The Necropolis of Monterozzi
By Emily Schultze
With a history as long as Italy’s, there are many sites that provide a glimpse into the ancient worlds of the past. However, the Necropolis of Monterozzi offers a unique perspective: insight into a long gone culture from the people who lived in it.
Situated right outside the medieval town of Tarquinia, the Etruscan tombs tell the story of a people who held power before the city of Rome ever came to be. In around 800 BC, the Etruscan people emerged as a society and began to build civilizations in Tuscany, Umbria and northern Latium. Before this time, groups of hunters and gatherers had been scattered across the land; it was not until the Etruscans built their empire that several parts of the italic peninsula became united.
Despite their many accomplishments, not much of the old Etruscan cities remain today, as they were often built with materials that easily faded away with time. However, their necropolises, of which Monterozzi is the largest, have survived the years.
When you arrive at the necropolis, you’ll gaze out across a field dotted with small structures. It is only once you descend down the steps that you are transported into the world of the Etruscans. The vibrant fresco paintings that cover the walls show figures lounging at indulgent feasts, vivacious parties with dancing and wine, and hunters tracking their prey. In earlier tombs, the vivid scenes represent some of the favorite pastimes of the rich and powerful. The Etruscans believed that the paintings would allow the deceased to continue to enjoy these activities in the afterlife.
Later tombs, however, portray a less cheerful journey. The threat of the developing Roman Empire had seeped into Etruscan life and caused their afterlife to shift from an extension of life to a perilous trek. Tombs from these times often depict struggles between blue winged demons and souls fighting their way to safety. Influence of Greek culture can also be seen with the appearance of Gods that required offerings to aid the soul in its voyage after death.
With the expanse of a culture laid out from its roots to its final days, a visit to the Necropolis will allow you to peel back layers of Italian history and experience not just its present people, but also those of centuries prior. When you are making your way through Italy, be sure to plan a stop at Necropolis of Monterozzi, as it is a rich addition to any vacation.