Thanks to project “Italy Different” (the travel bloggers tell another Italy) I had the opportunity to spend a weekend exploring the Tuscia, one of the many Italian territories that are full of historical, cultural and oenogastronomic excellence but at the same time it’s not known to tourists so much.
For Tuscia I mean the province of Viterbo (80 km north of Rome), which has a strong historical tradition, just think that was the heart of the territory of the Etruscans.
The first thing I visited is the altar of the Queen, the largest so far found Etruscan temple.
After Parked my car I walked five minutes along a dirt road to get to the top of the Civita plateau where the Queen altar temple is located
The Queen altar temple is the result of a reconstruction of the first half of the IV century BC on the basis of a shrine dating from the first half of the VI century BC and some scholars argue that it was dedicated to the goddess Artumes who is the counterpart of Etruscan Artemis-Diana, although there is no evidence to prove this thesis.
In 1938, during the restoration of the archaeological area of Queen altar, the famous winged horses that are nothing more than a slab of clay where two winged horses are shown, were found. This slab was an ornament to the pediment of the temple, together with a slab, unfortunately lost, with depicted a chariot.
The table is now preserved at the National Museum of Tarquinia, which I visited later.
The temple of the Queen altar, there is not much, in fact, you can only see the stands, but a traveler can understand the greatness of the temple and get an idea of its majesty.
I retrace the route in reverse back to the car and from here I turned towards the necropolis of Tarquinia (the ancient Etruscan Tarchuna), which in 2004 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The necropolis of Tarquinia, is located on the hill of Monterozzi, just in front of the rise of the Civita, where there is the temple of the Queen altar which I had just visited.
The contrast between the world of the living (temple of the Queen altar) and world of the deads (necropolis of Tarquinia) is always present in the history of the Etruscans, because for them death was not a bad experience, but it marked the transition from the world on the earth to that of the Gods.
The paintings in tombs in the necropolis of Tarquinia, in fact, make me feel like the Etruscans had a conception of death as a journey to an imagined afterlife as a continuation of earthly life.
The deceased is often depicted in scenes of feasting, games, dances, contests and surrounded by his servants, both men and women richly dressed. The structure of the burial chamber is similar to that of the earthly homes.
In the necropolis of Tarquinia, there are about 6000 graves called as tumulus, with rooms carved into the rock, and of these about 200 contain, within them, finely painted rooms with frescoes dating from the VII to II century BC, that is for the duration of the life of the city.
To access the tombs of Tarquinia, being dug under the ground level, you have to go down a ladder a bit 'steep and at the entrance to the burial chambers there are shatterproof protective glasses to protect the precious frescoes by vandalism.
All the tombs are illuminated with a timer placed in the vicinity of the glass door.
Not all of the 200 tombs are open to public, in fact they are only open a dozen, but among those I visited, what I liked the most were:
The Tomb of the Leopards
It was built in 473 BC and takes its name from the representation of two leopards just opposite the entrance of the tomb. On the wall there is also a funeral banquet in honor of the deads.
On the left side you can see some dancers and musicians. It’s one of the most famous tombs in the necropolis for the vibrancy of the rich coloring.
The tomb of the Bacchae
This tomb was built around the VI century BC, but was discovered in 1874. On the entrance wall it’s drawn a dance scene that some people connect it to the Dionysian cults, from which the name of the tomb. The setting is naturalistic and persons depicted are dancing and playing into the hands clutching cups of wine.
The tomb of Caronti
On the walls of the bottom and right side of the vestibule, in line with the entrance to the burial chambers below, two false doors are carved – symbolic entrance to the afterlife – painted with an indication of the 'frame wood and metal studs.
The doors are framed by pairs of winged Caronti, Etruscan demons of the death, guardians of Hades.
Next to each figure, a painted inscription indicates the name of the demon Caronte accompanied by a different name that apparently distinguished its particular function on the Etruscan world.
Discovered in 1960, this tomb dates from the first half of III century. BC and the style of the paintings make us realize that the Etruscans have assimilated the achievements of the early Hellenistic Greek painting.
After the visit, I headed for the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia, housed in the Renaissance Palace of Vitelleschi, dating back to XV century. It is considered one of the most important in Italy for the variety and richness of the exhibits.
In a room of the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia, the votive offerings were collected, that is the gifts offered to the Etruscan deity to obtain a pardon or for favors received, most of them were found during archaeological excavations carried out in the area of Queen altar.
On the second floor of the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia there are artifacts that come from the excavations of the Civita and the famous sculpture of the winged horses found at the Queen altar.
Still inside the museum, the environments of four tombs of the Necropolis of Monterozzi (the Olympics, the Ship, the Triclinium, of Chariots) have been reconstructed, with their paintings that were detached for preservation reasons.
The whole museum is interesting, but I was particularly touched by the part devoted to the collection of artifacts from the Villanovan period (IX – VIII centuries BC).
Along the way back to Viterbo, I stop in Tuscania to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which would be built between the late XI and the beginning of XII century.
In the jambs of the facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore are carved the figures of the apostles Peter and Paul, whereas in the bezel are placed the figures of the Madonna and Child Blessing.
In the right aisle is placed a baptismal immersion octagonal dating from the XII century
Of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore I loved the colors of the frescoes, that convey a sense of serenity and peace
After the visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, I visit the Church of St. Peter, which stands on the hill with the same name that was used as an Etruscan acropolis. The construction period is not well defined, but strong is the imprint left by a Romanesque rose window Cosmatesque formed by three concentric circles at the corners with four sculptures that recall the Evangelists (Aquila, Angel, Lion and Calf) and it’s surrounded by a multitude of decorative elements.
At this point I come back to the hotel to rest for a while, also because I knew that after dinner, my friend Antonello Ricci would have reached me. He is an actor, but I would personally call him a storyteller, lover of his city.
We walked togegher a little bit through Viterbo, also with two of his friends.
At one point we got to the copy of the tomb of the "Beautiful Galiana" the original of which is preserved at the Town Museum. The bas-relief depicts the mythological episode of the Caledonian boar hunt.
Continuing my walk, I arrived at Jesus Square, rightly considered one of the most beautiful squares of Viterbo.
On one side of the Jesus Square is the church of San Silvestro that was the scene of an act of violence so horrible and sensational to remain immortalized in some of the XII Canto of triplets.
Hearing the triplets of Dante recited in the place where the "crime" happened is a unique experience that I recommend to all the “incurable travelers” to try.
Cause the cold and the bad weather, I go to the hotel. I have been very happy of the experience to know a city through a storyteller.
The next morning, after breakfast, I went to the necropolis of Castle of Asso that is located about 10 km from Viterbo. Castle of Asso was formerly known as Axia and was cited by Cicero in Pro Caecina prayer.
The necropolis of Castle of Asso was rediscovered in 1817 and it is important because it was the first Etruscan necropolis that was the subject of academic study.
Unlike other Etruscan necropolis, the one of Castle of Asso has a relatively narrow extent focus within a radius of a few hundred meters.
In this necropolis, the tombs are nut shaped and their characteristic is the depiction of Feint gate, the gate of the afterlife, highlighted by a thick raised curb.
After lunch, I visited the ancient village of Calcata, a village perched on the cliffs of volcanic rock that seems almost suspended in the air on the deep ravines of Treja Valley, covered with lush vegetation.
A country where the atmosphere is ancient, it seems to be back to the Middle Ages along narrow streets that wind along old houses and cellars, now restored and used as stores of art objects and antiques or nice and cozy restaurants where you can enjoy home-cooked food but very tasty.
I could enjoy the “stringozzi” cheese and pepper and then sausages and “arrosticini” accompanied by beans of purgatory, grown in the area of Gradoli, “all’uccelletto”.
Unfortunately my weekend to discover the Tuscia is finished and I was forced to return to Rome to take the train that brought me home.