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January 14, 2011


Way back in September I promised I'd post some photos and blog about the Etruscan sites I visited this fall.  Rather than overwhelm you with everything at once, I'll focus on Tarquinia today.  Because of its unique tombs, the Estruscan necropolis at Tarquinia has earned recognition on the UNESCO World Heritage List .  I first learned about the Etruscans in an introductory art history class, and the tomb paintings from Tarquinia began my fascination with Etruscan culture.   For over a decade I've been learning about ancient Etruria, the setting of  some of my fiction and homeland of my favorite character.  Setting foot in places that have occupied my thoughts and imagination for so long was exhilarating, and looking back, the experience hardly seems real.   

Landscape view from Tarquinia's necropolis

My husband and I hopped on an early train from Rome to the small town of Tarquinia.  A short shuttle-bus ride took us to the city center and the Tarquinia National Museum, which housed an excellent collection of artifacts, sarcophagi, and restored wall paintings.  From the museum we hiked about a mile to the necropolis.  Situated on a hill, the necropolis overlooks the sea in the west and rolling hills and valleys like the one pictured above to the east and south.  The day we visited, the wind roared, dragging low gray clouds and rain over us.  We hurried from one tomb to another like gophers popping in and out of holes to avoid the wet, chilling gusts.

Each tomb is covered by a bunker-like structure with steep stairs leading down to its burial chamber.  The chambers are protected by a plexi-glass barrier, and timed lighting features insure that the paintings are exposed to light only when they are being viewed.  Although houses of the dead, the tombs conveyed a sense of life's continuity.  Music, dancing, feasting, sex--those activities depicted by Etruscan artists more than two thousand years ago remain central sources of human delight.  Examining those tombs, I didn't wonder about religious symbolism or the mysteries of Etruscan culture.  I thought about how alike people are.  The distance of decades or miles or ideologies doesn't alter the basic attributes and experiences of being human.

Detail from Tomb of the Leopards


Lila Alger said...

Did your background in Archeaology give you any insight about the discovery of the site or have the tombs alway been uncovered?

Traci said...

The tombs were discovered in the early 1800s, I believe. I haven't done much research about the history of the archaeological investigations themselves--just their results.