Off the beaten track Etruscan adventure, in the home of ancient Roman Kings

27 Aug

Inside the courtyard of the National Museum of Tarquinia

I love it when friends come to town.  I always have.  Whether I’ve been calling Toronto, Honolulu, Shanghai or Rome home; when a friend comes to visit, it’s a great chance to raise the bar on finding new and interesting things to do.  Such was the case on Wednesday, when 2 dear friends docked in Civitavecchia, Rome’s port of call for Mediterranean cruise ships.  Avid travelers, they had already experienced much of what Rome has to offer, so I took a gamble on a day trip visit to Tarquinia, a town 25 minutes north of Civitavecchia.

We could have taken a train or bus from the port, but found that the trains left rather more infrequently that we would have liked.  After a fruitless wait for a taxi at the train station (don’t know if this is normal, or just a result of the August holidays), we ended up hiring a mini van for 110 Euros, return (after bargaining down from 100 Euros, one way)

Tarquinia is truly an ancient city; pre-dating the founding of Rome, and birthplace of the 5th and 7th legendary kings of Rome. The latter king was so despised by Romans that in 509 BC a group of aristocrats overthrew him and created the Roman Republic, swearing never to let so much power reside in the hands of one man (an event that in 2,200 years would inspire the founding of a little place called the USA).  Incidentally, the aristocrat who led the revolt against the 7th king of Rome, Lucius Junius Brutus, was the great, great, great, great ancestor of a more famous Brutus. In 44 BC, Marcus Junius Brutus was compelled by responsibility to his ancestor’s defense of the Republic to murder his dear friend and father figure, Julius Caesar; considered by the Roman aristocracy to be consolidating too much power.

Sorry…is everyone as enthralled by Ancient Roman history as I am?  Maybe not….(but if you are I cannot recommend the excellent podcast, A History of Rome, enough!).  Anyway, back to Tarquinia….

After a somewhat frustrating time trying to get a ride to Tarquinia, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive and find out how well-served the city was for tourism, especially considering that 99% of international visitors to Rome will never visit this delightful town.  What a shame!

Right inside the gate to the city (Tarquinia has a wonderful medieval feel to it, including a hilltop location surrounded by defensive walls), there was an open, air-conditioned, and well-staffed tourist centre, with not only maps, but posters of points of interest with scannable bar codes.  Wow!  LOVED the combination of high tech info in a characteristic old town – it made Tarquinia a very easy destination for a short visit.

While the National Museum can’t boast the iconic works of many other museums in Italy, it was a lovely way to spend the hottest hours of the August afternoon.  Housed in a Renaissance Palazzo, the architecture was a perfect backdrop for the mysterious Etruscan ruins and artifacts.  Deciding that, due to the ship schedule and heat of the day, we would not venture to Tarquinia’s most famous sight – the ancient Etruscan necropolises (but I’m definitely coming back when its cooler!).  But we saw many relics and sarcophagi that were from these cities of the dead.  The third floor was my favourite, showing an ancient fresco of Olympic sports and the winged horse relief that has become an icon of the museum.

After the museum, we wandered around the old town looking for a ristorante that was not closed for the August heat. Finally we found Le Due Orfanelle, and sat on their garden patio.  After our very hot search, it was a perfect little oasis, even though it seemed that there was only one person working the floor.  Seafood appetizers were wonderful, as was my spaghetti con vongole (with clams); although the risotto was made from converted rice.  Meh.

Finally, I took the train back to Rome and bade farewell to my friends. It was a wonderful day to spend with friends.  When I was researching this trip, I saw a lot of chatter on message boards asking if a trip to Tarquinia was worth it while in port at Civitavecchia.  Let me put it this way: if you’ve not seen Rome, that should be your priority (and it’s an easy & frequent train trip).  But if you’ve experienced Rome, Tarquinia is a delightful and easy day trip.


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