We are only 17 km northwest of the Eternal City where are the ruins of the rival that almost snuffed out early Roman civilization, long before Caesar or Augustus were born. The great Etruscan city-state of Veii, the big trading power on the Tiber River for centuries, now consists only of suggestive broken walls, grave-mounds, and rock-cut tombs painted with ancient frescoes.
Veii stands on a volcanic plateau between two streams, at the junction of which stands the “arx” or Etruscan citadel, now call in italian language “Piazza d’Armi” (“military square”). Historically, the city was wiped out by the Romans in 396 BC after a decade-long war.
Veio, the southernmost town of Etruria and the traditional rival of Rome, rules a large territory (Agro Veientano) extending from the right bank of the river Tiber to Bracciano Lake and beyond. The conflict developing between Veio and the emerging Rome, linked to the trade control along the river Tiber and the salt pans, ended after a legendary siege leading to the defeat of the Etruscan town by Furio Camillo in 396 BC.
It was 406 BC when Rome declared war against Veii, still powerful and well-fortified, which required the Romans to commence a siege lasting many years. As Plutarch says:
“Veii had been the capital of Etruria, not inferior to Rome, either in number of arms or multitude of soldiers, so that relying on her wealth and luxury, and priding herself upon her refinement and sumptuousness, she had engaged in many honourable contests with the Romans for glory and empire ………. as the city was furnished with all sorts of weapons, offensive and defensive, likewise with corn and all manner of provisions, they cheerfully endured a siege”
In 27 AD, Augustus transformed the town into a Municipium in the attempt to stop its decline, but there was nothing to do.
The most important monument is represented by the Portonaccio sanctuary, famous because here the statue of Apollo was found. The urban area was surrounded by imposing walls with several gates, and was crossed by a main road that was paved by the Romans and that used to connect the main urban spaces with each other. The plateau housing the Etruscan town was surrounded by big necropolises scattered along the main access roads to the town.
Moreover, Veio is known for the presence of a system of subterranean galleries built by the Etruscan engineers.
While much of Etruscan culture is lost to us, visitors to Veio Regional Natural Park can still find plenty to see and wonder at, including the town gates or Porta Ponte Sodo dated back 5th century BC, the Temple of Apollo (7th century BC), the “Tomba delle anatre” (Tomb of the Ducks) and the “Tomba dei Leoni ruggenti” (Tomb of the Roaring Lions), also about 7th century BC, which has been recently discovered and which is considered the most ancient painted tomb of Etruria.
The territory of the Park is extremely rich in historical and artistic features. In addition, the oak-filled park contains notable Roman-era structures, like Livia’s villa, wife of the Emperor Augustus. Although in the past it suffered urbanization processes, the Park territory is still intact and has preserved its great landscape value.
However the tombs and their secrets attract more than archaeologists and tourists to the Veii region. “Tombaroli”, aka tomb raiders, come in the night to loot the graves of the long-dead, pre-Roman people of Italy.