The Tuscia area – which corresponds to the territory within the Province of Viterbo – was the heartland of a mysterious and fascinating civilization: the Etruscans. Their origins are lost in prehistory although the earliest Etruscan inscriptions date back to the 700 BC. In their heydays, the Etruscans were very wealthy thanks to the trade with the Celtics and the Greeks and many are the archaeological finds that witness it. Not much is known about this ancient civilization: their unique language is still proving hard to interpret and understanding their society and culture is still heavily dependent on Roman sources which could well be biased as the Romans assimilated the Etruscans in the Roman Republic in the late 300 BC. The vast majority of what is known about them has been reconstructed on the basis of what was found in their tombs, which the Tuscia area is rich of.
Starting from the countryside just outside Viterbo then heading North, West or South there are over 10 archaeological sites in Tuscia. They are known as necropolis which, in ancient Greek, means city of the dead. Etruscan necropolis are in fact cemeteries but very little they share with the modern concept of resting place. The Etruscans believed in life after death and for this reason they built tombs that very much resembled the house of the deceased and provided them with all sorts of furnishings which nowadays are kept in several museums as they represent what is left of their civilization.
As their concepts of death and life after death changed over the centuries, so did the style of their tombs: house-like, excavated underground and rock ones. The most famous necropolis in the area is in Tarquinia: also known as Monterozzi, it contains 6,000 underground tombs. 200 of them are beautifully painted and they have been described as “the first chapter in the history of great Italian painting”: for this reason this necropolis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
A good variety of tombs can be visited in the Vulci area. The Etruscan town of Vulci, built by the Fiora river, became very rich and important between 800 and 600 B.C., thanks to its strategic position near the sea which favoured the trade of the excellent potteries produced in the area. Around the remains of the ancient town, there are four necropolis with different types of tombs among which the world famous François Tomb.