make of us if restricted to cemetery information? However it’s clear that they had a very high regard for the family. It is also clear that they were into growing, fishing and hunting.
However, not surprisingly, most of what we learn is about their beliefs on death. Like the Greeks and Romans, they have pictures of Chairon, the ferryman taking people across the Styx. I don’t know how that fitted with the notion of the dead living their afterlife in the necropolis and the pictures of carts drawn by horses,, with slaves in attendance, carrying them towards their new life.
Another recurring feature is [obviously] female demons accompanying the procession.


Accommodations:
Municipal building
Municipal building
I reached Cerveteri by three buses from Tarquinia. A young woman was kind enough to ensure that I got off the second bus [Civitavecchia to Rome] at a fork which allowed the third section by a local Cerveteri bus. However both this person and the driver looked blank when I asked about a hotel.
Fortunately I acquired a minder. He was about 60 and clearly lonely, looking for people for conversation. I learned from him that the nearest hotel as such was in the new town some few kilometres away. He suggested, and I agreed with alacrity, a B&B in the old town.
I believe that this, B&B a casa di Anna, is the ONLY accommodation in the old town and I suggest you copy my travel tip, if you think of going! A bit pricey but not exorbitant, very comfortable and friendly and a very good breakfast.

Nightlife:
Entrance to old city
Entrance to old city
The old city is very small. There,s a place opposite the end of the Via Roma that looks as though it reckons to draw people in at night.
I’ve no idea whether there’s anything in the new town but it looked completely uninteresting as I passed through on the Rome bus next day.

Hangouts:
Castle/museum over other buildings
Castle/museum over other buildings
All buses stop just outside the old walls, the bottom parts of which were Etruscan in places. Don’t be conned into walking to the necropolis – there’s enough walking when you get there. There’s a perfectly adequate local bus – but remember to turn up five minutes early at each end!
Note my comments earlier about a Rome bus that didn’t run and if you have a deadline, give yourself some leeway by going for one bus earlier than the one you need.
Although some recent guidebooks and even websites say something else, have no doubt that the buses run from and to the CORNELIA metro station in Rome.


Restaurants:
Cerveteri travelogue picture
My minder insisted on ‘presenting’ me at two eating places. I don’t remember the names but as you go along the Via Etruria from the Via Roma the first was in fact the first you reach, on the left. Apparently it’s expensive in the evening but does a €10 lunch [all in.]
This was certainly a bargain.
Believe it or not, the second was the second on the left, a pizzeria which would prove cheap for the evening. It did but I did feel I was getting what I’d paid for. However after my only restaurant lunch and with a few good clementines to eat in my room afterwards, it didn’t matter.

Other recommendations:
Cerveteri travelogue picture
Although Cerveteri is noted mainly for its necropolis, the museum, which contains some fine Etruscan artefacts of pottery and metals is located in an early medieval castle and the old walls are picturesque.

http://www.paradoxpla ce.com/Perspectives/Ro me%20&%
20Ce ntral%20Italy/Cerve teri/Cerveteri.htm has some particularly good photos of the necropolis.

Published on Friday December 22th, 2006


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Sat, Jan 13 2007 - 11:51 PM rating by mrscanada

Once again a fabulous review with interesting photos. The Tomb and the City of the Dead were very interesting.

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 12:18 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Muy bueno! Este report parece una aventura de Indiana Jones.

Sun, Dec 31 2006 - 03:36 PM rating by st.vincent

A good historical piece David, and well written as usual.

Sat, Dec 23 2006 - 09:33 PM rating by rangutan

Great historical stuff!

Fri, Dec 22 2006 - 01:55 PM rating by marianne

David
An excellent read. We will certainly consider going there.

Fri, Dec 22 2006 - 01:11 PM rating by horourke

What an extraordinary discovery. If ever we go to Italy again i shall certainly strive to follow your lead to Cerveteri

Fri, Dec 22 2006 - 10:07 AM rating by bertison

i read this report with growing interest. some new facts for me make this special.

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