Exploring Norchia – Etruscan “Valley of the Dead” and burial ground
I remember one of the my greatest sensations of discovery was when I stumbled onto the tombs and burials at Norchia (an ancient Etruscan city in the region once known as Etruria). The road signs leading to the necropolis are feeble and you have to leave your car more or less in the middle of a field. You then follow a field-side foot path wondering where on earth “Norchia” might be…..
All of a sudden you notice the flat fields coming to an end and a steep “V” shaped valley looming up. I remember when I first went; there was more or less nothing to help or impede your descent but the rocks. More recently, the local authorities have done some work to help the visitor down, but not so much as to ruin the landscape. Good. A thin iron railing helps you find your way amongst what seem but boulders and rocks. You do however notice the odd step hewn out of the valley face or even the odd tomb entrance such as the one shown to the right:.
It is when you get to the bottom of the valley that you get the full impact of what it is that is hidden here: the whole valley face is covered in what look like cubes of rock. Some of them have broken off and slid down onto the others below. Each cube seems to have an entrance and some seem to have a door carved out but no real way in. Burial chambers!
If you do have a look in you will notice that some burial tombs still have the remains of the sarcophagi although the lids (and sculptures) which used to guard their contents have long since been ransacked by the “tombaroli” (local word for tomb thieves) or removed by the authorities.
It is difficult to describe and even more difficult to paint due to the mere fact that the detail is so well hidden in the local countryside but I promise – no self esteeming explorer or artist can fail to get a buzz out of the Norchia necropolis tombs. The site itself is worthy of Indiana Jones!
There are a number of things to see within this valley ie the tombs and Etruscan burials you see “at first” are not the only thing worth looking for. For example you might try to cross the valley and walk up the other side (there is a path). From here you can afford a wonderful view onto the burial complex and get an idea of its grand structure. You can also see some other tombs and what are called “colombaie” – a chamber hewn out of the rock with many pigeon holes (literally) carved out of the walls. Colombaie are so called because of their use to house doves and pigeons but the same name is used for tombs and burial chambers where urns with cremation remains were placed.
Further along you can walk up to an ancient but long since collapsed church. You might even notice the entrance to subterranean tunnels along the way…I include a watercolour sketch of the church in the hope that you might get a feeling for the strong power of the scenery around here.