Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia
Since 2004 • Cultural
These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century BC, and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture. Which over nine centuries developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality. The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. The site contains very different types of tombs: trenches cut in rock; tumuli; and some, also carved in rock, in the shape of huts or houses with a wealth of structural details. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the 7th century BC.
The necropolises of Tarquinia and Cerveteri constitute a unique and exceptional testimony to the ancient Etruscan civilization, the only urban civilization in pre-Roman Italy. Moreover, the depiction of daily life in the frescoed tombs, many of which are replicas of Etruscan houses, is a unique testimony to this vanished culture. Many of the tombs represent types of buildings that no longer exist in any other form. The cemeteries, replicas of Etruscan town planning schemes, are some of the earliest existing in the region. The necropolis of Cerveteri (Banditaccia) developed from the 9th century BC. It expanded from the 7th century onwards, following a precise plan. The ancient history and development of the Tarquinia (Monterozzi) necropolis is similar.
The Etruscans lived in west-central Italy from the 9th century BC onwards. Their culture reached its height in the 6th century BC. There is no definite answer to the question of the origins of these people. It is certain that no community of the same ethnic and social characteristics occurred elsewhere in Europe or Asia. They spoke a non-Indo-European language of unknown origin.
Each of these cemeteries is different in the characteristics of the tombs and therefore covers together the Etruscan burial culture.
Thousands of tombs exist in the vast cemetery of Cerveteri: they are organized in a city-like plan, with 'streets', small squares and 'neighbourhoods'. The tombs are of different types depending on period, family status and other criteria. The earliest known are series of rock-cut trenches holding pottery ossuaries containing the ashes of the deceased. Most famous are the tumuli - tombs often containing more than one tomb under an imposing mound. A famous example is known as the 'Hut Shaped Tomb', from the 4th century. It presents an excellent rock-cut hut with all structural and building elements, such as gabled roof, main crossbeam, wood and straw roofing materials as well as stone couches next to the walls. This tomb and others, imitating houses, are the best and only evidence of the residential architecture of the Etruscans. The 6th-century Tomb of the Greek Vases is accessible through a rock-cut dromos (corridor) that imitates an Etruscan temple. The Tomb of the Moulding (cornice) has two thrones with footstools, cut in the rock, at the sides of its door. It also imitates a contemporary domestic interior. The Tomb of the Capitals has an imitation wooden floor on its ceiling. The most famous among the thousands of the Banditaccia tombs is the 'Tomb of Reliefs'. This 4th-century tomb is accessible via a long rock-cut stairway leading to a large hall with a ceiling supported by two columns with Aeolic capitals. It includes 13 double funerary niches and additional place for 34 bodies on a specially carved ledge. The 13 niches have double cushions with red painted stucco. Many objects are depicted on the stuccoed walls, including weapons and domestic and religious ones.
The other cemetery, known as Monterozzi or the necropolis of Tarquinia, is famous for its painted tombs. The tombs are all cut in the rock and accessible via sloping or stepped corridors. Most of them were made for a single couple and constitute one burial chamber. The earliest painted tombs are from the 7th century but only in the 6th century were they fully developed and completely covered with painting. The 4th-century Tomb of the Lionesses consists of a small chamber with gabled roof. The painting depicts flying birds and dolphins and scenes from the life of the Etruscan aristocracy. The 6th-century Tomb of the Hunting Pavilion shows the view seen through the transparent fabric of the pavilion. The Hunting and Fishing Tomb is composed of two chambers. In the first, there is a depiction of Dionysian dancing in a sacred wood, and in the second, a hunting and fishing scene and portraits of the tomb owners. The painted tombs of the aristocracy, as well as more simple ones, are extraordinary evidence of what objects cannot show: daily life, ceremonies and mythology as well as artistic abilities.
The necropolis of Cerveteri (Banditaccia) developed from the 9th century BCE. It expanded from the 7th century on, following a precise plan. The ancient history and development of the Tarquinia (Monterozzi) necropolis is similar.
Earliest evidence of ‘modern' interest in the tombs comes from the Renaissance. It grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, when scholars and artists started to describe and paint the tombs. In the first half of the 19th century the Tarquinia cemetery was studied by scholars and this is when most of the tombs known today were discovered. The site was visited in 1834 by Ludwig I from Bavaria, who ordered the reproduction of the paintings, to decorate the new Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Since the 1950s research has been carried out using geophysical, non intrusive methods.
Justification for being a World Heritage Site
Criterion (i): The necropolises of Tarquinia and Cerveteri are masterpieces of creative genius: Tarquinia's large-scale wall paintings are exceptional both for their formal qualities and for their content, which reveal aspects of life, death, and religious beliefs of the ancient Etruscans. Cerveteri shows in a funerary context the same town planning and architectural schemes used in an ancient city.
Criterion (iii): The two necropolises constitute a unique and exceptional testimony to the ancient Etruscan civilisation, the only urban type of civilisation in pre-Roman Italy. Moreover, the depiction of daily life in the frescoed tombs, many of which are replicas of Etruscan houses, is a unique testimony to this vanished culture.
Criterion (iv): Many of the tombs of Tarquinia and Cerveteri represent types of buildings which no longer exist in any other form. The cemeteries, replicas of Etruscan town planning schemes, are some of the earliest existing in the region.
About the source
Within UNESCO's broad remit, this specialised agency of the UN works towards international cooperation agreements to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage, designating venues of exceptional value as World Heritage Sites.