Vulci Vandals

A lady we met the previous day at the Baron’s tomb and who was none too impressed by the bathing at Tarquinia Lido tipped us off as to where to find a really nice beach ”au naturel”. Between perfumed pine forest and clean blue sea, having checked out of our hotel, we spent a very pleasant morning before starting our homeward journey.

But the great Etruscan city of Vulci still awaited us. The archaeological park provided us with a treat: its sacred lake is a truly romantic spot and we enjoyed a wonderfully cooling swim in the torrid afternoon.

We returned to the park’s entrance to join a group of visitors who wanted to visit its main attraction: the Francois tomb – one of the largest of all Etruscan burial chambers.

The tomb is indeed grand and displays all the architectural features of an Etruscan palace but the paintings, which formerly adorned its walls, are now in Rome, in the Villa Albano – perhaps just as well since they would have almost disappeared by now if they had been left there.

This is a reconstruction of the tomb with its paintings as it would originally have appeared:


We’d passed a picturesque castle on the way to the tomb and determined to explore it.

Vulci castle was built on the site of an ancient abbey destroyed by the Saracens. It was used first, as a safeguarding point for pilgrims on the Via Francigena to Rome, defending a bridge – in cooperation with the Knights Templar – called the Devil’s bridge (reminding me mightily of the Devil’s bridge near us at Borgo a Mozzano), and lastly, as a customs post for the papal states as it is close to the borders of the old Grand-duchy of Tuscany.

Within Vulci castle was a disturbing exhibition about the number of stolen goods American museums (especially) are willing to buy at Christies and the like. The worst offender was (not too surprisingly) the Paul Getty museum.

Things, however, are changing since museums are now insisting on the provenance of the items in auctions as, without knowing where the item was dug up, any archaeological insight it may give is absolutely useless. To the merit of several museums, if the items they have in their possession are known to have been stolen, they are returned. Many of the returned goods were magnificently on display in the castle’s exhibition.

There have been plenty of thieves (or tombaroli) in Etruria since the Romans first got in on the act by stealing the unique filigree gold from the Etruscans’ tombs. There can hardly be a significant world museum that hasn’t got something nicked from Vulci which was one of the most important Etruscan cities – and the looting still goes on today in less organised countries: I hate to think what’s happening to Egypt’s treasures right now.

However, I retained the impression that, despite improved detective investigative methods, archaeology is riddled with similar dark dealings as those involved  in drug and human trafficking.

Vulci castle was a truly wonderful farewell to the sights we’d visited in this magical part of Italy during our little holiday. We’ll be back, no doubt…


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