Last updated

Tarquinia's town square with the city hall (Palazzo Comunale) on the right. Tarquinia town square AvL.JPG
Tarquinia's town square with the city hall (Palazzo Comunale) on the right.

Tarquinia (Italian:  [tarˈkwiːnja] ), formerly Corneto, is an old city in the province of Viterbo, Lazio, Italy known chiefly for its ancient Etruscan tombs in the widespread necropoleis or cemeteries which it overlies, for which it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.


In 1922 it was renamed after the ancient city of Tarquinii (Roman) or Tarch(u)na (Etruscan). Although little is visible of the once great wealth and extent of the ancient city, archaeology is increasingly revealing glimpses of past glories.


The Etruscan and Roman city is situated on the long plateau of La Civita to the north of the current town.

The ancient burial grounds (necropoleis), dating from the Iron Age (9th century BC, or Villanovan period) to Roman times, were on the adjacent promontories including that of today's Tarquinia.


Site of the ancient city on the plateau of La Civita opposite the modern town Tarquinia 2014 by-RaBoe 124.jpg
Site of the ancient city on the plateau of La Civita opposite the modern town

Etruscan city

Tarquinii (Etruscan Tarch(u)na [1] ) was one of the most ancient and important Etruscan cities; [2] the ancient myths connected with Tarchuna (those of its eponymous founder Tarchon—the son or brother of Tyrrhenus—and of the infant oracle Tages, who gave the Etruscans the disciplina etrusca ), all point to the antiquity and cultural importance of the city. Basing on archaeological finds, Tarchuna eclipsed its neighbours well before the advent of written records. It is said to have been already a flourishing city when Demaratus of Corinth brought in Greek workmen. [2]

Descendants of Demaratus, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, became kings of ancient Rome. Numerous Roman religious rites and ceremonies derived from Tarchuna, and even in imperial times a collegium of sixty haruspices continued to exist there. [2]

The emergence of Tarchuna as a trading power as early as the 8th Century BC was influenced by its control of mineral resources located in the Tolfa Hills to the south of the city and midway to the Caeretan port of Pyrgi.

In 509 BC, after the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, the family of Tarquinius Superbus went into exile in Caere. He sought to regain the throne at first by the Tarquinian conspiracy and, when that failed, by force of arms. He convinced the cities of Tarchuna and Veii to support him and led their armies against Rome in the Battle of Silva Arsia. Although the Roman army was victorious, it is recorded by Livy that the forces of Tarchuna fought well on the right wing, initially pushing back the Roman left wing. After the battle the forces of Tarchuna returned home. [3]

At the end of the 5th century and during the first half of the 4th century BC a brief revival took place, both in the political and artistic sphere, probably under the ascendancy of the Spurinna family, whose members contributed to the renewed expansion of Tarchuna and the repopulation and growth of towns in the hinterland. The Spurinnas' tomb, known as the Tomba dell'Orco, is decorated with frescoes of a banquet uniting members of the family who are identified by inscriptions. The Spurinna family was prominent in Tarquinii up to the 1st century AD. Two fragmented slabs, known as the Elogia Tarquiniensis, pay tribute to Velthur Spurinnas and Aulus Spurinnas, and give a rare glimpse of Etruscan history, including the mention of one King Orgolnium of Caere, recalling the family name of Urgulanilla, which included among its members the wife of the emperor Claudius.

During this period, Tarchuna overtook Caere and other Etruscan cities in terms of power and influence. In this period colossal walls were built around the city in response to threats from the Celts and from Rome. Tarchuna, not affected by Celtic invasions, finally colonised all its previously held territories in about 385 BC. This new flourishing state allowed a rapid recovery of all activities. Large burial monuments decorated by paintings, with sarcophagi and funerary sculptures in stone, reflect the eminent social position of the new aristocratic classes, but several inscriptions on walls and sarcophagi show the gradual process of an increasingly democratic transition was taking place.

However, during the 4th century BC when Tarchuna's expansion was at its peak, a bitter struggle with Rome took place. In 358 BC, the citizens of Tarchuna captured and put to death 307 Roman soldiers; the resulting war ended in 351 BC with a forty years' truce, renewed for a similar period in 308 BC. [2]

Roman city

When Tarchuna came under Roman domination is uncertain, as is also the date at which it became a municipium ; in 181 BC its port, Graviscae (modern Porto Clementino), in an unhealthy position on the coast (due to malaria from nearby marshes), became a Roman colonia that exported wine and had coral fisheries. Little is known about Tarquinii in Roman times, but the flax and forests of its extensive territory are mentioned by classical authors, and Tarquinii offered to furnish Scipio with sailcloth in 195 BC. A bishop of Tarquinii is mentioned in 456 AD. [2]

Post-Roman era

The ancient city had shrunk to a small fortified settlement on the "Castellina" location during the early Middle Ages, while the more strategically placed Corneto (possibly the "Corito" mentioned in Roman sources) grew progressively to become the major city of the lower Maremma sea coast, especially after the destruction of the port of Centumcellae (modern Civitavecchia). The last historic references to Tarquinii are from around 1250, and the last remains were destroyed in 1305.

The importance of Tarquinii to archaeologists lies mainly in its necropolis, situated to the southeast of the medieval town, on the hill named "Monterozzi". The oldest tombs are tombe a pozza, or shaft graves, containing the ashes of the dead in an urn. The oldest of them probably pre-Etruscan; in some of these tombs are hut-shaped urns, many of which contain well-preserved paintings of various periods; some show close kinship to archaic Greek art, while others are more recent, and one may belong to the middle of the 4th century BC. Sarcophagi from these tombs, some showing traces of painting, were preserved in the municipal museum, as were numerous Greek vases, bronzes and other objects. [2]

The name of Corneto was changed to Tarquinia in 1922. Reversion to historical place names (not always accurately), was a frequent phenomenon under the Fascist Government of Italy as part of the nationalist campaign to evoke past glories.

Main sights

Tarquinia, Etruscan Necropolis of Monterozzi
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Tarquinia Tomb of the Leopards.jpg
A fresco in the Etruscan Tomb of the Leopards
Part ofEtruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia
Criteria Cultural: (i)(iii)(iv)
Reference 1158-002
Inscription2004 (28th session)
Area129.36 ha (319.7 acres)
Buffer zone3,108.0701 ha (7,680.208 acres)
Coordinates 42°15′1.60″N11°46′11.50″E / 42.2504444°N 11.7698611°E / 42.2504444; 11.7698611

Etruscan necropolis of Monterozzi

The main necropolis of Tarchuna, part of which can be visited today, is the Monterozzi necropolis with some 6,000 tombs, at least 200 of which include beautiful wall paintings, and many of which were tumulus tombs with chambers carved in the rock below.

The painted scenes are of a quality virtually unrivalled elsewhere in the Etruscan world and give a valuable insight into the secretive world of the Etruscans which is rarely documented. They show banquets with dances and music, sporting events, occasional erotic and mythical scenes. In the late period underworld demons escorting the dead on their journey to the beyond including scenes in the nether world were depicted, and also processions of magistrates and other symbols of the rank of the eminent members of the families buried there.

Famous tombs include the Tomb of the Bulls, Tomb of the Augurs and the Tomb of the Leopards.

During the second half of the 4th century sculpted and painted sarcophagi of nenfro, marble and alabaster came into use. They were deposited on rock-carved benches or against the walls in the by then very large underground chambers. Sarcophagi continued until the second century and are found in such numbers at Tarquinia that they must have been manufactured locally.

The Ancient City (La Civita)

The city towered above the Marta valley and was about 6 km from the sea. La Civita is made up of two adjoining plateaux, the pian di Civita and the pian della Regina, joined by a narrow saddle.

Ara della Regina Ara della Regina Tarquinia.jpg
Ara della Regina

The Temple Ara della Regina

Measuring c. 44 × 25 m and dating to c. 4th–3rd century BC, it was built in tufa with wooden structures and decorations, notably the famous and exquisite frieze of winged horses in terracotta that is considered a masterpiece of Etruscan art.

Horses from the Ara della Regina Photo Paolo Villa VR 2016 (VT) F0163961trisbis Palazzo Vitelleschi, cavalli alati bardati, scultura etrusca ellenistica, dettaglio teste ed ali, Tarquinia.jpg
Horses from the Ara della Regina

City walls

City gate of "Porta Romanelli". Porta Romanelli Tarquinia.jpg
City gate of "Porta Romanelli".

The large walls were built during the city's most prosperous period in the 6th century BC and measured about 8 km long, enclosing 135 ha, and long parts of the northern section are visible.

Other sights

The church of Santa Maria di Castello. Tarquinia - s Maria in Castello 1180332.JPG
The church of Santa Maria di Castello.

Tarquinia DOC

The Italian wine DOC of Tarquinia produces red, white frizzante style wine. The grapes are limited to a harvest yield of 12 tonnes/ha with finished wines needing a minimum 10.5% alcohol level. The reds are a blend of at least 60% Sangiovese and/or Montepulciano, up to 25% Cesanese and up to 30% of other local red grape varieties such as Abbuoto. The whites are composed of at least 50% Trebbiano and/or Giallo, up to 35% Malvasia and up to 30 other local grape varieties with the exception of Pinot grigio that is specifically excluded from the DOC wines of Tarquinia. [4]

Twin towns

Related Research Articles

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus Fifth King of Rome

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, or Tarquin the Elder, was the legendary fifth king of Rome and first of its Etruscan dynasty. He reigned from 616 to 579 BC. Tarquinius expanded Roman power through military conquest and grand architectural constructions. His wife was the prophet Tanaquil.

Etruria Region of Central Italy

Etruria was a region of Central Italy, located in an area that covered part of what are now Tuscany, Lazio, and Umbria.

In Etruscan mythology, Tarchon and his brother, Tyrrhenus, were culture heroes who founded the Etruscan League of twelve cities, the Dodecapoli. One author, Joannes Laurentius Lydus, distinguishes two legendary persons named Tarchon, the Younger and his father, the Elder. It was the Elder who received the Etrusca Disciplina from Tages, whom he identifies as a parable. The Younger fought with Aeneas after his arrival in Italy. The elder was a haruspex, who learned his art from Tyrrhenus, and was probably the founder of Tarquinia and the Etruscan League. Lydus does not state that, but the connection was being made at least as long ago as George Dennis. Lydus had the advantage in credibility, even though late, of stating that he read the part of the Etrusca Disciplina about Tages and that it was a dialogue with Tarchon's lines in "the ordinary language of the Italians" and Tages' lines in Etruscan, which was difficult for him to read. He relied on translations.

Cerveteri Comune in Lazio, Italy

Cerveteri is a town and comune of northern Lazio in the region of the Metropolitan City of Rome. Known by the ancient Romans as Caere, and previously by the Etruscans as Caisra or Cisra, and as Agylla by the Greeks, its modern name derives from Caere Vetus used in the 13th century to distinguish it from Caere Novum.

Tarquinia gens Ancient Roman family

The gens Tarquinia was a plebeian family at ancient Rome, usually associated with Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the fifth and seventh Kings of Rome. Most of the Tarquinii who appear in history are connected in some way with this dynasty, but a few appear during the later Republic, and others from inscriptions, some dating as late as the fourth century AD.


Caere is the Latin name given by the Romans to one of the larger cities of southern Etruria, the modern Cerveteri, approximately 50-60 kilometres north-northwest of Rome. To the Etruscans it was known as Cisra, to the Greeks as Agylla and to the Phoenicians as Kyšryʼ.

Vetulonia Frazione in Tuscany, Italy

Vetulonia, formerly called Vetulonium, was an ancient town of Etruria, Italy, the site of which is probably occupied by the modern village of Vetulonia, which up to 1887 bore the name of Colonnata and Colonna di Buriano: the site is currently a frazione of the comune of Castiglione della Pescaia, with some 400 inhabitants.


Ceri is a small town in the Lazio, a frazione of the comune of Cerveteri, in the Metropolitan City of Rome. It occupies a fortified plateau of tuff at a short distance from the city of Cerveteri.

Etruscan cities

Etruscan cities were a group of ancient settlements that shared a common Etruscan language and culture, even though they were independent city-states. They flourished over a large part of the northern half of Italy starting from the Iron Age, and in some cases reached a substantial level of wealth and power. They were eventually assimilated first by Italics in the south, then by Celts in the north and finally in Etruria itself by the growing Roman Republic.

Etruscan art

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy between the 10th and 1st centuries BC. From around 750 BC it was heavily influenced by Greek art, which was imported by the Etruscans, but always retained distinct characteristics. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta, wall-painting and metalworking especially in bronze. Jewellery and engraved gems of high quality were produced.

Arruns Tarquinius was the younger son of Demaratus of Corinth, who migrated to the Etruscan city of Tarquinii in the seventh century BC. He died shortly before his father, leaving his wife pregnant. When Demaratus died, he left no inheritance for his grandson, also named Arruns, who was thus born into poverty, although Demaratus had been wealthy. The child came to be called Egerius, meaning "the needy one."

Arruns Tarquinius (Egerius)

Arruns Tarquinius, commonly called Egerius, was a member of the royal family of early Rome.


Norchia is an ancient Etruscan city with an adjacent necropolis, near Vetralla in Italy. The site is along the Via Clodia, and is not far from the more well known Etruscan town of Tarquinia.

Tomb of Orcus Etruscan hypogeum (burial chamber) in Tarquinia, Italy

The Tomb of Orcus, sometimes called the Tomb of Murina, is a 4th-century BC Etruscan hypogeum in Tarquinia, Italy. Discovered in 1868, it displays Hellenistic influences in its remarkable murals, which include the portrait of Velia Velcha, an Etruscan noblewoman, and the only known pictorial representation of the demon Tuchulcha. In general, the murals are noted for their depiction of death, evil, and unhappiness.

The Roman–Etruscan Wars were a series of wars fought between ancient Rome and the Etruscans. Information about many of the wars is limited, particularly those in the early parts of Rome's history, and in large part is known from ancient texts alone. The conquest of Etruria was completed in 265–264 BC.

Monterozzi necropolis Etruscan necropolis in Lazio, Italy

The Monterozzi necropolis is an Etruscan necropolis on a hill east of Tarquinia in Lazio, Italy. The necropolis has about 6,000 graves, the oldest of which dates to the 7th century BC. About 200 of the tomb chambers are decorated with frescos.

Tomb of Hunting and Fishing

The Tomb of Hunting and Fishing, formerly known as the Tomb of the Hunter, is an Etruscan tomb in the Necropolis of Monterozzi near Tarquinia, Italy. It was discovered in 1873 and has been dated variously to about 530–520 BC, 520 BC, 510 BC or 510–500 BC. Stephan Steingräber calls it "unquestionably one of the most beautiful and original of the Tarquinian tombs from the Late Archaic period." R. Ross Holloway emphasizes the reduction of humans to small figures in a large natural environment. There were no precedents for this in Ancient Greek art or in the Etruscan art it influenced. It was a major development in the history of ancient painting.

Tomb of the Triclinium

The Tomb of the Triclinium or the Funereal Bed is an Etruscan tomb in the Necropolis of Monterozzi dated to approximately 470 BC. The tomb is named after the Roman triclinium, a type of formal dining room, which appears in the frescoes of the tomb. It has been described as one of the most famous of all Etruscan tombs.

Tarquinia National Museum Archaeological museum in Lazio, Italy

The Tarquinia National Museum is an archaeological museum dedicated to the Etruscan civilization in Tarquinia, Italy. Its collection consists primarily of the artifacts which were excavated from the Necropolis of Monterozzi to the east of the city. It is housed in the Palazzo Vitelleschi.

Etruscan architecture Architecture of the Etruscan civilization

Etruscan architecture was created between about 900 BC and 27 BC, when the expanding civilization of ancient Rome finally absorbed Etruscan civilization. The Etruscans were considerable builders in stone, wood and other materials of temples, houses, tombs and city walls, as well as bridges and roads. The only structures remaining in quantity in anything like their original condition are tombs and walls, but through archaeology and other sources we have a good deal of information on what once existed.


  1. The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, Giuliano Bonfante, Larissa Bonfante, 2002 ISBN   978-0-7190-5539-3
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ashby 1911.
  3. Livy, Ab urbe condita , 2.6-7
  4. Saunders, P. (2004). Wine Label Language. Firefly Books. p. 205. ISBN   1-55297-720-X.