All roads still lead to Rome. To tour the Eternal City is to feel connected to two thousand years of Western history.
But the imperial Romans weren't the first on the block. They moved in on the Etruscans, and got many of their ideas about life from them.
The capital of the vanished Etruscan civilization is today's Tarquinia, an hour from Rome. This small city harbors three millennia of Italian history: Etruscan, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Unification.
But Tarquinia's earliest, Etruscan past grabbed me when I visited this summer, and won't let go. I can't stop thinking about these delicate-featured people who loved art, made wine, and celebrated their families with elaborate Necropoli, Cities of the Dead, fully zoned and landscaped.
The Etruscans disappeared, but they didn't die out. They were absorbed into the Roman Empire, and live on in today's Italians.
To understand the Italian spirit -- and to open a window on all of Western civilization -- you simply must visit Tarquinia.
- What to see (including the pizzeria that many Italians name #1) in and near Tarquinia >>
- Other good reasons to visit Italy >>
Treasures of Tarquinia, from top: Way to go: Etruscan sarcophagus at Villa Giulia in Rome; life-size Etruscan stone horses at Tarquinia Museum; magic hour in Tarquinia; Pizzeria 2 Gallozzi. All ©Karen Tina Harrison