A medieval jewel in Tarquinia: Santa Maria di Castello

After discovering so much about Etruscan history at Rome’s Villa Giulia, I decided it was time to visit Tarquinia in northern Lazio, one of the twelve original cities of the “Etruscan League” confederation of settlements (formed around 600 BC). My main goal was to see the fascinating frescoes at the Necropolis of Monterozzi, but I also took some time to walk around the centre of Tarquinia in search of other gems.

I caught the small bus from the train station up to the town,  and then wandered off in no particular direction. I ended up arriving at some medieval walls and then stumbling on a true gem- the church of Santa Maria di Castello.


Built in the 12th century, Santa Maria di Castello is perched on a hill at the edge of the town, next to a tall medieval tower. Its facade is simple with a prettily decorated arch over the main door.

facade2Once I stepped inside, my eye was drawn to the delicate colours of the Cosmatesque patterns on the stone floor.

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tarquiniapatterns1 tarquiniapatterns2

A guide in the church pointed me to an inscription on the ground, which is written in the Etruscan language, showing that the church was built on an Etruscan site. The words read right to left, and mark a burial spot, the guide said.


On the other side of the church I had a look at the baptismal font, made from beautiful marble that may have originally come from old tombs.

baptismalfonttarquiniaThe grey capitals, or heads of the church columns were also worth noting, depicting scenes involving mythological creatures.

columnNext I wandered out the open door at the back to admire wonderful views over towards the sea and towards the fortifications and town.


tarquiniaAfterwards I strolled back into the centre and stopped for a lovely meal at Le Due Orfanelle. I tried cold cut meats from the region, and opted for a seafood main course, seeing as we were near the sea. I had pasta with shrimps, clams and zucchini–delicious darlings! And a half litre of house wine was a very reasonable 3.50 euros. Walking around Tarquinia helped me realise that holidays are often better spent in these smaller less well-known towns, instead of the tourist hot spots, because they are less spoilt and the restaurants are better value and more authentic. There’s a tip for you dears. Stay tuned for my blog on the Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia!


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