It wasn't until the early 1800's that historians learned about what the countryside outside of the walled city of Viterbo had held for over two thousand years. Of course, shepherds and farmers had worked the area for long time, but whether they understood what their sheep were poking their noses into, is hard to know. What we do know now, from the 1848 book, The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, written and illustrated by George Dennis, is that this was where a small but important city of the Etruscans once was. Every trace of the actual city is long gone, but what's left behind are rows of elaborate tombs carved from the hillside- a necropolis.
|George Dennis illustration from The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria|
Like with many of the wonders that I visit in Central Italy, I spent my time there alone. The necropolis, I presume, seems similar to how George Dennis described it in words, although, I must say, Castel D'asso is far less dramatic looking than in Dennis's stunning illustration!) You can venture down into any cave before you, or scramble up a sandy cliff to look in others. Peaking inside the tombs one finds rows and rows of sarcophagi carved into the stone. However, a friend broke her leg by falling into a surprising pit here once, so I was really cautious and didn't explore much.
Where I drew wasn't eerie at all - more like a beautiful, shady street - albeit an unusual one. To the left and right were slightly overgrown and crumbled caves. The entrances were carefully carved and included steps. Most of the tombs featured what looked like a "T" or two, carved from the rock. I learned later that those were not "T's", but the image of doors - false doors - doors to the afterlife. It turns out that these were tombs of three levels, and below the false doors is where the deceased were laid to rest with their families and some possessions for life after death. The possessions that they left behind sit in museums now. They are seen, but this place is not. On hot afternoon, I sat alone, drawing the quiet remains of an entire city - long gone and seemingly forgotten.
prints by Jules Gailhabaud and
Jean Arnould Léveil from 1865-70