Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Tarquinia - Etruscans, Necropoli, and flagellation

After an early morning wake-up we finished the run down through the Apennines, Tuscany and into Lazio, arriving near Tarquinia at lunchtime. We decided to have 'lunch on the run' opting for take-away pizza slices and cold drinks. For those of you who know me, I'm not a huge fan of pizza, but this was awesome - two 'pizza biancas' (i.e. without tomato) - one with potato slices, cheese and rosemary , the other with garlic, salt and herbs. The entire lunch including large multi-flavoured icecreams came to less than five pounds per head!

By this time, we were starting to wilt in the heat, so what better to do that to visit some underground tombs? They will be cool, wont they? The Etruscan necropolises around Tarquinia are made up of  some 6,000 tombs, 200 of which include wall paintings. The main site is the Necropolis of Monterozzi, with a large number of tumulus tombs with chambers carved in the rock. The scenes painted include erotical and magic depictions, landscapes, dances and music - life and death in the Etruscan world. Because of the fragility of the paintings, maintenance of their unique microclimate is vital, and not all the tombs are open to visit - they rotate on a secret and unknown schedule, so what you see is what's around on the day.

In addition, when you finish stumbling down towards the tombs themselves you realise that they are closed off behind a thick double glazed iron door, with a push button light up system to allow peering visitors to see inside. The fact that this is both vital and sensible is brought home to you rapidly as you suddenly discover that far from being cool, it's hot, muggy and incredibly humid down at the end of the tunnel, there are drops of water forming on the moss around you, and any dry item of clothing you thought you were wearing can now be wrung out to water a small garden with.

A number of the paintings depict gods and demons of the Etruscan world, such as this colorful pair of Charontes who are guarding the portal into the tomb; or Vanth, a butch looking female, seen here escorting a mother and child into the Netherworld.

Others are less concerned with what happens after death, and more so about how to enjoy the life you have - feasting, dancing and general merriment is very common as a depiction. Sadly, Tomba Della Fustigazione was closed, so I've had to borrow a picture from wikipedia to demonstrate some of the more earthly pleasures depicted!

 Tarquinia itself is a walled city some distance from the sea with the normal maze of small cobbled streets, limited motor traffic and many many churches. As with every good Italian city, whilst on route to your next destination, you can fortify yourself with a quick cake shop visit.

The museum is housed in an old papal palace - the building itself is spectacular, although somewhat faded in it's grandeur. There is a superb collection of Etruscan sarcophagi, all with the image of the person reclining at a somewhat uncomfortable angle on top of it.
Grave goods from the Necropoli around also make up the vast majority of the displays, and there is a remarkable amount of greek pottery on display.

By this time it was heading on to 8pm, so we headed out to Lido di Tarquinia, and camped up at the beachside for the night. Word to the wise : Italian beachside campsites, particularly near Rome are not the most pleasant of areas to stop at. The site was incredibly crowded, with people squashed in cheek by jowl in huge numbers. Avoid!

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