The Etruscan city of Vulci is on the border between Tuscany and Latium. Rome is about an hour and a half’s car drive to the South along the coast, whilst Florence is two hours to the north. Vulci lies approximately 14 kilometers inland from the Mediterranean coast at Montalto di Castro.
Much of what can be seen are relatively interesting Roman remains although there is a fair amount of the Etruscan period such as parts of the city walls including three of the five city gates. The Etruscan period constructions are made of large blocks of tufa rock, for example in the remains of the “great temple” which dates back to the fourth century BC.
As well as a variety of Roman remains dating largely to the 2nd century AD there is a Mithraeum – a temple to the divinity Mithras whose religion competed head-to-head with Christianity in terms of popularity and importance.
Of particular note are a number of burial grounds outside the city perimeter dating back to around the 7th century BC. Some of these can be visited and are extremely interesting for their architecture and artwork.
A land of 19th century discovery
This region is part of the Maremma area, known for its cattle farming and horse riders called “Butteri”. Vulci was but a memory set in a marshy farmland riddled with malaria and bandits. In the 19th century, Napoleon’s brother and his wife had control of this area and effectively became upper class treasure hunters. It would appear that much “invaluable” pottery was dug and destroyed by their henchmen so as to render the remaining vases with figure paintings even more valuable on the antiques markets.
When British travelers visited the area in the 19th century they saw very little of the wonderful objects which are to be seen in museums around the world today.
A medieval castle now acts as the Vulci museum. For a long time it was a toll point along the once navigable Fiora river. The castle contains an extremely interesting Etruscan collection coming from the nearby archaeological digs (which you can also visit) although almost all the major pieces are now to be seen at the Villa Giulia museum in Rome as well as the Metropolitan in NY, the British Museum in London and a few more to boot.
The Roman bridge across the crevasse is notable for its height and span. An aqueduct used to run over the top of the bridge but has long since collapsed. Parts of it can still be seen further along the way. What is interesting is that some stalactites can still be seen hanging off part of the bridge – testimony of the centuries of water dripping from the aqueduct onto the bridge below!
It is said that more ancient Greek pottery has been found at Vulci than in Greece which alone says much about the greatness and wealth this city of ancient Etruria reached during its apogee.
Of particular note is the black and shiny Bucchero clay which enabled a finish unlike any other known to the ancients. It was much prized for its metallic finish and quality.