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Many Roads Lead Out of Rome to Day-Trip Destinations

February 07, 1988|CAROL BARRINGTON | Barrington is a Houston free-lance writer. and

ROME — My first stop was Tarquinia's famed underground necropolis, a short drive east of town.

While Romulus and Remus were busy founding Rome on the banks of the Tiber in the 7th Century BC, the citizens of Tarquinia were preparing for the afterlife in a big way.

Infrared pictures have catalogued nearly 10,000 tombs in Tarquinia's necropolis, an area about five kilometers long and one kilometer wide.

Many have been penetrated by periscope and dated by scholars from the 7th through 5th centuries BC, and an estimated 300 have extensive wall paintings.

Most of these frescoes reveal easily interpreted scenes of daily Etruscan life, some of them so erotic that they were defaced and burned during the Inquisition in AD 1100.

Most of the paintings, however, are just as they were 24 to 26 centuries ago, when the last fires were lit to consume the oxygen and the tomb entrances were sealed with stones.

Return to Brilliance

Some 50 tombs have been officially entered. Of those, only four are open for viewing at any one time because continuous exposure to humidity and body heat destroys the colors of the wall paintings.

After a year, those four are closed for 10 years to allow the ferrous oxide and malachite- and lapis lazuli-based colors to return to their ancient brilliance.

The old adage that all roads lead to Rome also works in reverse. Such wonders as Tarquinia's museum and necropolis are less than a two-hour drive away in nearly any direction from the Eternal City.

And while no one should miss the majesty of the Coliseum in both sunshine and moonlight, or the sense of walking in history's footsteps in the ruins of the Forum, day trips can be welcome respites from Rome's relentless crowds and confusion.

Americans with more than three days to explore Rome should consider at least one out-of-town trip.

Pleasure Palace

Rental cars offer the most freedom. But if you don't want to cope with Rome's traffic--"red lights are just suggestions, yellow lights are for decoration," as the locals say--most of the outstanding day-trips can easily be taken on public transportation.

Less than an hour's drive east of Rome is Villa Adriana (Hadrian's Villa), a pleasure palace started in AD 118 by the Emperor Hadrian as a country retreat.

A man of great intelligence, Hadrian also was an extensive traveler. At this villa, he re-created many of the architectural treasures he saw elsewhere in the Hellenistic world. With its courtyards, terraces, statues, baths, Egyptian canals, the complex is amazing. Stop first at the museum at the entrance.

Consider also visiting the town of Tivoli, several kilometers further up the hill. Follow signs in the town square to the Villa d'Este, built in the mid-16th Century by a Catholic cardinal.

The villa itself is moldering away from lack of care, but the garden, with its hundreds of fountains, streams and rivulets, is magnificent, particularly when illuminated on summer nights.

Get Precise Information

Best timing for this trip: Leave Rome after the noon traffic rush. From Hadrian's Villa, continue to Villa d'Este. Both are open until 90 minutes before sunset, daily except Mondays.

Buses to Tivoli depart approximately every 20 minutes from Via Gaeta behind the Termini railroad station in Rome; check with the tourist office or your hotel concierge for precise information. Round-trip is 3,400 lira (about $2.90 U.S.).

Get off at the Bivio Villa Adriana stop (the kilometer 27 marker); follow the signs to Hadrian's Villa, a one-mile walk. Or stay on the bus to the main square of Tivoli and take a cab.

Rome is a new city, compared to ancient Palestrina, high in the hills and 38 kilometers to the south.

One of Italy's most outstanding and least-known treasures, Palestrina dates from pagan times and was famed for the oracle in the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia, the mother and nurse of the gods.

In ancient times, Palestrina was so important that huge signal fires lit the shrine at night so it could be seen by mariners at sea.

In the 17th Century, the lavish Palazzo Barberini was built on the foundations of the original temple.

Today it is a museum containing many relics from the oracle and temple, including the remains of a statue of the goddess Fortuna and a large, extremely fine mosaic, "Nile in Flood," done in the 1st Century BC for a wall of the temple's sanctuary.

Exposed by Bombing

Bombings during World War II exposed major terraces of the ancient temple, now restored on the slopes in front of the museum.

This is a good day-trip to drive yourself. There are many trattorias in Palestrina serving inexpensive and tasty lunches, and the day-trip can include a stop at Tivoli on the way back to Rome.

The ancient port of Rome, Ostia Antica, was once on the sea at the mouth of the Tiber. Thanks to the silt of centuries, today it is near the Leonardo da Vinci airport (also called Fiumicino), a short subway ride from metro Rome.

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