The modern-day town of Tarquinia, rich in medieval monuments, is in the northern part of Lazio, about forty-five miles north-west of Rome. One of the largest collections of Etruscan archaeological finds belongs to the National Museum. Guided tours of the painted tombs in the necropolises near the town also leave from the museum. The finds on display in the museum include: the sarcophagi; the burial treasures found in the nearby necropolises, vases of all types and origins, decorations belonging to the Ara Reginae temple and a number of painted tombs, moved here to save them from destruction.
The ancient city of Tarquinia (TarXna in Etruscan) stood on the La Civita hill, close to the modern city. Very little remains of the urban fabric of the city: the remains of the solid walls of the 4th century BC, made of square blocks of limestone and about five miles long, and the remains of a temple of the first half of the 4th century BC known as Ara Reginae. The importance of Tarquinia is shown by the legend according to which the city was founded by Tarchon, the companion of the mythical hero Tyrrhenus, the ancestor of the Etruscans. Until the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city was a centre of secondary importance. From then onwards, thanks to the intensification of trading contacts with Greece, it grew in importance until it became one of the main cities of the Etruscan league in the 4th century BC. Between the end of the 4th century and the beginning of the 3rd century BC, Tarquinia, at the height of its power, came into conflict on several occasions with Rome. Defeated in these wars (261 BC), it had to relinquish its coastal dominions, including its port, a few miles from the city itself. This marked the beginning of a decline for Tarquinia which was to be unstoppable.
The archaeological areas
The necropolis of Monterozzi
The necropolis of Monterozzi lies just over two miles to the east of the modern city of Tarquinia. It is famous for the marvellous paintings of its frescoed tombs, which represent one of the greatest examples of pictorial art in the ancient world. Today the location of more than one hundred and fifty painted tombs are known, but only a small number of these can be visited.
In the first phase of the history of Tarquinia, the tombs are mainly of the tumulus or sarcophagus type, that is, covered with slabs of limestone. The period of frescoed tombs began in the second half of the 6th century BC, with the economic development. These tombs typically have a corridor of access with steps carved in the side of the hill, leading to a large rectangular chamber, where the bodies of the dead were placed. The walls and ceiling are decorated with paintings in which a large variety of themes inspired by daily life can be found: banquets, dancers and musicians, scenes of athletes or gladiators, funeral processions and so on.
The Ara Reginae temple
On the site of the city, the remains of a sacred area, called “Ara Reginae”, dating back to the first half of the 4th century BC have been found. This is a temple with a rectangular floor plan with a chamber divided into three parts, flanked by two wings and preceded by a frontal portico closed by two rows of columns. Part of the decorations and fragments of inscriptions on the life of the temple priests can be found in the museum of Tarquinia. The most important piece that has come down to us is a polychrome group in high relief that probably decorated the fronton of the temple, showing two winged horses of splendid workmanship harnessed to the shaft of a chariot.