The land of the Etruscans – from Rome to Florence

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From OSTIA ANTICA (See Route VII) skirting Fiumicino Airport, we arrive at the Autostrada which runs parallel to the Via Aurelia from Rome to Civitavecchia, to CERVETERI.

CERVETERI. This was Chirsa to the Etruscans and Caere to the Romans – It stands Etruscans and Caere to the Romans- It stands on a tuff plateau crowned by clumps of trees.

The Etruscan Necropolis is in a charming setting of wild olive, juniper and oleander, waving in the breezes off nearby sea.

On those beaches the Etruscans landed, here they buried their dead in rich dwellings for eternity, surrounded by the beauty that might promise them a certain ease in the other world, being convinced that the spirits of the dead continued to live in their tombs- They were not aware, as they carried out these innumerable acts of family piety, that they were building an impressive monument to their civilization for posterity.

TARQUINIA, This picturesque town mingles elements of many periods and cultures. Legend held that it was founded in the by Tarchum, brother of Tyrrhenus and son of Atys, who landed here from the eastern Mediterranean. The warlike past of the medieval town (which was called Corneto) greets the visitor in the form of many towers: the landscape is rocky, with scattered olive groves, cypresses and the sea in the background. There are still 25 medieval towers standing, and some magnificent churches the Romanesque Santa Maria di Castello, and the Gothic-Romanesque San Pancrazio and San Francisco.

From here to Grosseto, over a plain reclaimed in the present century, is a matter of 50 km. (33 3/4 mi.).

Grosseto – Photo © jack80
Grosseto – Photo © jack80

GROSSETO was not an Etruscan city. It was founded in the Middle Ages, and its Cathedral (1294) is of that period, with its fine portal. In the Diocesan Museum there is a rare Madonna by Sassetta. The church of San Francisco, with a painted cross by Duccio di Buoninsegna, should be visited.

We leave Grosseto on the thirteenth day of our journey for VETULONIA (21 kms. – 13 mi.) on a hight hill with splendid views. Vetulonia was an important Etruscan city, from which the Romans took what was to become the symbol of their State, the fasces of the lictors.

The town has a fine Parish Church and the Necropolis is 500 yards from the town itself. This Necropolis was discovered after long research in 1888.

The road now winds down to Gavorrano and, 38 km. 23 3/4 mi,) from Vetulonia, to MASSA MARITTIMA.

Massa Marittima, an ancient city with a fine Cathedral in Pisa-Lucca style on a stepped plinth, with remarkable Romanesque, which contains a “Maesta” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and Palazzo Pretorio are also worth a visit. At 32 km. (20 mi.) from Massa Marittima is the Cistercian Gothic Abbey of San Galgano, destroyed in the 18th century and after 66 km. (42 mi.).

We then reach Siena, where we spend the night and visit the next day.

But after our second night at Siena, we must set off on the last days of our journey, to two other enchanting medieval cities, Volterra and San Gimignano. Leaving Siena by the Via Cassia one arrives at Cone Val d’Elsa a medieval city perched on two hills, with fine 13th century churches (Sant’Agostino, San Pietro), a fine Bishop’s Palace and mighty fortifications. Leaving by the impressive Purist Volterrana, after 27 km. (17 mi.) of beautiful scenery we arrive at VOLTERRA.

Volterra, a proud city on the crest of hills made steep by landslips. This was one of the most powerful of the Etruscan Lucomoniae known as Felathri: it became Roman in the 3rd century BC. We go up under the Fortress along Viale dei Ponti, which gives a superb view over the valley, enter through the castle keep at Porta all’Arco, of the Etruscan period making at once for the Cathedral, a severe Romanesque building with a majestic interior, the octagonal Baptistery and the Bishop’s Palace and adjoining Diocesan Museum. From here, it is only a short walk to Piazza dei Priori, yet another picturesque medieval square, with the tall Palazzo Pretoria and the austere Palazzo dei Priori, of the 13th century, with a slim tower and facade decorated with coats-of-arms. 3rd century BC. The line of the Etruscan Walls follows the contour of the hills and dips into the valley only to include the water sources-essential during the long sieges of ancient times. Inside there is an interesting Picture Gallery with works by Signorelli, Rosso Fiorentino, Ghirlandaio etc. In Via Don Minzoni there is an important Etruscan Museum (The “Guarnacci”) with fine cinerary urns. One might lunch at Volterra, before turning bat for 16 km. (10 mi.) and branching off left for a further 13 m. (8 mi.) for the last stop on our journey SAN GIMIGNANO.

San Gimignano, perched high on a hill, with a forest of fantastic towers between with run medieval streets; there are churches fully frescoed-the town is a work of art in itself. It has many fine palaces-Palazzo del Podesta, Palazzo Pratellesi the Towers of the Ardinghelli, Palazzo del Popolo; there is an unbelievable wealth of art-frescoes by Ghirlandaio, Benozzo Gozzoli, Taddeo di Bartolo, Barna da Siena; sculpture by Jacopo delta Quercia, Benedetto da Maiano etc. all in the Romanesque Collegiate Church. But perhaps the greatest delight is just to wander through these medieval streets, in the shadow of the towers, a sort of recapitulation of our journey which is ending.

From here it is 13 km (8 mi.) to Certaldo, Boccaccio’s birthplace and San Casciano in Val di Pose, on the way back to Florence through beautiful country (56 km. – 35 mi).

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