Tag Archives: Tarquinia

Day 4: Trains & Etruscans

17 Feb

I am a day late posting this update. Just too tired last night, and today I had to do my Italian grammar homework or suffer the consequences when my tutor shows up tomorrow. Every day here is a test, but I am bound-and-determined that I will speak more-or-less grammatically correct one day. 

Classic Italian piazza": City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

Classic Italian piazza: City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

After an exhausting but interesting tour by car on Saturday, on Sunday we took a train north along the coast to Tarquinia, another ancient Etruscan city. The Etruscans are very mysterious as there is no literature, no historical record nor religious texts. We have only the knowledge derived from their tombs, which contained “grave goods” and art.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The train was a Regionale Veloce meaning it runs a bit faster than the serviceable Regionale found along many rural lines. On the train, one passes the port of Civitavecchia with enormous cruise ships docked to disperse passengers for a day in Rome, as well as other more charming seaside towns that perhaps serve as retreats for city-weary Romans. Tarquinia is more than 2500 years old, but today it may serve as a bedroom community to Rome as one can commute by train in a little over an hour. (We know people at the Embassy that make an hour-and-a-half trip to work, living various places on the coast or in the hills and commuting by train.)

Etruscan sarcophagus.  Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

Etruscan sarcophagus. Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

With its remoteness from Rome, few tourists venture to Tarquinia, especially in February. It was serene and uncrowded this sunny Sunday. We enjoyed the National Museum and its treasures without interference, then meandered up the street, through a classic piazza in search of Sunday lunch. We stumbled – luckily – into Ristorante Ambaradam and were soon followed by group after group seeking lunch. What a find! We feasted on insalata di polpo & cicoria ripassata (salad of warm octopus and greens) served on a bed of creamed chickpeas, followed by cacio e pepe (think Italian mac & cheese, but classy and “zippy”) for me, and pasta with a ragu of octopus, tomato, and guanciale with flakes of pecorino for Ric. Alongside was THE BEST puntarelle ever.    Puntarelle is a seasonal favorite, and while I like it the “normal” way (see link), the one at Ambaradam was extra nice featuring olives and little bits of sweet orange, with the anchovy taste played down. Yum! Washed down with a Chardonnay from Lazio, this lunch demanded exercise. As the walk to visit the necropolis was ahead, we were able to shake off the postprandial doziness in the cool fresh air.

The necropolis of Tarquinia features more than 6,000 tombs. Once at ground level, after 2,500 years they are subterranean. One climbs down

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

steep stairs to view the chambers, decorated with sometimes lively frescoes. The dioramas and renderings reminded me of the Indian burial mounds found in Minnesota. Although I am unaware of any place you can actually enter one in America, the concept seems similar: bury the person with “grave goods” to take them into the next life. We almost missed the entrance to the park (signage is not terrific), but a tour group of French students attracted our attention and we made for the gate ahead of them.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

The treasures found in the National Museum came from these tombs: elaborate tombstones and sarcophagi, as well as jewelry, weapons, urns, and other household goods one might need in the afterlife.

We walked a lot in part because the bus service on a Sunday is limited. Here’s a conundrum for you to consider:

  • The museum and necropolis are closed on Monday (very common in Italy) and open Tuesday-Sunday. The two sites are 1.5 km apart.
  • The Tourist Information office is closed on Sunday but open Monday-Saturday
  • The shuttle bus to the tombs does not run on Sunday but does Monday-Saturday

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

Why does the shuttle bus run on Monday when the tombs are closed? Why is the TI closed on Sunday when the museum and tombs are open, but open Monday when the necropolis and museum are closed? Like so many things here, it makes no sense from a service and commerce point-of-view.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

If you go to Tarquinia on Sunday, be prepared to walk…or take a car. But if you eat cacio e pepe or other Italian specialties, you may want to walk anyway. The train back to Rome offered a chance to nap a bit, far better than driving in my book. 

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