In the summer of 2014 I went to Italy. As part of the exchange program I went there for we wrote a couple of travel narratives. This is my story describing my trip to the Necropolis of Cervetery.
July twelve, two thousand and fourteen
Sheep; my first impression of the overarching complex of the Necropolis of the Banditaccia was a flock of sheep passing our bus, as it pulled into the small dirt parking lot at the head of the ten hectare complex that marks the visible part of the four hundred hectare large ancient city of the dead. As the doors opened the cling cling of the sheep bells drifting into the bus, probably in much the same way as they would have done during the construction of these tombs in the 9th century BC by the Etruscans.
Over a gravel alley leading up from the parking lot we reached the entrance into the public part of the Necropolis. To our left and right we could see what seemed to be fields, yet openings and dark entrances marked every seemingly natural hill. Over one thousand tombs are spread throughout the structure and that becomes apparent even when walking up to its current entrance. Passing the Italian inspection, faking British accents, we entered the main structure. Small overgrown pathways wind around giant stone mounds to all sides and openings are built into seemingly every part of the landscape, truely this is a city of the dead reminiscent of a very morbid shire with its grass mounds. Before we were let loose we got to hear a preemptory talk explaining how the structures were created, by working them out of the rock creating the circular mounds that are seen today. They also described square tombs that were added in the 6th century BC to extend the capacity for the growing Etruscan noble class as well as subterranean tombs that are set into the surrounding hills.
After the talk a friend and me left the group behind to head off the beaten path and explore without supervision and I am glad we did. Heading over a patch of grass between some trees we made our way to where some of the decrepit “dice”, the square tombs added three centuries after the original structures were created, stand in rows that remind me of a suburban neighborhood. The tombs line an overgrown “street” at both sides. Their entrances are created in the same style that is used for almost all tombs here, with variations dependent on the families wishes obviously. A stone archway opens up to stairs heading down to the entrance of the tomb, most of them have one main room that opens up at the base of the stairs with some including side rooms with other tombs. Most main chambers have up to four sarcophagi along the walls, with two to the left and right of the entrance and two more behind a open separating wall, further inside the tomb. Stone seats are placed next to the squares meant to hold the sarcophagi, to give the grieving a place to hold watch over the deceased.
The graves we found at first were all flooded to different levels and inhabited by a myriad of spiders. As we went further form the prepared ways we found more and more beautiful overgrown tombs to all sides, some of the reaching high over the forrest ground with vegetation all over the mounds making it seems like the high dark entrances are growing out of a high thicket. As we walked deeper into the structure, sketching broken down graves and passing lone archways just standing freely by themselves, the space becomes more cluttered, graves are shooting out of the hills all around us and after mounting a metal staircase, with a big warning sign, we get to a space were the graves stand so close that we had to duck through narrow spiral walkways overgrown at all sides. One of these walkways lead us to a clearing with the biggest mound we had seen so far. The giant structure maybe fifty meters in diameter reaches up another twenty, Its entrance is not at the ground level like with the others but halfway up its slope, with very worn stone steps. Around the structure other tombs stand facing the central one. There are no signs, but this place clearly feels special, with a little metal bridge leading up the giant structures’ entrance. Inside the structure is a grave that is more elaborate than the others but not in fact bigger. One small room holding the remains of one sarcophagus. Before we could find out more or even round it we realized that we were already ten minutes late. I will definitely have to come back here, as I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of this strange city, but for now we were of to see more things.