Norchia Necropolis - Atlas Obscura

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Norchia Necropolis

Vetralla, Italy

One of ancient Etruria's most spectacular archaeological sites with impressive necropolises and rugged landscape. 


It’s hard to describe the wilderness and abandonment of this spectacular archaeological site. Norchia was a satellite settlement of the powerful Etruscan city of Tarquinia, which dominated the coast of northern Lazio during the fourth century. Norchia was likely established as one of the city’s outposts inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea, which also crossed several important overland trade routes.

Even today, Norchia’s impressive landscape is a testimony to its strategic position. The plateau is marked by the ruins of a medieval castle and the Romanesque church of Saint Peter, all of which were easily defensible. The Etruscans even dug one of the region’s most impressive ditches on the southern side, while on the eastern, northern, and western fronts, high ground was assured by the deep canyons formed by the Biedano river and the Pile stream.

However, like elsewhere in the Etruscan world, Norchia is especially remarkable for its necropolises. These are categorized into six distinct groups, the most impressive of which are those at the start of the trail from the parking lot and those in the valley further north.

Most of the tombs date from the fourth to the second centuries B.C. and are “dice-shaped,” complete with scant remains of exterior decorations. Others are composed in the Doric “Hellenistic” style, with two remarkable temple-like façades and carvings that display ritual processions, Etruscan demons, supernatural beings, and two Gorgon heads.

When the Biedano’s river level is low, adventurous hikers can attempt to cross. Just below the church on the other side of the river, an unmarked trail leads to the Cava Buia, one of the famous Etruscan Vie Cave paths dug into the rock. They often contain inscriptions and Christian crosses designed to ward off evil. 

The acropolis is mostly unexcavated and little is known of the Etruscan settlement under the present medieval monuments.

Know Before You Go

To see all of the sights shown above (including the countless tombs that are hidden by the vegetation), a certain level of fitness and adventurousness is required. The trails are mostly unmarked and there are only three old rickety bridges that cross the Pile stream.

The Biedano river must be crossed by wading through the water when the level is low. Please respect the site. Most of the tombs are accessible, but the steps can be slippery and fragile. Bring a headlamp and preferably a GPS device.

To get to the parking lot, drive along the road from Vetralla to Monte Romano and take a turn on a secondary road marked by a brown sign that says "Norchia Antica." Follow the road for a few kilometers, turn left, and drive until the end of the road. It's no more than one kilometer on foot through the fields to the first necropolis.

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January 18, 2021

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