D.H. Lawrence had pretty much the last word on the plain, low hills stretching north from Rome towards the Tuscan border, describing the landscape as “lifeless looking … as if it had given up its last gasp and was now forever inert.” His Etruscan Places, published in 1932, is one of the best introductions to this pre-Roman civilization and its cities, which, one or two beaches excepted, are the main reasons for venturing out here.
CERVETERI provides the most accessible Etruscan taster from Rome. The settlement here dates back to the tenth century BC. Once known as Caere, it ranked among the top three cities in the twelve-strong Etruscan federation, its wealth derived largely from the mineral-rich Tolfa hills to the northeast – a gentle range that gives the plain a much-needed touch of scenic colour. In its heyday, the town spread over 150 hectares (something like thirty times its present size), controlling territory 50km up the coast. By the third century BC, Caere was under Roman control, leading to the decline of Etruscan culture in the region. The present town is a thirteenth-century creation, dismissed by D.H. Lawrence – and you really can’t blame him – as “forlorn beyond words”.
The necropolis at TARQUINIA is second only to Cerveteri among northern Lazio’s Etruscan sites. Founded in the tenth century BC, the city’s population peaked at around one hundred thousand but the Roman juggernaut triggered its decline six hundred years later and only a warren of graves remains. The town itself is pleasant, its partial walls and crop of medieval towers making it a good place to pass an afternoon after seeing the ruins. Its museum is also the region’s finest outside Rome.