This is the Etruscan city par excellence: the walls of its tombs, famed throughout the world, are covered with the most archaic paintings of the Italic civilisation.
The present-day town has a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea and lies on the hill in front of where the ancient town of Civita stood, just a few kilometres by air towards the hinterland. The ruins of the ancient centre are still visible here, once considered to be one of the most powerful lucumonies in the Etruscan confederation, together with Vejo, Vulci, Caere and Tuscania. Proof of its importance can be found in the remains of a podium of a magnificent sacred building (the Altar of the Queen), near which were found, in the 1830s, the famous Winged Horses (that decorated the temple pediment). The two Pegasi, pulling a chariot with a god, became the tourist symbol o the city. Unfortunately they have been lost. Between present-day Civita and Tarquinia, at a depth of a few metres into the subsoil is a large number of tombs (around six thousand), dug into the limestone ("macco"), about sixty of which contain important wall paintings: some of these have been fitted with lights and steps to allow tourists to make the descent. However, the preservation programme imposes strict controls on access and as a result, fewer and fewer tombs may be visited. The following tombs have the greatest wealth of paintings: Augurs (530 BC), Baron (late sixth century BC), Hunting and Fishing (520-510 BC), Cardarelli (late sixth century BC), Jugglers (sixth century BC), Lionesses (late sixth century BC), Leopards (470 BC), Orcus (fourth century BC), Bulls (530 BC), Typhoon (150 BC), Lotus flowers (first half of the sixth century BC), Hunting pavilions (sixth-fifth century BC) and Scataglini (fourth-first century BC). In each case the paintings reproduce scenes of hunting, banquets, games, animals, floral elements, horse races, demons and so on.
Present-day Tarquinia (known as Corneto until1922), populated after ancient Civita was abandoned, has one of the most important archaeological museums in the region, housed in Palazzo Vitelleschi. The oldest part of the main facade of the building, erected in the first half of the fifteenth century by Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi (the "Iron Cardinal"), has two magnificent large arched windows. Other elements, such as the triangular gable of the entrance door, suggest subsequent interventions. Inside, an elegant portico with a double order of pointed arches gives free access to the various rooms.
The ground floor contains a series of sarcophaguses, valuable evidence of funeral sculpture from the fourth-first century BC, relating to the Partunu, Camna and Pulena families. To the former belong the monuments of Laris (head of the gens), of his san Velthur and his grandson, traditionally referred to by the names Sacerdote, Magnate and Obeso. The Camna family is represented by the volcanic tuff sarcophagus of Ramtha Apatrui (mother of Larth III) and those of Larth III and Larth II. Worthy of note, with regard to the Pulena family, is the sarcophagus ojthe Magistrate (Laris), who holds in his hands a slightly open scroll with a long Etruscan inscription. Also worthy of note is a sarcophagus with scenes of the Amazonomachy.
The first floor houses the extremely elegant clay high-relief of the Winged Horses (first half of the fourth century BC). The showcases in the adjacent rooms contain, among other exhibits, in the first room: biconical and pitched urns, terracotta candelabra, a breastplate with fragments of gold leaf, small plastic vases, bull and dove-shaped askoi of the Villanovan type. In the second room: treasure from the tomb of the vase of Bocchoris (eighth-seventh century BC), including an urn with a shaped handle on the lid as well as oenochoe, chantharus, and a necklace with ancient Egyptian amulets.
In the third room: scarabs, necklaces, alabaster objects and ostrich eggs with Orientalised decorations. In the fourth room: proto-Corinthian, Corinthian, Etrusco-Corinthian vases (one very elegant example originates from Rhodes), Pontine, Chalcidian and Etruscan vases of Greek imitation, Laconian type pottery, a cinerary urn, buccheri, etc.
In the fifth room: Greek black-figure vases from the sixth century BC.
In the sixth room: Greek vases in the severe style (500-450 BC).
In the seventh room: extremely valuable Greek red-figure vases (fifth century BC), including the very famous bowl painted by Oltos and moulded by the potter Euxitheos with depictions of the major Greek divinities and a Dionysian procession; an elegant plastic goblet of refined Ionic-Attic art with the head of a young girl with an aristocratic smile signed by Charinos; a very beautiful cup with Helen and Priam and a large bell-shaped crater signed by Pamphaios with gymnasium scenes.
Finally, in the ninth room: mirrors, candelabra, small bronze Hellenistic heads, gold jewellery, coins, etc. (third century BC). On the second floor, reconstructed with the frescoes taken from the necropolis, the following tombs can be seen (documented by panels and transparencies): Bigae (fifth-fourth century BC), Funeral bed (fifth century BC), Ship (fifth century BC), Olympic Games (sixth century BC), Black Sow (fourth century BC) and Triclinium (fifth century BC).
Another sight worth seeing is Etruscopolis. In an old limestone quarry a short distance from the town, several tombs and other rooms recreating the life of the Etruscans have been accurately reconstructed with great attention to detail.
In medieval Tarquinia, characterised by numerous towers (including the tower of Dante) and by the castle that, according to tradition, gave refuge to Matilda of Canossa, we find the church of Santa Maria in Castello, the oldest one in the town. It dates to 1121, as documented by an inscription inside. The simple rectangular facade, surmounted by a small bell gable, has three portals opening into it: the central one and the large two-light window above it, are decorated with fine Cosmati work. The majestic interior, with a nave and two aisles divided by mighty pillars with friezes and capitals in the archaic style, is distinguished by cross-vaults and a large polygonal apse. The central bay of the nave is surmounted by the base of the cupola and lit by a beautiful rose window with al elegant frame. The church contains wealth of valuable pieces by Roman marble workers; the right-hand aisle has a remark able octagonal baptismal font; in the central one we can admire a beautiful pulpit of 1209; at the centre of two plutei the presbytery houses an altar and a ciborium dating to 1166. A medieval tower soars in front of the small square.
The cathedral, built in the Romanesque Gothic style and rebuilt after the fire of 1643, houses in the presbytery a remarkable series of frescoes dating to 1508-1509, one of Pastura's greatest works. In one of the four webs of the vault is the Coronation of the Virgin, in the others a Prophet and a Sybil between cherubs' heads; in the lefthand lunette is the Birth of Mary; below, the Pietà, the Meeting of Joachim and Anne and the Madonna and Child. In the right-hand lunette the Wedding of Mary; below, the missing fresco presumably depicted the Assumption, in completion of the cycle of Marian depictions. The small church of San Martino, dating to the twelfth century, has a simple facade in a pure Romanesque style. The interior preserves the remains of a thirteenth-century fresco of the Sienese school.
The church of the Annunziata, restored on several occasions, dates to the twelfth-thirteenth century. Its facade has a portal in the Norman style and a rose window incorporated into a finely decorated panel.
The church of San Pancrazio (Romanesque-Gothic of the thirteenth century) has a bell tower incorporated into the facade, with a beautiful portal surmounted by an elegant rose window.
The church of San Giovanni Battista dates to the twelfth century. The simple facade has three portals: the central one, with a Gothic arch, is surmounted by an elegant rose window. The architrave of the left-hand portal consists of a fluted sarcophagus front of the third-fourth century depicting a woman praying between two benedictory shepherds. The interior, which has been altered extensively, houses a fifteenth-century tabernacle.
The church of San Francesco was built in the Romanesque-Gothic style at the beginning of the fourteenth century, while the bell tower, with a Bramante-style dame, dates to the seventeenth century. The soaring interior, built to a Latin cross plan, has a nave and two aisles. The right-hand apse is embellished by excellent Baroque stuccoes. The antependium on the high altar is a precious pre-Cosmati mosaic, while the one on the left-hand altar consists of a marble slab with decorations tram the twelfth century.