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

Viterbo and Tarquinia

  10 votes
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Both these places have significant medieval remains to be seen and Tarquinia has, in addition, the wonderful painted tombs of the Etruscans. Both are missed by many visitors who scuttle past near them on the way to Rome.

Palazzo dei Papi
Palazzo dei Papi
If you haven’t read my report on ‘Looking for Etruscans in Lazio,’ I suggest you read that before reading the parts here on them, because that’s where I’ve done a general introduction to them. These places are close enough to each other but not linked by rail and, except for a few direct services, the bus journey means a change at Tuscania. Having read several guidebooks I was curious about Viterbo. Some reservations are implied either by the words used or the grading given. There seems to be high commendation for the medieval Peligrino quarter but not for Viterbo as a whole. There is a suggestion of ‘darkness’ or even ‘gloom.’ However it is described as the best centre for visiting the Etruscan remains. I can say that it is definitely only the positive part about the Peligrino area that rings a bell with me. I don’t register any meaning to the ‘darkness’ or ‘gloom.’ I don’t believe for a second that it was only the Christmas decorations that made it seem bright and vibrant. As for the claim that it’s a good centre for visiting the Etruscan remains, it can’t possibly be true of public transport and I fail to see how it could be better than Tarquinia or Cerveteri in a car. Viterbo is no doubt a good centre for short bus rides to some fine villas and/or gardens, for which I had no time. Otherwise the motive for going to Viterbo is to see Viterbo and that is a sufficient and legitimate motive. I don’t know whether the market area in the street around the Piazza dei Caduti is hristmas specific or not but it was impressive, glowing with light, in the December evening darkness. The Piazza del Plebiscito has a very high clocktower and the municipal building, which is housed in the 15th century Palazzo dei Prori. This is beautifully floodlit. The Piazza San Lorenzo, which contains the Cathedral and the13th century Palazzo dei Papi is surprisingly quiet, though architecturally very fine.

Favourite spots:
Inside a tomb
Inside a tomb
Although the medieval sights of both Viterbo and Tarquinia are very good and in places even spectacular, this slot must go to the necropolis at Tarquinia. It is very different from that at Cerveteri. The very first impression could be disappointing because the surface view is of a lot of buildings that look like workmen’s huts on a building site. However you don’t have to go into many of them and down the steep flight of steps that each protects, pressing on the light switch at the bottom, to know you are looking at something very special. These are the wonderful painted tombs stretching back at least to the 7th century BC. Of course they aren’t in pristine condition. It is several centuries since the first ones were discovered and they have suffered pollution and pilfering. Some of the best painting is in museums in Rome or Tarquinia itself. However what remains is more than sufficient to justify the inclusion of the Necropolis in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

What's really great:
Piazza San Pelegrino
Piazza San Pelegrino
The Pelegrino area of Viterbo is special indeed. Part is fortunately pedestrianised so that you can stroll and look in peace. There are the narrow streets and staircases typical of older Italian towns and cities but the area has more than its share of towers, arcaded balconies and external staircases on buildings. The Piazza San Peligrino, in the heart of the area, is just about the same now as in the 14th century when it was built. I wonder whether those who claim it as the best medieval setting in Italy have been to Santa Stafano di Sessanio [see my report] but here we have not an almost forgotten [for many years] village but a real urban environment.

The Museum
The Museum
The approach to Tarquinia by public transport is exciting. The station is some distance away so you arrive in a local bus that drops you in the same square where the long-distance buses stop. You are immediately outside the walls and if you pass through, you come immediately to Piazza Cavour where the National Museum is situated in the 15th century Palazzo Vitelleschi, a very picturesque building.
Inside is what is probably the best collection of Etruscan remains outside of Rome. Some of the paintings are awesome and the pottery and metal artefacts are of top quality. Some of the jewellery is truly intricate.

Tarquinia travelogue picture
At Viterbo I stopped at Albergo Roma near the northern [and more major] station. It was good but there is no shortage of hotels here. A bonus, however, was being recommended to use the proprietor’s son’s nearby restaurant [see below.] It was also a very reasonable price with comfortable beds and good showers.
At Tarquinia I stayed at the Hotel San Marco. Its position is superb, in the Piazza Cavour, directly opposite the museum and about 4 minutes walk from the buses. It does have a monopoly within the older part of Tarquinia and uses that a bit in fixing its price but it’s not exorbitant and it has a restaurant with reasonably priced and adequate meals.

Red carpet at Tarquinia - just for me?
Red carpet at Tarquinia - just for me?
The Hotel San Marco at Tarquinia seemed to have a considerable programme of evening entertainment but if you are only in Tarquinia for one night, don’t miss the opportunity of going out armed with a map of the monuments and seeing them floodlit.
In Viterbo I thoroughly enjoyed an evening exploration of the place but I was too tired to think beyond that.

Municipal Hall, Viterbo
Municipal Hall, Viterbo
I’m taking the opportunity here to say a bit about reaching these places. There are trains from different Rome stations to Viterbo shown if you use the main Trenitalia site. I used one of these but I was scarcely impressed as it was over twenty minutes late, having hwat I thought rather an excessive timetabled journey. If going again I should use the way shown on troRoma/HTML/EN/Serv izi/Muoversi+a+Roma/Ro maViterbo.htm
From Viterbo to Tarquinia, it’s a closely guarded secret where you get the bus – and the timetables leave a bit to be desired. There is a Tourist Office if you face the town hall and go just down the opening to its right. As for the stop, go through the gate in the wall from the Fontana della Rocca. DON’T wait at the obvious Cotral stop to your right but cross and take the road directly opposite to it. There is another Cotral stop after the news stand on the right side of the road – but if in any doubt wave down any blue bus and ask!

Tarquinia travelogue picture
In Viterbo I ate at the Trattoria di Etruria, near the top of the Via della Cava. I am sure I should have looked in the opposite direction from the hotel, had not it been recommended there [see above.] In general I found meals in Italy to be all of a high enough standard but at a price of €13 +drinks, this had to be considered a find.
In Tarquinia I ate at the hotel.

Other recommendations:
San Lorenzo Cathedral, Viterbo
San Lorenzo Cathedral, Viterbo
Near the northern station of the Viterbo, just inside the walls is the Basilica of San Francesco. It’s rare, outside of Rome, in having the mausoleums of two popes. I can’t say it did a lot for me. Popes aren’t really my scene but some would want to go there. I was sad, however, that the cloisters at Santa Maria Nuova, thought to be older than the 11th century church, were closed during my visit. The photograph looked particularly good.

A particularly good website for the necropolis in Tarquinia is http://www.mysteriouse Make sure you scroll right down and click on some of the specific tombs.

Published on Friday December 22th, 2006

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Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 10:16 AM rating by jorgesanchez

El texto es hermoso, y las fotos son de las mejores en tu coleccion.

Tue, Dec 26 2006 - 07:00 AM rating by marianne

What was the red carpet for? It is very good photo. I love your description of where to get the bus, so very true.

Sat, Dec 23 2006 - 07:38 PM rating by rangutan

Again, a superb and usefully historic tour. What do the locals do (or look like) ?

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