The Roman countryside is one of the most beautiful, relaxing, and peaceful areas surrounding Rome, not to mention among the richest in ancient history having been previously known as Etruria....the land of the legendary Etruscans
, the most advanced and complex pre-Roman civilization to have occupied western Mediterranean...a civilization that continues to mystify intrigue, and inspire us more than 2,000 years after it was vanquished by the Romans. And it so happened, the Etruscans also settled in some of the most enchanting regions of Lazio, adding to the magical ambiance that has perpetually surrounded them.
Our tour begins in Tarquinia
, an impressive medieval town built upon a steep cliff with a serene view of the Tyrrhenian Sea
on one side, and lush rolling hills and green valleys on the other. Emerging around 8th century BC from mysterious origins, Tarquinia was the most significant of the 12 Etruscan city states that also produced at least 1 Etruscan king that ruled Rome before it became a Republic.
Today, Tarquinia is famous for the impressive painted tombs we’ll visit inside the Monterozzi Necropolis
, located on the outskirts of Tarquinia. The necropolis is also rightfully designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Of the more than 6000 tombs discovered in this area, 150 of them were beautifully decorated with frescoes, but only about 15 are open to the public. As we make our way to the tombs, we walk through the evocative necropolis surrounded by a panorama of serene hills, valleys, and the sparkling sea.
As you descend down the steps 2,500 years into history towards the burial chambers, you come face to face with vibrant details that paint a portrait of the daily lives of these enigmatic ancient people. As we proceed from tomb to tomb, you’ll discover through the pictorial gallery of frescoes that in many ways, these ancients were very much like us today: they enjoyed banquets, music, wine, art, sports, wore fashionable garments and intricate jewelry, and were passionate about living life and pursuing happiness through all their senses...and sometimes even bordering on hedonism, garnering criticism from their contemporaries.
Do you recognize from these frescoes items and activities generally attributed to ancient Rome? On this tour you will learn of the many things commonly believed to have been Ancient Roman innovations, that were actually Etruscan inventions....you’ll be seeing Rome in a different light after this tour.
Etruscans left very little in terms of written material about their culture and society, and much of that has not yet been deciphered, so it’s mostly what they’ve left behind after death that serves as an open book for us to learn from. The burial chambers themselves were carved into rock in to architecturally represented the interior of actual houses of that time....creating an eternal home for soul in the afterlife while celebrating the pleasures of a human life. During the decline of the Etruscan civilization, you’ll notice the frescoes take on a much darker tone - both in color and theme, with infernal demons replacing cheerful celebrations.
In no other Etruscan necropolis, and nowhere else in the world would you be able to see so many elaborate ancient frescoes so skilfully painted and so well preserved as these in Tarquinia.
The interior of these tombs contained not only fresco masterpieces, but a treasure trove of precious objects and sarcophagi that further give us a glimpse into the life of the Etruscans and their superior craftsmanship that rivaled even the most advanced ancient civilizations. To see some of these incredible artifacts, our tour continues into Tarquinia’s National Museum
inside in the elegant Renaissance Palazzo Vitelleschi
that features some of the most significant Etruscan archaeological findings in Italy!
From here we head to our next destination: Tuscania
. This part of the tour takes most of our clients by surprise because of the unspoiled countryside that you will experience at a relaxing pace.
One of the oldest towns in Italy with a history dating back 3,000 years, Tuscania was another Etruscan establishment and one of the most important crossroads of inner Etruria.
What we see now is a medieval town strategically situated hilltop, with a spectacular view of the valley that inspired poets. Upon visiting Tuscania in early 1900’s, English novelist and poet, D.H. Lawrence wrote: “The Most beautiful view in all Italy: the Etruscan valley of Tuscania”
. See the valley and countryside for yourself, and discover the breathtaking beauty that inspires not only poets, but each and everyone one of us.
From here we will visit Tuscania’s two historically and architecturally significant churches: San Pietro
and Santa Maria Maggiore
. It may appear strange that these two fine churches are situated so far outside the town’s fortified walls, but that is where the initial settlement, called Civita (City) was established, and why these two medieval churches were built here. Tragedy struck in the 14th century when the Black Death wiped out much of the town’s population, and as a result this site, as well as the churches were abandoned and excluded when the city walls were rebuilt. The lack of buildings surrounding these remote churches adds to the magical feel of the site.
These two churches are unique not only in their Gothic architecture, Pagan influences and Paleo-Christian origins, but are both remarkably preserved considering that San Pietro was built in the 8th century, and Santa Maria Maggiore between the 11th and 12 centuries. Both churches were built upon ancient Etruscan temples, with St Maria Maggiore built upon the temple of Janus, the 2-faced god of the gateway into the afterworld. The facade of Santa Maria Maggiore is adorned with carved and sculpted Christian symbols of the Evangelists and biblical stories. The use of different colored stones gives prominence to its large wheel shaped rose-window.
has a similar facade with Christian relief symbols of the 4 Apostles framing a 3 concentric circle rose-window made of marble that represents God as the center of the universe.
Paganism and Christianity co-existed, and clashed, long after Emperor Costantine
legalized Christianity in 313 AD...Etruscan augurs and spiritual beliefs that influenced the Romans survived well into 6th century. The ancient Roman Sol Invictus
(the Sun god
) cult that paved the way from pagan polytheism to eventually Christian monotheism was still practiced in 5th century. Paganism did not die with Costantine’s Edict of Milan
, it was a slow process of decline...a process that was made visible in these two medieval churches.
At the top right side of the facade of San Pietro is a 3-faced demon symbolizing the Kingdom of Evil
. It’s said to to have represented paganism whose false beliefs delivered its followers to the devil depicted at the bottom.
On the left side of the facade that symbolizing the Kingdom of Good and Salvation
, the pagan Greek god Atlas represents Christ holding up the church on his shoulders, replacing the previous pagan god Sol Invictus.
There is one incredibly fascinating element that connects these two churches together as well as connecting Christianity to the pagan cult of the sun, Sol Invictus, that co-existed with Christianity during the middle ages. Both these churches were built to orient towards the pagan solstices: Santa Maria Maggiore orients towards the winter solstice, and San Pietro towards the summer solstice.
The archway in front of San Pietro faces the facade which receives the light of the sun during the summer solstice, and it is said to symbolize a corridor that brings you to the 3rd door: The first door is that of St Maria Maggiore, the 2nd door is the archway, and the 3rd door is the entrance into San Pietro - also considered the door of purification.
For all these reasons and more, the Churches of San Pietro and Santa Maria Maggiore in Tuscania are considered to be among the most beautiful and significant must-visit churches in Lazio.
Tuscania is also known for some of the most delicious Italian cuisine in the region! We will stop for a relaxed lunch at the Trattoria La Torre di Lavello
that overlooks the impressive tower and park of Lavello. If the tour takes place on Wednesdays when the trattoria is closed, we will lunch at Trattoria Alfreda.
After lunch, a stroll through the Medieval Borgo
of Tuscania will take us to the quaint Piazza del Duomo
and its fountain.
If time permits you may include a stop at a local winery or farm that produces and sells local wine or olive oil. Located in the fertile Etruscan farmland near Tarquinia this ancient land has been producing its own renown wine and olive oil for generations according to traditional organic cultivating methods that give this local wine and oil special quality and flavor. You have the opportunity to purchase local prodcuts if desired. It’s a delicious way to end a journey though the Etruscan land of Lazio.
We may not solve the mysteries of the Etruscans in one day, but we part from this enchanting region with knowledge and appreciation that although the Etruscan civilization appears to have vanished once defeated and conquered by the Romans, their legacy and influence continued and manifested into some of the greatest marvels of Ancient Rome!
IMPORTANT: PLEASE CHECK YOUR SPAM FOLDER if you don't receive correspondence from us within 24-48 hours, especially if you use hotmail or msn email accounts.
This tour is not offered on Mondays
as the Monterozzi Necropolis is closed to the public on Mondays.
* The price of the tour includes private deluxe vehicle with an English speaking driver, VAT tax, fuel, insurance, and applicable toll fees. It does not include wine tasting, lunch, gratuities, or other client personal expenses.
* The total price for the tour is per vehicle. Individuals may split the cost of the tour among themselves.
* Tickets to Tarquinia necropolis and museum: 8 Euros per person
* You must be able to climb down a flight of stairs in order to visit each underground painted tomb. There are several tombs open at a time for visitation.
* Payment will be made to your driver in Euro funds at the end of your journey, or you may prepay in advance via PayPal. Please let us know when you book your tour if you wish to prepay and just enjoy yourself on the day of your tour.
* Please allow up to 24-48 hours for email inquiry replies and service confirmation. We have limited office hours on Sundays, please allow for additional time.
* Local farms and wineries are private estates that may choose to close to the public with no advance notification. As there are extremely few wineries and farms in the region of this this tour that can be visited, we cannot guarantee a visit as the opportunity to do so is always up to the private estate and is beyond our control.
We don’t ask for your personal credit card information, require a deposit to secure your tour, or penalize you for cancellations. We operate on the honor system, so we kindly ask that all cancellations be made at least 7 days prior so we can rebook your service and your reserved driver does not lose work for that day.
For more answers to your questions please visit our F.A.Q Page