Vetulonia, an Etruscan gem outside the Tourist route

Vetulonia

Craving a day away from the tourist throngs? Maybe a break from the crowded beaches on the Maremma coast? Vetulonia it is the perfect day-escape.
Just twenty minutes away from the scenic hamlet of Castriglione della Pescaia, hidden on a rolling hill lies the Etruscan city of Vetulonia. Unlike its more famous counterparts, like the nearby Populonia, Vetulonia offers a step back in Etruscan time free from the multitudes of tourists.

Dolia from Domus dei Dolii
Etruscan Amphorae

Revealing the City

Overlooking Lake Prile in the 9th century BCE, Vetulonia’s location made the city a fertile hub for trade, both by sea and on land. Due to his location, the Etruscan city of Vetulonia flourished here.
Historian such as Dionigi di Alicarnasso, Plinio, Silio Italico and Tolomeo wrote about Vetulonia, however little we know about Vetulonia history during the medieval time as unknown is the reason why the village was named first Colonnata, and then Colonna di Buriano.
We owe thanks to Isidoro Falchi, a local doctor and archaeologist that the ancient Etruscan city of Vetulonia is now under the sunlight. During the 1880, Falchi unburied the necropolis as well as some ruins of a city dated between the IX and I century BCE which convinced him to have found the famous and ancient city of Vetulonia.
In 1887, the king changed the borough name from Colonna di Buriano to his ancient Vetulonia.

Etruscan houses and warehouse
Domus di Medea

Tomb’s whispers

The most striking features of Vetulonia are its monumental tombs.
Located at the foot of the hill where Vetulonia sits, it is possible to reach the tomb along Strada dei Sepolcri a well maintained gravel road.
The first tomb will be Tomba del Belvedere, dates back to VI century BCE, and it is formed by a vestibule with a square plan of access to three cells.

Tomba del Belvedere

Remaining on the Strada dei Sepolcri, we arrived at a spacious parking lot where, once parked, we could visit the remarkable Tomba della Pietrera. This tomb yielded the iconic statue of Pietrera, one of the earliest examples of Etruscan monumental sculpture.
Tomba della Pietrera presents two levels because the first tomb collapsed and another tomb was built on top of the remains. The sculptures found here are now preserved and showed at the local Isidoro Falchi museum in the city centre.

Statua della Pietrera
Tomba della Pietrera

Further, along the Strada dei Sepolcri, there are two more tombs, the Tomba del Diavolino II and the Tomba delle Fibula. Unfortunately, the day Andrew and I went to visit the site, this two mausoleums weren’t open so we could not visit them.
Unearthed from these tombs was a wealth of artefacts, including stunning gold jewellery, now on display at the museum.

Vetulonia’s ruins

Just before arriving at the modern village of Vetulonia, on the left side, it is possible to admire the ancient ruins of Vetulonia. The archaeological site is free of charge and the person at the front will briefly explain what you’ll see inside.
The tour starts from Via Decumana, which presents the city’s drainage system alongside the ruins of warehouse and private houses. Further, on Via Decumana there are the remains of the Domus of Medea. This ancient house is named by some decorative pottery and terracotta found here that were decorated with Medea’s myth. Nowadays, the terracotta are showing and preserved at the local museum.
Leaving Domus of Medea on the right side and continuing on Via Ripida, there is the second Domus, Domus dei Domii. This Domus is larger than the rest of the private residency found nearby and alongside Via Decumana.
Once done with the visit and exploration of the site, take a walk downtown and admire the Mura dell’Alce. Those ancient walls were built to protect the city.

Etruscan drainage system

Archaeological Museum Isidoro Falchi

Located in piazza Vatluna in Vetulonia the museum hosted the majority of the objects found during the excavation of the Etruscan tombs and ruins. There are many pottery, grave goods as well as statues (like the two statues that were found in the Domus dei Dolii).
However, I was lucky enough to visit a very interesting exhibition. In fact, the museum highlighted four stunning painted terracotta slabs from illegal excavation in Cerveteri (Etruscan Caere).
The first tale tells the myth of Achilles and Pentesilea.
In this painting Pentesilea holds a bloody sword and Achilles stands in front of her holding a shield and a sword as well. This representation of the battle between Achilles and Pentesilea is peculiar because the Etruscan painter decided to represent Pentesilea at the top of her glory just before Achilles kills her. She is painted fearless, proud, serene and detached.
The second tail shows a man with blond hair and a female with brownish hair. The man is holding a branch with golden leaves and the girl is holding a bow. It is not certain if the people represented in the slab are two gods (Apollo and his sister Artemis) or perhaps Atlanta challenged in the race by her future groom Melanione.
The third is named Il Giudizio di Paride: part of bigger sets of slabs, this one shows Hermes that precedes Hera, the first in contention to be chosen among the three most beautiful goddesses.
The last tale shows two Etruscan haruspices at work.

Achilles and Pentesilea
Appollo and Artemis
Il giudizio di Paride
Etruscan haruspices

Tips for tour Etruscan adventure

  • Plan your visit: the archaeological site is free of charge and it is open year-round, but check on the website for opening hours.
    You can check the museum information here.
  • Parking: free parking is available near the city cemetery and it is located just minutes from the archaeological site and the museum. The tombs are also reachable by car.
  • Bring your camera: apart from the beautiful Etruscan tombs to take pictures of, there are breathtaking landscapes to admire and capture while walking through the city.
  • Explore the surroundings: Combine your visit with exploring nearby Etruscan sites like Populonia or Roselle for a deeper understanding of this captivating civilization. 

Looking for more Etruscan tombs and site? Have a read at this article

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