Rome is packed with Roman history, renaissance master pieces and hip urban activities. But in Rome, you can even find remains of a culture, pre-dating the Romans. If you’re a history lover like me, learn more about the Etruscan civilization. I’ll introduce you to this ancient culture. And I share practical details on how to get from Rome to Cerveteri Necropolis to visit the Etruscan tombs at Necropoli della Banditaccia.
Who were the Etruscans?
The Etruscan civilization is pre-dating the ancient Romans. Etruscans lived in the area we now call Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio (north of Rome) in modern day Italy. The Etruscan civilization dates from 700 BCE until roughly 400 BCE. This gives us 300 years of cultural history.
The Etruscans lived in the area before the city of Rome was founded. They were familiar with the ancient gods of the Greek mythology and were a civilization of city states. The Etruscans clashed with newly founded Rome in the Roman-Etruscans Wars around 400 BCE.
As you can imagine, Rome won and gradually, the Etruscan civilization died out and gave way to the ancient Rome we know now. Because of the 2,600 years between then and now, not much is known or remains of the Etruscans. The Romans either adopted cultural ideas as their own or built over and destroyed Etruscan remains.
Etruscan Remains in Rome
However, some items remain, even today. If you walk in Rome and are amazed at how old everything is, then hold on to your trousers! The Etruscans pre-date the Roman civilization so Etruscan stuff is even older than Roman ruins. What we know of the Etruscans today, is mainly because of Etruscan tomb findings. The Etruscan dead were buried in large tombs, accompanied by several gifts and grave objects that they couldn’t live without in the afterlife.
Think of pottery, pins, combs, mirrors and coins. Some of these things survived the test of time and are now painting the picture of the Etruscans.
Villa Giulia in Rome
The best of Etruscan history can be found at the Villa Giulia in Rome. This renaissance villa is stuffed to the brim with Etruscan tomb findings and remains of the National Etruscan Museum.
I have to be honest with you, I visited the Villa Giulia when I was 17 years old on a school trip to Rome. We visited many museums and were a bunch of young nerds but I found the Villa Giulia the most boring museum I’d ever visited. I’m sure it wasn’t all that bad, but what do you get when you put a bunch of teenagers in a museum with only shards of pottery and tips of coins? I’m afraid the Villa Giulia is only for the true history buffs or a very rainy day in Rome.
Rome Day Trip to Cerveteri Italy
However, 18 years later, I decided to give the Etruscans another chance. No stuffy museum with fragments of history this time. I decided to venture out of Rome for a day trip to Cerveteri. This small city lies 1 hour out of Rome (as the bird flies) and can be visited on a day trip from Rome.
I had a car to my disposal and stayed overnight but I give you some practical information to go from Rome to Cerveteri:
Rome to Cerveteri by train
Take a train from Rome Termini train station to Ladispoli-Cerveteri. This is likely the regional train to Pisa-Livorno. After 47 minutes on the train, get off at Ladispoli train station. From there, take a 10-minute bus into Cerveteri. From the center of Cerveteri it’s a 20 to 30-minute walk to the Cerveteri Necropolis.
Cotral Bus from Rome to Cerveteri
The bus company Cotral has a direct bus route from Rome to Cerveteri. As the roads in Rome are clogged up pretty consistently, getting out of Rome can take the longest time. Your best bet would be to take the A Metro to Battistini and get off at Cornelia Metro stop. From here, walk across the road (5 min. max) to the Cornelia Bus Stop. Here the Cotral bus to Cerveteri departs. It takes a little over an hour and a bus ticket is roughly 4€. The bus stops at Piazza Aldo Moro in Cerveteri from where it’s 5 minutes by car (hitchhike!) or a 20 to 25-minute walk to the Necropoli della Banditaccia of Cerveteri.
Rome to Cerveteri by car
From downtown Rome, I managed to get onto the E80 and from there it was a straight line. I got off the highway at the Cerveteri-Ladispoli ramp and followed the signs for the Necropolis of Cerveteri. With traffic, it took me over 2 hours.
Take a tour from Rome or Civitavecchia Port to Cerveteri
Some tour operators also offer tours, including transport from Rome or the Port of Civitavecchia with a tour of the Necropolis Cerveteri and the surrounding country side. If you’re interested, check out the following tours:
- Cerveteri & Santa Severa from Civitavecchia
- Day Tour from Rome to Tarquinia and Cerveteri
- Day Tour from Rome to Cerveteri and the Lakes
- Tarquinia and Cerveteri from Civitavecchia
- Rome to Cerveteri incl. wine tasting in the region
From Cerveteri to the Necropoli della Banditaccia
I stayed overnight in Cerveteri, ate delicious tacos at the Mexican Restaurant Quetzal Café. The next morning, I checked out of my rural hotel just outside of Cerveteri and headed to the Cerveteri Necropolis.
I turned onto the Via della Necropoli and parked at the first parking lot I saw. From there, it was still a 15-minute walk to the Etruscan tombs but I enjoyed the walk very much. The path was easy to follow, surrounded by tall grass and an abundance of wild flowers. Along the way, I stumbled upon some Etruscan tombs already. They didn’t look accessible so I didn’t go down, but the view and scenery were already amazing!
If you search online for the Etruscan remains at Cerveteri, you’ll find 2 names, the Necropolis of Cerveteri and the Italian, official name of Necropoli della Banditaccia. They are the same so don’t be confused about it too much.
What is an Etruscan Necropolis?
First, I’d like to explain a little bit more about what a Necropolis is and what you can expect from the Etruscan Necropolis at Cerveteri.
Necropolis means: city of the dead. “Polis” means cities, “necro” means dead. Now, if you visit any Necropolis today, it’s not an eerie or austere place. Most of the times, they are natural places with underground burial grounds overgrown by nature. I find them pleasantly quiet and serene. Below I’ll explain more what to expect about the Cerveteri Necropolis.
Ok, now that we’re finally in Cerveteri, show me some Etruscans!
After my walk, I arrived at the entrance. I bought my entrance ticket (€8) and opted for the remote control and a map to explore the sight of Cerveteri.
The Necropolis of Cerveteri consists of 400 ha (990 acres) of ancient Etruscan burial mounds. Today, you can only visit about 10 ha (25 acres), dating from 9th century BCE (even Pre-Etruscan) to the final ages of Etruscan civilization, around 3rd century BCE.
Things to see at the Necropolis Cerveteri
The sight consists of over 1,000 burial grounds and pits. I had no idea what to expect, so you might want to check the pictures to get an idea of what it’s like. Cerveteri is almost like a village with 2 main streets, flanked by several Etruscan tombs and burial grounds.
They have a small café and restroom at the sight and the video room. I just arrived when there was a whole class of screaming Italian school children so they only played the video in Italian. But it is pretty amazing. Ask to have it in English when you visit.
They show how the burial grounds were made with an animation. They display spectacular drone footage to give an idea of the magnitude of the Necropolis and they show some rituals and artifacts of every day Etruscan life. This comes in pretty useful when you visit the Etruscan tombs.
Etruscan Tombs to see in Cerveteri
The big burial mounds at Cerveteri are the prime attraction in Cerveteri. Yes, it was nice to escape the crowds of Rome and be out in nature and just roam the sight and wonder what life would have been like over 2,600 years ago. But you’re probably wondering why I needed a remote control, right?
I’ll tell you. The remote control can be used on several of the Etruscan tombs (the big ones!). If you enter the mounds and descend, you can hit play for audio and visual effects inside the tombs. They tell the story of the Etruscan couple of 2 women, buried with their child. Or where the gold was buried along with the high ranking Etruscan.
They tell you about the building style of the Etruscan tombs that resemble the houses of that era and how we can recognize the different tombs and who must have been buried there.
But isn’t a visit to the Necropolis spooky?
Mmmhh… Not really. There are no bodies or human remains left in the burial mounds. It was a bright and sunny day when I visited and I didn’t feel Cerveteri is that much connected to the dead or a modern cemetery. It’s more an abandoned city than a graveyard.
It does get a bit cold and dark if you descend into the mounded tombs of the Etruscans and some chambers were flooded because of the previous rain. The curtain protecting the tombs isn’t all that fresh anymore but overall, it’s a sight you can easily bring your kids too.
Other things to see in Cerveteri Italy
If you go for a day trip from Rome to Cerveteri, you want to make the most of your day. I think you need 3 hours to visit to the Necropolis of Cerveteri, so you still have some time left to explore more of Cerveteri.
National Museum of Cerveteri
Learn more about Etruscan history in Cerveteri. The National Museum of Cerite is located in the fortress in the old town. It displays more ancient Etruscan history and archeological finds. Most finds come from the nearby Necropoli della Banditaccia.
Marina di Cerveteri
At first, I thought this would be a good place to test the waters and get some lazy sun tanning time in. Unfortunately, the strip of beach near Marina di Cerveteri is a sad patch of beach. The water is clear but there is nothing and it looks abandoned. Sorry, Cerveteri is not a place to find a good beach near Rome
Tarquinia and Cerveteri
The Necropolis of Cerveteri is linked to Tarquinia as one Unesco World Heritage site. Find more details and information on their website. Tarquinia is a city approximately 53 km (33 miles) north of Cerveteri. You have to either bus or train to Civitavecchia from where you’ll take the bus to Tarquinia. You must be a die-hard Etruscan lover to try this with public transport, but if you have a (rental) car, it’s only 40 minutes extra.
At Tarquinia, you’ll find another 6,000 burial grounds, mainly interesting because of their elaborate wall paintings, showing hunting scenes and rituals. This gives even further insight into the lives of Etruscan people over 2,600 years ago. If you’re set on visiting both Cerveteri and Tarquinia from Rome, I recommend to find a tour that combines the two, as it saves you the hassle of all those buses and walking.
Day trip from Rome to Cerveteri
As I figured I saw enough Etruscan tombs for one day, I decided to skip Tarquinia and continue on my Lazio and Umbria road trip from Rome. Because I continued north, I didn’t return back to Rome but I think Cerveteri is an easily manageable day trip from Rome and shows unique insight in an even older history than the Romans.
If you’re looking for more off the beaten path things to see and do around Rome, read more of my adventures here:
- Caravaggio Art Lover’s Tour Rome
- Panoramic Cycle Tour of Rome
- Domus Aurea and Golden Palace in Rome
- Where to find the best food in Rome?
- Day Trip to Ostia Antica near Rome
- Ancient Appian Way Bike Tour Rome
Are you interested in the Etruscan culture? Have you been to Cerveteri Necropolis on a day trip from Rome? What do you think of visiting ancient burial grounds? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or share this on social media.
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