And no, it's not in Tuscany.
You want Italy without the tourists? Who doesn't! This corner of Lazio is largely overlooked by the hordes that 'hit' all the 'must-sees' of Rome before dashing over to Tuscany to see the 'top sites' of Tuscany.
Yet it is as rich in attractions and sights as anywhere else in Italy.
About an hour and a half north of Rome, 20km south of the Tuscan border. (Map.)
From a branding point of view, it was either a stroke of genius or a massive #fail to call this town Tuscania. Perpetually confused with the region of Tuscany (Toscane in Italian) most people think somebody made a typo when they see the name 'Tuscania'.
This works to our advantage. Mostly overlooked (except for by in-the know Romans who spend their weekends here) the town of Tuscania offers a little slice of Italy with all you could ask for.
- Roman ruins? Check.
- A ruined castle on a hill? Check.
- Medieval churches? Check.
- A walled Centro Storico? Check.
- Excellent food ? Double check.
Ultimately, the name Tuscania derives from the name Tuscus, Latin for Etruscan (as does Tuscany: those Etruscans got around). So the oldest remains in Tuscania predate the Roman period by 500 years and make the Colosseum look like a fancy piece of modern architecture in comparison.
Let's have a quick look around.
The Etruscans buried their dead in tombs carved out of the rock, and a number of these are dotted around Tuscania. They can be reached by foot, bike or car.
These tombs contained large sarcophagi, often with beautifully carved stone lids showing the deceased. Tuscania has a small museum that contains some of the best works but the reality is that they have found so many of these that they didn't quite know what to do with them. So, in an act of enlightened town decoration, they decided to simply spread them around town.
|Etruscan statues perched on Tuscania's walls.|
|More Etruscan statues (actually, coffin lids! Doesn't sound as cheerful as statues, doesn't it?)|
The Etruscans started out on a hill now known as Colle San Pietro, St Peter's Hill. Etruscan foundations can still be seen here, but as the Romans moved in, and then the barbarians, and then the Lombards, the hill became the site of the 11th century Church of St Peter's (not to be confused with its namesake in the Vatican), one of the few examples of Lombard Romanesque architecture in this part of Italy. A few minutes down the road is it's near contemporary, Santa Maria Maggiore, which looks a bit like an English country church.
|A romantic view of Colle San Pietro from the center of Tuscania|
|Detail of the main entrance to the church of Santa Maria|
|One of several fountains in the Centro Storico.|
|The Piazza del Duomo provides the perfect backdrop for your morning coffee...|
|...or your night-time Prosecco.|
|The 900-year old Sette Canelle (7 Spouts) Fountain is still working.|
|The Entrance to Torre di Lavello park, with St Peter's in the background.|
|Masked men waiting to drag their feet... tied to massive chains.|
|Half the town participates in the procession... the other half comes to watch!|
- The town of Tarquinia and its painted Etruscan tombs
- The Monster Park in Bomarzo
- The town of Sutri with its Roman amphitheatre
- The ruins of the Etrusco-Roman town of Vulci.
- Viterbo with its medieval quarter and hot springs (recommended by Dante, who knew a thing or two about infernos and other hot spots).
- Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola
- Villa Lante in Bagnaia
If you have a car, these can all easily be explored using Tuscania (or any of the other towns) as a base. From Rome, follow the Romans along the ancient SS2 Via Cassia which passes numerous scenic Minor SIghts, Including Bracciano Lake, Sutri, and Vetralla.
Either train to Tarquinia or Viterbo (both Minor Sights in their own right) and then the local Cotral bus. Or by car, a 75 min drive from Rome's GRA ring road.
As We Saw It: Etruscan Places: Tuscania
Mary Jane Cryan's blog & books on Etruria