Vulci, Tarquinia and Tuscania represent the emblems of Etruscan civilization.
The ancient city Tuscania was a prosperous Etruscan centre in the 3rd century bc, and Etruscan tombs have been found nearby. A significant stability of human settlements, dates to the Etruscan period, as witnessed by the numerous necropolises in the area. The most famous, on the slope opposite the hill, is the one of the Madonna dell'Olivo with the tombs of the Curunas family (containing remarkable sarcophaguses found in 1967-1970), of the Sarcophagus and of the Queen, characterised by a series of labyrinths with about thirty tunnels. Of the other necropolises, we should mention Pian di Mola, Peschiera (tomb of the Dice) and Carcarello (sepulchre of the Vipinana family). After the Etruscan and Roman periods, which according to the historians were characterised by a peaceful continuity of economic and social life unlikely to be found elsewhere, the hill of San Pietro was first depopulated as a result of the barbarian invasions and then underwent new urbanisation, starting in the eighth century, spreading as far as the nearby hill of Rivellino. The construction of the church of San Pietro dates to this early medieval period.
In 1348-49 a bubonic plague, the Black Death, almost halved the population of Europe. In Tuscania its impact was so heavy that the oldest part of the town where the main medieval churches, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Basilica of San Pietro were located, was abandoned.
Until a disastrous earthquake in 1971, the town contained many relics and treasures of the Etruscan, Roman, and medieval periods. The quake severely damaged the town's two magnificent Romanesque-Lombard churches, San Pietro (8th and 12th centuries), the rose window and parts of the apse and adjacent towers of which collapsed, and Santa Maria Maggiore (7th and 12th centuries), which lost the top of its stone bell tower. Other churches and buildings in the town also sustained heavy damage. By the late 20th century, however, most buildings had been either restored or replaced.
Outside the walls, there is the wondrous sight of San Pietro and Santa Maria Maggiore, two ancient basilicas placed on solitary hills, just a few metres one from the other. San Pietro was founded at the beginning of the VIII century, it is the most important church in Tuscania and one of the first, great architectural accomplishments for Christianity in the Lombard-Romanesque style, one of the very first truly Italian churches. The church is facing east, on the hillside which was an acropolis for ancient Tuscania. It is not the result of a single project and a single phase of construction, rather it is the product of more than one intervention, expansion and decorative contribution. It is an architectonic work of sacred and social art, carried out by the architect, by the craftsmen and by the city itself. In the nearby basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the oldest in the town, we find the same Romanesque style with gothic elements evident in the picturesque portal. The interior hosts an exquisite ambo, a baptismal font and numerous pictorial decorations, including the Final Judgement.
The important Abbazia di San Giusto, in the countryside near the town, is of the same style and from the same period. This abbey is completely restored and open to visitors.
In the Medieval historical center the beautiful Roman Basilica of San Pietro stands on the old Etruscan acropolis. The basilica, one of the most magnificent monuments in the Viterbo area, probably dates to the eighth century. It has a remarkable thirteenth-century facade with three portals; the central Cosmati-style portal is surmounted by a gallery of small arches, between two winged animals, and by an elegant rose window incorporated in a panel decorated with the symbols of the Evangelists and flanked by two double lancet windows decorated with fanciful bas-reliefs of the Umbrian school. The interior has massive 11th century columns with beautiful capitals and decorative pavings. The precious twelfth-thirteenth-century frescoes of the Roman school, reflecting Byzantine influence, which decorate the apse, were seriously damaged in the earthquake of 1971.
From the right-hand aisle, a staircase leads to the magnificent eleventh-century crypt with cross-vaults supported by 28 marble columns, originating from Roman buildings and decorated with archaic capitals, several of which are Corinthian of the fourth-fifth century.
Chiesa di San Pietro, Tuscania
Chiesa di San Pietro, Tuscania, interieur
The Romanesque Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore was built during the same period as the church of San Pietro. The facade, preceded by a massive Romanesque tower, has three finely decorated portals. The central one, in white marble, is flanked by two spiral fluted columns: the ornate jambs are sculpted with St. Peter and St. Paul, and depicted in the lunette are the Madonna and Child with the mystic Lamb and the scene of the sacrifice of Abraham. The interior was rebuilt with fragments from the 8th, 9th, and 12th centuries.
The church of Santa Maria della Rosa is a masterpiece of Romanesque-Gothic art and was built on a former shrine that stood within the castle walls. The horizontal design of the façade is typical of the architecture of the Abruzzi region, and it is relatively unusual in Latium.
A short distance outside the walls, at the beginning of the road to Marta, are the church and former convent of Santa Maria del Riposo. The monastery next to it has a very large cloister and it now hosts the archaeological museum of Tuscania.
The ancient castle of Montebello, about 13 kilometres along the road to Tarquinia, has a surprising collection of works by Giuseppe Cesetti.
The cathedral of San Giacomo, with a Renaissance structure and an eighteenth-century interior, houses an admirabie fifteenth-century marble tabernacle, a polyptych of the Sienese school by Andrea di Bartolo (fourteenth century), St. Bernardino by Sano di Pietro from the fifteenth century and a fifteenth-century triptych by Balletta.
In the church of San Marco, we can admire several fourteenth-century frescoes, including an Annunciation, a Madonna and Child and a Bishop Saint.
Torre di Lavello
The belvedere of the Tower of Lavello is the focal point to the entrance of the Torre di Lavello Park. This picturesque greenspace offers one of the most beautiful views over the historic centre of Tuscania and the splendid valley of the Marta river.
Fontana delle Sette Cannelle
The city's Fountain of the Seven Spouts dates back to the Etrusco-Roman period and is a short distance away from the historic lavatoi (public laundry). A neighbourhood lavatoio was a focal point in villages where women would gather, talk and clean to the soothing music of running water freely flowing into the basins.
Abbazia di San Giusto at Susa, founded in 1028 or 1029,
A significant stability of human settlements, dates to the Etruscan period, as witnessed by the numerous necropolises in the area. The most famous, on the slope opposite the hill, is the one of the Madonna dell'Olivo with the tombs of the Curunas family (containing remarkable sarcophaguses found in 1967-1970), of the Sarcophagus (decorated with scenes of Amazonomachy) and of the Queen, characterised by a series of labyrinths with about thirty tunnels.
Tuscania was a favourite location for film director Franco Zefferelli, who filmed Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew here. Also Otello by Orson Welles, Uccellacci e uccellini by Pier Paolo Pasolini, L'Armata Brancaleone by Mario Monicelli and Francesco by Liliana Cavani were filmed at this location. In 1982 Tarkovsky filmed the Madonna del Parto in the Chiesa di San Pietro, for Nostalghia.
The crypt of San Pietro is perhaps the only setting in which Tarkovsky could have placed "his" Madonna del Parto. The north-south axis of the transept windows, the dark recesses of thickly columned space, the window behind the Madonna, through which the birds exit the crypt, the potential within this arched matrix for the creation of framing conditions similar to those of Piero's original fresco—all of these elements create a spatial dimension which he manipulates in order to "cinematize" the fresco.
Tuscania, view on the the old Etruscan acropolis, and the Chiesa di San Pietro
The ruins of the city of Velch (Roman Vulci) lies between the villages of Canino and Montalto di Castro. Canino, an ancient mediaeval village of Etruscan origin can be reached from Tuscania through the SP14.
Taking then the SS 312 (main road Castrense) to Montalto di Castro, one can reach the archaeological area of Vulci.
Vulci was the centre of a large city-state, but after the 6th century it had to relinquish parts of this territory to Rome.
There are a number of important Etrusco-Roman remains on the site of the ancient city, including sections af aquaduct, the Villa of the Cryptoportica (1st Century BCE), a Sanctuary of Hercules, and a fine Roman bridge resting upon Etruscan columns. The footings of an Etruscan temple (Tempio Grande) dating to the 4th Century BCE is also present today. A long stretch of a Roman road with Etruscan foundations and the remains of two city gates can also be seen.
Four necropolis areas dating from the 8th century BC have been found around the city of Vulci. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Vulci is located at the Castello dell'Abadia. Numerous cermaics and bronzes from the Vulci Necropolis areas can be seen at the museum. Next to the museum is the spectacular Ponte dell'Abadia, which is a Roman Bridge with Etruscan foundations. The bridge can be crossed on foot and affords a spectacular view of the Fiora river and the now heavily forested area of Vulci.
In the Natural Park of Vulci we can walk along the paths following the course of the Fiora, along the ancient roads that led from Vulci and Castro to the sea. The Marina of Montalto is beautiful, with its long stretch of fine sand, close to the Mediterranean bush.
The WWF Oasis in Vulci is extended at the boundars between Lazio and Tuscany and covers an area of 225 hectares. It has a mediterranean bush composed from trees of ilex, laural, myrtle in which live animals like the badger, the porcupine and the roe-buck. The Oasis is crossed by the river Fiora that runs in the higher section as if in a deep bed of volcanic rocks and further ahead forms the Laghetto del Pellicone, a lake inhabited by various species of fen-birds, including herons and egrets, as well as otters, the true symbol of the area.
Vulci, Castello della Badia
Canino is located in the Viterbo Maremma area bordering Tuscany. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Lucien Bonaparte stayed here and Pope Pius VII granted him the title of Prince of Canino. The collegiate church of Santi Apostoli Giovanni e Andrea, dating to the late eighteenth century, is the site of the Bonaparte Chapel containing the funerary monuments of Charles Bonaparte (father of Napoleon and Lucien), Christine Boyer (Lucien's first wife), Joseph Bonaparte (Lucien's san who died at the age of 14 months) and Lucien Bonaparte himself, portrayed near his wife on his deathbed.
The former convent of San Francesco, the lower part of the town along the road to Valentano, is remembered for legendarily having hosted St. Francis of Assisi.
Vulci. The oasis extends along the river Fiora, where a water fall has originated a small lake, lago Pellicone,
where it is possible to bathe.
The itinerary combines stunning gorge scenery and fascinating archaeological discoveries. A Roman road winds through the ruined temples and market place of Etruscan Vulci. Then on through holm oaks and wild olive trees to the stunning waterfall at Lake Pellicone, look out for kingfisher at the water's edge. [read more]
Tarquinia, a medieval town famous for its archeological remains, is situated just 25 kilometres from Tuscania.
Ancient Tarquinia was one of Eturuia's most important cities. Tarquinia is one of the best places to see Etruscan tombs and it has an excellent archaeological musuem. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6000 tombs, 60 of which include wall paintings.
 James Macgillivray, Andrei Tarkovsky's Madonna del Parto.
The original location of Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto, is the Capella di Cimitero of the Santa Maria della Momentana in the town of Monterchi near Arezzo. When Tarkovsky returned in 1982 to film the Madonna del Parto for Nostalghia, he did not use the original in the Capella di Cimitero in Monterchi, but a reproduction installed in the crypt of a Romanesque church in Tuscania called San Pietro, some 120 kilometers away. The church dates from 1093 and, as the seat of the diocese, was a thriving religious centre in the Middle Ages. The building is built largely from spolia, cannibalized remains of Roman and Etruscan architecture. San Pietro's crypt was the first of what would become a Tuscan typology; the altar is not located in the apse but directly opposite, at the center of the west wall of the transept. This configuration could be due to the fact that the apse was used for baptisms. (...)
The film Nostalghia stands as a testament to his own experience of nostalgia during his exile; in fact Tarkovsky calls the protagonist, Andrei Gorchakov, a "mirror" of himself.
Located on the outskirts of Castiglioncello Bandini, Podere Santa Pia offers the quiet tranquility of a private retreat, with numerous attractions and gorgeous small hillside villages, only a short drive away.
Explore the medieval hillside villages Sovana, Sorano, Montemerano and Pitiglianoon your way to Tuscania, marvel at settlements that date back to Etruscan times, try some Morellino di Scansano in Scansano, where the refined beauty of the squares and churches blends perfectly with the ancient traditions of its wines.