Halfway between Rome and Civitavecchia, at 50 km from the Capital, in Cerveteri we find the Necropolis of Banditaccia, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004, which is by far the finest example of Etruscan funerary architecture and extends over a volcanic rock plateau of about 100 hectares.
The necropolis contains thousands of Etruscan tombs. The site is laid out on an urban plan similar to that of a city, with streets, squares and districts. The tombs vary in type according to the historical period or status of the family in question.
Among the most representative examples of these structures is the Tomb of the Greek Vases, dating back to the 6th Century BC, and accessible through a corridor that appears to imitate an Etruscan temple. The Tomb of the Cornice, on the other hand, allows access by way of a rising walkway onto which two “lesser” rooms open on either side, each holding a funereal bed. From there, the pathway continues to a large central room on to which three principal funerary chambers give. The Tomb of the Capitelli [Capitals of a column] owes its singularity to its flat roof that is an exact copy of that of the Etruscan home, with support beams of oak and reed. But the most famous tomb is the Tomb of the Rilievi [Reliefs], completed in the 4th century BC. It is accessible by way of a long stairway dug into the rock which leads to a large room whose ceiling is supported by two columns Aeolian columns. Thirteen matrimonial funerary plaster niches fill the space, and are painted with red pillows, domestic objects and animals. It gives a perfect picture of a well-to-do Etruscan family of the 4th /3rd centuries BC.
To reach the funerary areas we pass through gates with sculptural reliefs on their frames, suggesting a house of the time. Then other simple, square, so-called “dice” tombs line Via dei Monti Ceriti and Via dei Monti della Tolfa. These were built in more recent times compared to the tumuli (4-2 c. BC) and were arranged in regular blocks, also homogeneous from the point of view of materials used for the facades and the architectural ornamentation.
The Via Sepolcrale Principale: after a flat stretch lined with tumuli from the 6th century BC the road becomes more tortuous and, taking on the name of Via degli Inferi, plunges down to the valley floor, embedded between two volcanic rock (tuff) walls into which tombs (4 c. BC) have been cut – creating a wonderfully evocative scene, especially when the surrounding greenery is at its lushest.
The archaeological finds from Banditaccia and the other necropolises (Sorbo, Monte Abbadone) are of enormous significance, and they are kept in the Museo Nazionale Cerite, in modern Cerveteri, in the recently reconstructed Rocca, as well as in Rome, in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco of Villa Giulia.