The Bolsena lake, rich in crystal clear waters the whole year long, occupies the largest volcanic caldera in Europe and is adorned by the Martana and Bisentina islands, two rocky remains of the explosions of the last craters. Since prehistory the lake attracted inhabitants from the nearby hills, communities who moved down to the shores where they managed to work the fertile land as well as to practise breeding and, most of all, fishing.
During the Iron Age (IX-VIII century b.C.) the Villanovians, ancestors of the Etruscans, founded two large villages close to the lake. Bisenzio, on the western shore, was built upon a rocky hill running sheer into the waters, while the “Gran Carro”, on the opposite side, was originally located at the middle of a wide plain which was later submerged because of the gradual uplift of the lake level.
During the Etruscan period the Bolsena lake basin was a boundary area between two of the most important Etruscan city-states, Vulci and Volsinii, but its south western sector was also influenced by the powerful Tarquinia because of the easy connection  to the Tyrrhenian coast through the Marta river valley.

The best way to experience a route connecting the most important Etruscan places around the Bolsena lake is to visit first the Etruscan-Roman town of Volsinii. Volsinii was founded after the destruction of Velzna, the present Orvieto, carried out by the Romans in 265 b.C. together with the deportation of all its inhabitants to the Volsini Mountains.
The archaeological area is 100 metres north of the Castle of Bolsena, along the road towards Orvieto. A parking lot is available. At the left of the entrance, the remains of the thermae of the first century a.C., can be seen. Further on stands the level ground of the forum, which dates back to the Flavian period. Most of its paving has been removed and used again during the Middle Ages to build the close Castello quarter, the first settlement of the present Bolsena, and the Monaldeschi Fortress, where you can visit the Bolsena Lake Territorial Museum which is full of Etruscan and Roman remains.
The northern and southern sides of the forum are bounded by two wide roads while on the western side, facing the lake, originally there was a great basilica, a public building where justice was dispensed, which was then transformed into a Christian place of worship under the emperor Constantine. A staircase on the northern side of the forum is an ancient via tecta (i.e. a road originally covered by a vault), leading to the ancient public toilets and the residential area. The “House of Paintings” shows several rooms decorated with remarkable frescoes of the III century b.C. and an underground place where ceremonies were secretly carried out in honour of Bacchus. Nearby stands the “Atrium House”, with precious marble floors (opus sectile) and a big nymphaeum surrounded by niches where statues stood in ancient times.
Go down to the via Cassia, turn to the right and with a distance of 12 kilometres you arrive to San Lorenzo Nuovo. The name of the village reveals its recent origins, but many Etruscan evidences related to the important settlement of Civita di Grotte di Castro are widespread throughout its territory. A trail easily connects the southern part of the village to the small rural church of Madonna di Torano, where several chamber graves can still be seen. The most important, the “Column Tomb”, has a single rectangular room with funeral platforms on three sides and a double sloping ceiling, held up by a rojecting
rafter and a column of the Tuscan order.
Back to the north on the via Cassia, before entering Acquapendente, the route crosses the Campomorino plain which is full of Etruscan remains. In the surroundings of Casale Lutinanino stood a small necropolis with chamber graves of the Hellenistic period (IV – II century b.C.). Until a few years ago, a couple of tombs could be seen. In one of them the main chamber was surrounded by some loculi, burial cells, but the entrance was closed because the ceiling collapsed. The second tomb had a Greek cross plan and a double sloping ceiling where a central rafter and lateral joists had been sculpted, thus
imitating a domestic roof.

Again to the north on the via Cassia, the route crosses the town of Acquapendente and goes down towards the Paglia river. A few hundred metres before the bridge, turn left on the Provincial Road No. 52 (Procenese) to reach the village of Proceno in ten minutes. The settlement has a charming position, castled on top of a hillside defended by high cliffs on every side. During the Etruscan period it belonged to the city-state of Chiusi, whose legendary king Porsenna was responsible for its foundation and was buried in a big burial mound on a nearby hill (Poggio Porsenna). A heritage of his name can still be found in the name of Proceno. Back to via Cassia, we suggest you to return to Acquapendente and turn right along the Provincial Road No. 124 leading to Grotte di Castro. The territory around this village displays the highest number of Etruscan remains of the whole lake basin. The Municipal Archaeological Museum is worth a visit due to the presence of several funerary outfits of the archaic period, found in the necropolises of the area and related to the large settlement of the Civita rise (Salpinum?). From Grotte di Castro, the first stretch of the Provincial Road No. 124 going down towards Gradoli and the lake runs along the Civita tuff plateau, on the left. Shortly afterwards comes the archaeological area of Pianezze, a necropolis where a group of about twenty wide chamber graves can be admired. The graves are dug in a tuff crag, they all have sculpted interiors and one of them is painted.

From Pianezze, go down towards the Bolsena lake and then turn right on the Provincial Road No. 212 towards Gradoli. After one kilometre, at a junction, turn left towards Capodimonte on the Provincial Road No. 114. The road runs close to the lake shore and after about eight kilometres the green shape of Mount Bisenzio appears. In ancient times, the hill was occupied by a widespread Etruscan settlement (Bisenzio) which spanned for about 85 hectares and included the Palazzetta rise. The place is now an archaeological naturalistic park and can be reached through a trail on the left of the Provincial Road, at the top of the slope where the entrance of the ancient village lies. After the visit, go back to the Provincial Road No. 114 and turn left at the following junction to reach the Capodimonte lakeside towards the village of Marta, which is only two kilometres away. A central road, Via Laertina, crosses Marta from both sides and leads to the bridge over the homonymous (Marta) river, which is the only outlet of the Bolsena lake. During the Etruscan period the Marta river valley was a main line of communication between the lake and the Tyrrhenian coast, including the important Etruscan towns of Tarquinia and Tuscania. Close to the Marta river inlet stands the Cornossa hill where in ancient times was an Etruscan settlement to which several necropolises were connected.

You can reach the town of Montefiascone by travelling on the country road along the lake shore. After two kilometres, you get to an archaeological area with the remains of an Etruscan sanctuary of the VI – III century b.C. Proceeding on the same road, after a few minutes a bend on the right takes you to the Provincial Road No. 16 which climbs up to Montefiascone. The town is the largest and the most ancient settlement of the lake district and was built on one of the highest hills of the Volsini Mountains. An outstanding panorama overlooks the Bolsena lake and opens its view towards distant horizons such as the sharp shapes of the Apennines, the glows of the Thyrrenian Sea, the Cimini Mountains and the Mount Amiata.
The Etruscan phase of the settlement is witnessed both on top of the hill where later, in the Middle Ages, the so called “Popes’ Fortress” was built, and in the surroundings where several small necropolises of the Hellenistic period (IV – III century b.C.) were found during the last century. Recent archaeological excavations below the medieval fortress have brought to light layers filled with protohistoric and Etruscan finds and the remains of powerful defensive walls in opus quadratum built with big tuff bricks.
The last part of the route leads to the countryside of the Civita d’Arlena hill, a place immersed in nature within the Turona naturalistic archaeological park. The area is well signposted and may be reached by going towards Bolsena along the via Cassia as far as km 108.100 and then turning right to a narrow country road. Between the VIII and the III century b.C. the Civita hill was occupied by an important Etruscan settlement. A trail crosses the top of the rise from both sides and is accessible by foot, by horse or with mountain bikes. It leads to the remains of a small temple, built in the VI century b.C. near to a big volcanic fracture. According to the imagination of Etruscan people this rift must have looked like a gate opened towards the kingdom of the gods of the underworld, whose worship was particularly popular within the ancient
territory of Volsinii.
Going back to the via Cassia and turning right, at a distance of 7 kilometres you can reach Bolsena, starting and ending point of the route around the largest lake of the Lazio region, dedicated to the discovery of Etruscans.



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