More hill than town…

April 8, 2014 / Art & Archaeology
Vulci, Lazio

Patterns. The human brain does an pretty decent job at picking them out after seeing them just a few of times.

Instead of just a few times, try every other weekend while growing up (family outings), and you begin to get a idea of the extent to which the particular “central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin” pattern carved itself into my brain. If there was any doubt whether the pattern would stick, living in one such town (Rome) basically ensured it remained hardwired in my brain forever.

So imagine my surprise at being struck by a “central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin”! Truth be told, I didn’t even know it was a town. A friend suggested that the Parco di Vulci “which has some interesting ruins too”, was worth a visit, so off we went.

About 45 minutes up the coast, we turned off the Aurelia and drove over hill and dale for no more than about 10 kilometers, enjoying Lazio’s maremma (maritime or coastal Lazio), in full Spring effect, not really knowing what Vulci had in store.

Mind you, the maremma basically consists of nothing but a low tufo (sandstone) plateau that slowly drops down to the coast, all chopped up and intersected by multiple rivers and streams coming down from the pre-Apennine hills in the interior. It is upon these plateaus that every single “central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin” is built. Including Rome, we had just passed many of them: Fregene, Cerveteri, Bracciano, Tolfa, Vetralla, Viterbo, Tarquinia, Tuscania, etc.

We drive down a dirt road, park and pay for tickets at a suspiciously well-organized Visitor’s Center (the palpable Tuscan care for quality had obviously “contaminated” this spot in northern Lazio). There was nothing to see in any direction except rolling green fields full of horses and the traditional maremmani cows grazing.


Off we march through the fields, up a path that soon turns into an ancient Roman road, towards a partially uncovered section of the old Etruscan walls, through the remains of a gate, along the main thoroughfare that goes across the top of this section of plateau, alongside the imposing foundations of what was once an Etruscan temple, through the still-paved central forum, in front of the ruins a patrician urban home…


All the while the hair on my neck has been standing up, and all I can think is that I’ve done this a thousand times… except that in all other cases there was a living, contemporary (well, at least medieval) town or city all around me.

You see, Vulci too is a “central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin,” except it was abandoned after the fall of the empire and never built up. Basically, you get a “central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin,” without the full Etruscan walls, without the various Middle Age fortified porte, without the local Christian duomo, without the Roman aristocracy Renaissance palazzo, without the villagers’ still lived in medieval buildings, without the bar caffe’ in the main piazza, etc etc…. That said, you can still pinpoint exactly where they all would be had Vulci not been abandoned 1500 years ago.

Patterns. They do weird things to you.




by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

10 Responses to “More hill than town…”

  1. louise

    What a beautiful outing. A mini Pompei, but you’d have to know what you were looking at. It must have been a bit eerie without people!

  2. Linda Boccia

    It does seem strange not to have at least a small town, AND a cafe for coffee!!

  3. Melinda Jankord-Steedman

    Thank you, GB. A very poetic, evocative piece.

  4. Marian

    Remember it well. My first experience of a ‘central Italian hill-top town of Etruscan origin’. Not a soul in sight. Just the Etruscan cows and a whining daughter saying “Just what are all these stones?”

  5. GB
    Thans for the memories.
    We were there with Johannes Felbermeyer, archaeologist from the AAR 40 years ago. Looks the same now. You are sooooooooo fortunate ot be able to simply get in yor cat whenever you want to visit the wonders of Italy ! S&R

  6. Angela Finch

    Yes, the maremma is quite deserted and perhaps relatively unvisited. The tombs at Tarquinia are definitely worth a visit and the museum. D H Lawrence visited the maremma and wrote a book whose title I cannot recall but worth reading.

  7. I really enjoyed this article and the observations about the space. I visited Vulci last year with a friend who was reliving her childhood memories in Maremma. We were there on a slightly rainy day and thus, my images are much darker than yours. However, I did take images of inside the museum at the Welcome Center [ticket place] and also more of the ruins that you showed above.. If you like, you may see these online at:
    And thank you again! I forwarded your article to my friend who introduced me to Vulci.

    wrote about Vulci in on

  8. mary jane

    GB, thanks for mentioning Vetralla. Vulci is close to us but so different: did you also go inside the castello/museum? The Francoise tomb with its magnificent frescoes is also there.


Leave a Reply