One of my all time favorite Art History classes at Rutgers was with Professor Jocelyn Penny Small. She is a powerhouse of an instructor who taught Etruscan Art. She no longer teaches at Rutgers, but if you are interested at all in this type of subject, I highly recommend you pick up her books and papers – many available on the Rutgers website for FREE….anyhow….I became slightly obsessed with the 4th Century Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga while taking her class, so when I heard I was headed to Tuscany, I knew that this would be one of the sites I could not miss.
Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga
The best part about this tomb is that it was discovered a little over ten years ago (2003 if I am not mistaken). This means it is in incredible shape and has not succumbed to the breath of hordes of visitors. That being said, it is old and it does have damage. It was looted on various occasions, but the images seen here rival any other tomb of its time. You will have an amazing experience here. Before I get to my tips for your visit, let me tell you why you absolutely need to book your appointment to see the Tomb of The Infernal Quadriga. (If you want the tips, just scroll to the bottom of the page).
These tombs tell us plenty about the beliefs and lifestyles of the Etruscans. We get an idea of how they lived, dressed, what they believed in, and more. Here is what you will see…and a little info to pique your interest:
The Sarcophagus & Hippocampus
This alabaster sarcophagus is shaped as a reclining chair upon which the deceased sits as if waiting for dinner. It is in very bad shape since it was smashed to pieces by looters, but when one looks at the painting of the reclining couple on the side, one can imagine what the sitter looked like. His resting place was quite costly for the time. Behind the sarcophagus is a wall painting of a seahorse (Hippocampus). This was a common theme in Etruscan tomb painting as a representation of the voyage into the netherworld.
Three Headed Snake
On the wall to the left of the sarcophagus you will see a wonderful beast. This two toned monster shares its body with three heads. It is quite an interesting creature. Each head is topped with the crest of a rooster, and has a bearded mouth with threatening teeth. It feels as if this snake is guarding the sarcophagus from its enemies.
The Reclining Couple
This male couple sits in an incredibly intimate pose. The smaller, darker skinned fellow seems to dote attention on the larger, paler, bearded male. They could be father and son or some other type of relation. The bearded man is most likely the departed, since he is in the same pose as that of the sarcophagus. Standing behind them (closer to the sarcophagus) is a servant with a tool to filter wine.
The Infernal Quadriga
The tomb is named after is an incredible wall painting depicting the a rider leading a quadriga (a chariot with four animals, usually horses, but here you have griffons and lions). This is actually the first thing you see when you walk in on your left hand side, but I wanted to save this for last. The driver has pale white skin, red hair to match his/her dress, an intense furrowed face with a fang in its mouth.
It is unclear who this personage is. Is it human? Is it a demon? Is it male or female? The figure is dressed in red with fiery red locks. Its face is intense, frowning. While its face is white, there are lines on its cheek that could make it a man. Behind it, there is what seems to be a cloud of black smoke framing the figure. Perhaps it is an attempt at a shadow. Either way, this is pretty advanced and sophisticated art.
According to the museum’s website (and the archaeologist that walked us through the tomb), the driver could be Charun, the creature that would take the dead into the underworld, although if this is so, the artist has deviated from the expected representation. Normally, Charun would be depicted with a hammer, and usually with Vanth, another guide to the underworld. This leads to many more questions about the figure.
Others say this could be a woman because of the light skin and similarities to other paintings of women in the area, particularly Velia from the Tomb of Orcus. Both are “framed” by a dark shadow/dust, both are in profile, and both have similar color hair that is wavy. The feel of both paintings is completely different, but one can certainly make a connection between the choices of the artists. If the driver is indeed a woman, she is fierce, powerful, not to be messed with. Her hair flies back with the speed of her horses. It is absolutely amazing to see.
The tomb also gives us insight into the class relationships of the Etruscans. Servants would cater to members of rich families, like this young man who brought over a strainer for wine. It tells us that there was a well established dynamic between rich and poor.
On the meander below the quadriga, you will see dolphins in alternating colors over what looks like a wave pattern. This is similar to the Tomb of the Lionesses, but there the depiction is a lot less patterned and seems to be more a part of the scene. It also mirrors the purpose of the seahorse as a metaphor for the passing into the underworld.
How to Get Tickets to Visit the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga
The most important thing you need to know is that the Tomb is only open once a week (Saturdays) by appointment only. It may be a pain to you, but this is awesome. More sites should enact rules like this to preserve these pieces of our cultural heritage.
You can make your appointment by calling 0039 0578269261 or by emailing [email protected] or [email protected] I used the email method and received a response and confirmation very quick. Your ticket will include a trip to the small, but really cool museum located in the city of Sarteano, it’s a nice way to use up time while you wait for your Tomb viewing appointment.
Visit times vary throughout the months:
October-May: One visit daily at 11:30am
June-September: Two visits daily 9:30am or 6:00pm
Directions to the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga
Once you’ve secured the appointment, you need to pick up your tickets at the Archeological Museum of Sarteano. It is located at:
Via Roma, 24 in Sarteano.
You must then drive to the site itself. This can be an issue if you don’t drive stick (like me), so make sure that you have someone with you who can drive stick, or that you book a car service ahead of time.
Drive slowly once you get onto the road that leads to the site, the country road that leads to the site can be easy to miss and u-turns are difficult to make on this narrow road.
Info & Tips for Visiting the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga
1. Don’t get there too early. We were there 45 minutes before and it was very hot – July – while there are benches on the site with trees, it gets very hot in the area, and since it is so close to the town, I suggest you get there max – 15 minutes ahead of time.
2. Bring water, a hat and sun protection. Once you get to the site, there is nothing else there, so make sure you bring stuff with you in case you are thirsty or hungry.
3. Wear flats. This is a super easy tomb to visit. You don’t have to climb over rocks or hills…but flats will make your life easier on the site.
4. Bring a sweater. Even in the peak of Summer, the tomb is quite cool. This is due to humidity control in order to keep the paintings in good condition. You have to walk through two doors that need to be closed very quickly. Once inside the drop in temperature is noticeable, so bring a light sweater to wear once inside.
5. Bring a camera. Yup…you can take pictures as long as you don’t use flash.
6. Plan to spend time in town. We booked our visit for 6pm, but you are urged to pick up your tickets at 4. This meant we had 2 hours to kill. The town is quiet and calm, but there are a few bars and restaurants.
7. The group will be small. We had a two couples, one with children there on the same date. That meant only 8 people in total plus the archaeologist and her translator.
8. Be respectful. Don’t touch stuff and have a good time.
If you Miss the Tomb
Not the same thing, but they have reconstructed the main frescoes at the Museum, so you can get an idea of what they look like.
Where to Stay Near the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga
You’re in Tuscany, stay in Tuscany. You can stay at an Airbnb, at a Tuscan villa, or a hotel (but I’m no fan of hotels…so follow the order above. If you have never picked an Airbnb before, I’ve got a tutorial on how to pick the perfect Airbnb rental.
Here are a few places to stay I think you’ll love near the Tomb of the Infernal Quadriga:
Albergo Roberta: Nadia & Felice are famous in Sarteano…so are the thermal pools. So, if you want to enjoy the hills of Tuscany, wine, archaeology and relaxation…this is the place.
Albergo Santa Chiara: The ultimate in romance. This place is GORGEOUS! The place is huge and there aren’t so many rooms, so it feels like you have the whole place to yourself. Giorgio & Chloe will make you feel like a part of their family.
Alessandra’s Airbnb: Imagine staying in a gorgeous Tuscan home with fireplaces to keep you warm. Did I mention great wifi? And the best list of things to-do in Sarteano? You’re going to love this place.
Wanna learn about the tomb behind the dress?
— Blanca (@jolie311) February 14, 2017