The modern-day city of Cerveteri which stands on the same site as the ancient Etruscan city of Caere lies some twenty-five miles north-west of Rome and close to the Tyrrhenian coast. Few traces of the Etruscan origin of the city remain in the centre. Of great interest however is the National Museum which contains archaeological finds of great historic and artistic value, discovered in the exceptional necropolises of the surrounding area. The treasures belonging to the museum include: bucchero ware (shiny black ceramics) and ceramics, including many vases imported from Greece, complete funerary equipment, sarcophagi, terracotta and bronze objects.
The ancient city (Cisra for the Etruscans, Agylia for the Greeks and for the Greeks) famous for its maritime trading, occupied an immense area protected by steep slopes and fortifications. Situated only a few miles from the coast, access to the sea was ensured by three ports: Pyrgi, Alsium and Punicum. From the 7th century BC onwards, Caere underwent lively development, becoming Etruriaís port for the Orient. Gold jewellery and vases are of particularly fine workmanship; the craft of bucchero ware was also born here in this period.
In the 6th century BC, Caere, at the height of its power, clashed, emerging victorious, with the Greeks of Italy who at the time were establishing their control on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Commercial relations were not interrupted but, on the contrary, a rich community of merchants and craftsmen of Greek origin flourished in the city. After the crisis common to the whole of Etruria in the 5th century BC, there was a strong recovery in the next century, made possible in part thanks to the excellent relations enjoyed with Rome, of which Caere was a traditional ally.
This policy was abandoned at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, when the city rebelled against the interference of Roman power; defeated, it lost part of its territory, including the coastal area. Deprived of its ports, Caere was thus doomed to a crisis which came to an end with its total extinction in the 1st century AD.
The archaeological areas
The great development of ancient Caere is shown by the number and wealth of the tombs discovered in its necropolis. The most important, the Banditaccia (the others are Sorbo and Monte Abetone) represents one of the most interesting archaeological areas in the whole of the Mediterranean. In use between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC, the visitor can make a fascinating and complete journey through Etruscan funerary architecture.
The majority of the tombs can be dated back to between the 7th and 6th centuries BC. The most common tombs are those of the underground chamber and tumulus types, where the inner rooms imitate and at times faithfully reproduce the settings of the dwellings of the living. In the 5th century BC, a real city of the dead rose up with streets intersecting at right angles and areas devoted to worship. The tombs are more modest than in the previous period: the chambers are small and the style has become standardized.
Only in the last centuries was there a return to the underground tombs with a complex floor plan, the symbol of a return to power by the aristocracy. The tomb treasures include many bronze and silver objects, refined gold jewellery, vases of local production, including the famous bucchero ware and others imported from Greece and painted terracotta objects including votive figures and heads.
Pyrgi was one of the ports of the city of Caere, lying about eight miles away and was very famous with the Etruscans for its sacred area. Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of two temples dedicated to the goddesses Uni and Astarte. The more ancient can be dated around the 6th century BC, whilst the more recent dates back to the middle of the 5th century BC.
There are two discoveries of major importance: the fragments of a mythological high relief which decorated the fronton of the more recent temple, and three tablets of gold on which is engraved the dedication of the temple to the goddess Uni. These two treasures are on display in Rome at the Villa Giulia Museum.