Volterra Tourist Attractions
SituationVolterra lies in a region of much-eroded hills some 50km/30mi from the coast of the Maremma and 65km/40mi southeast of Pisa.HistoryExcavations have shown that the hill between the rivers Cécina and Era was already occupied by a settlement in prehistoric times. This was succeeded by the Etruscan town of Velathri, a member of the Etruscan League of twelve cities, which covered an area about three times the size of the present town. In the third century B.C. the town became a Roman municipium under the name of Volaterrae. In the Middle Ages it was a free commune, which contrived to retain its independence until it was brought under Florentine protection in 1361. It is famous as a center of alabaster- working, a craft which was revived in the 19th century.
Opposite the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra is the 13th century Palazzo Pretorio, which until 1511 was the seat of the capitano del Pópolo. It incorporated a number of earlier buildings, and is dominated by the battlemented Torre del Podestà. On top of the tower is the figure of an animal, popularly known as Porcellino (Piglet).
Behind the Palazzo del Pópolo in Volterra is the Duomo Santa Maria Assunta (consecrated 1120), which was enlarged in Pisan style in 1254. The campanile, which commands extensive views, was rebuilt in 1493 after its collapse, but later, for greater stability, had the top story removed. The interior of the church, which is aisled, was remodeled in the 16th century, and in its present aspect is predominantly Renaissance. Notable among the works of art it contains are, on the inside of the entrance wall, a beautiful antependium (altar frontal) with eight panels from the Romanesque altar; in the first chapel in the right transept the Reliquary of Sant'Ottaviano by Raffaele Cioli (1522); in the choir, flanking the altar, two Angels bearing candelabra and, on the altar, a splendid marble ciborium, for reservation of the Eucharist, by Mino da Fiésole (15th century); between the seventh and eighth columns on the left an impresssive pulpit made in the 17th century from fragments of varying origin (12th century reliefs of Old and New Testament scenes); and in the Cappella dell'Addolorata (in the left-hand aisle) a colored terracotta group of Mary and Joseph with the Infant Jesus, in front of a background fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting the arrival of the three kings, and opposite it is a polychrome terracotta group of the Adoration of the Kings.
Opposite the facade of the cathedral in Volterra is the baptistery, a two story building on an octoganal plan erected in the 13th century but subsequently much altered. The side facing the cathedral is clad with bands of white and green marble and has a Romanesque doorway with figural decoration. The interior, roofed with an early 16th century dome, is plain. There is a beautiful font by Andrea Sansovino (1502) carved with reliefs.
From the center of Volterra a stepped lane, Via Porta all'Arco (many alabaster workshops), runs southwest to the Arco Etrusco (Etruscan Arch), a gate in the ancient circuit of walls. The dressed stones flanking the gateway and the three much-weathered heads on the arch date from the fourth-third centuries B.C.; the arch itself was rebuilt in Roman times, and the masonry on either side of the gate is medieval. A similar gateway is depicted on an Etruscan ash-chest of the first century B.C. (No. 371) in the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci.A commemorative tablet records that during the Second World War the people of Volterra prevented the gate from being blown up by German troops.
The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art is housed in part of the cloister to the northwest of the cathedral. It contains ecclesiastical and liturgical objects from the diocese of Volterra, including a glazed terracotta bust of St Linus (first successor of St Peter) by Andrea della Robbia; a Reliquary of Sant'Ottaviano, of beaten silver by Antonio del Pollaiuolo (15th century), and a Reliquary of St Victor, of enameled silver (Sienese workmanship, 14th century); a wooden tabernacle decorated with miniatures (Umbrian school, 15th century); a gilt-bronze Crucifix by Giambologna (16th century); and valuable priestly vestments of the 16th to 18th centuries.A collection of bells, the oldest dating from 1069, and a gilt-bronze Crucifix by Giambologna (16th century) are notable.
Palazzo dei Priori
In the Piazza dei Priori in Volterra, the central square of the medieval town, stands the Palazzo dei Priori (1208-54), now the Town Hall - the oldest in Tuscany. It was the official residence of the podestà and later of the Florentine priori and commissari, as the coats of arms on the facade bear witness. The front of the palazzo is relieved only by a few irregularly disposed windows and narrow horizontal cornices. At either end of the facade are columns bearing the heraldic lion of Florence, the Marzocco.The Council Chamber, identifiable from the outside by a series of windows on the first floor set closer to each other than on the rest of the facade, is decorated with frescoes, most of which are in the "Historical" style of the 19th century.
To the north of the cathedral, at the intersection of Via Roma and Via Ricciarelli, is the 13th century Casa-Torre Buonparenti. There are other characteristic medieval tower houses to be seen in the vicinity - Torre Martinoli (13th century), Casa Nannatti e Miranceli, Torre Buonnaguidi (12th century). In Via Ricciarelli are the Palazzetto della Sbarba (No. 24) and the Casa Ricciarelli (Nos. 34-36; note the small windows for children below the main windows).
Leaving the Piazza dei Priori on Via Ricciarelli, we continue past the church of San Lino and San Francesco to the Porta San Francesco; a little north are the remains of the Etruscan town walls (Mura Etrusche).
Palazzo Minucci-Solaini & Pinacoteca e Museo Civico
Near the Piazza dei Priori stands the Palazzo Minucci-Solaini, which houses the Pinacoteca (picture collection), with works by Ghirlandaio, Signorelli and other painters. The same palace contains the Municipal Museum (Museo Civico).
The Gallería Pittórica (Picture Gallery) in Volterra has works by Florentine, Sienese and Volterran artists. Of particular interest are Rosso Fiorentino's "Descent from the Cross" (1521), Luca Signorelli's "Annunciation" and "Virgin and Child with Saints" (1491), two triptychs by Taddeo di Bártolo (14th-15th century). Benvenuto di Giovanni's "Nativity" (1470) and Ghirlandaio's "Christ with Saints" (15th century).
From the Porta San Francesco in Volterra we follow the Via Volterrana and in 100m/110yd turn right into Viale Francesco Ferrucci, which runs along the north side of the town walls to the Roman Theater (Teatro Romano) dating from the A.D. first century, which has been excavated from 1951 onwards.
At the west end of the Citadel in Volterra extends the Archeological Park. In 1926 the remains of an ancient acropolis with the foundations of two temples (second century B.C.) and a cistern have been excavated here.
On the highest point of the hill is the massive fortezza, one of the mightiest Renaissance strongholds in Italy (now a penal establishment; not open to the public). The Rocca Vecchia (Old Castle) at the east end was built in the 14th century, the Rocca Nuova (New Castle) in 1472-75 for Lorenzo de' Médici. The central round tower of the New Castle (built 1472 onwards) is known as the Maschio (Male), the semi-elliptical tower of the Old Castle as the Femmina (Female).
Museo Etrusco Guarnacci
In Volterra and the surrounding area rich finds of Etruscan material have been made, and the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum has a remarkable collection of this material. It owes its existence to a local prelate, Mario Guarnacci (1701-85), who bequeathed his collection to the town; together with a collection of Etruscan urns assembled by another ecclesiastic, Canon Franceschini, in the years before 1732, formed the basic stock of the museum, which also contains prehistoric and Roman material. The Etruscan section of the museum gives an excellent view of the life and culture of this people about whom so little is known. It contains more than 600 cinerary urns of tufa, alabaster or terracotta, mostly dating from the fourth to first centuries B.C. Of particular interest are two urns with reliefs depicting the Siege of Thebes, on one of which (No. 371) is an arched gateway resembling the Arco Etrusco. Other items include a crater (mixing vessel) from Attica, funerary stelae, jewelry, coins, etc.
Address: Via Don Minzoni 15, I-56048 Volterra, Italy
Opening hours: Mar 16 to Nov 1: 9am-7pm
Nov 2 to Mar 15: 9am-2pm
Nov 2 to Mar 15: 9am-2pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €8.00
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
Around the town are considerable remains, picturesquely overgrown with ivy, holm-oaks and stunted cypresses, of the walls built by the Etruscans to defend the prosperous city of Velathri. The topography of the site meant that the walls enclosed an area of very irregular outline much larger than that of the medieval town, extending for a considerable distance to the north and northwest. In some places the walls rise as high as 11m/36ft. There is a particularly fine stretch by the little Church of Santa Chiara.
Northeast of Volterra stands the monastic church of San Girolamo, notable for its pictures and its terracotta altarpieces by Giovanni della Robbia.
To get to Massa Maríttima take the road which runs 10km/6mi southwest to Saline di Volterra, noted for its salt-works, which supply the whole of Tuscany, then south over the bare uplands of the Colline Metallifere (Poggio di Montieri, 1,051m/3,468ft) and via the little town of Pomarance (25km/16mi;367m/1,211ft; pop. 8,000) to Larderello (10km/6mi; 390m/1,287ft), lying off the main road on the slopes of Monte Cerboli (691m/2,280ft). The volcanic water vapor which issues from the ground in jets (soffioni) deposits the boric acid and other chemicals which it contains in underground reservoirs (lagoni) and supplies the motive power for the turbines of an electric power station. The columns of steam can be seen from a long distance away.
Immediately northwest of Volterra are the Balze, a barren and inhospitable terrain of hills scarred and gullied by erosion. As a result of the continuous wearing away of the soil numbers of Etruscan tombs, a section of the ancient walls and a medieval church have been carried away in quite recent times.
The village of Larderello lies on Monte Cérboli (691m/2,267ft), a little off the road from Volterra to Massa Maríttima. The soffioni (jets of steam of volcanic origin) which come to the surface here, sending white columns of vapor into the air, are put to use in two ways; the boric acid and other substances which they deposit in large underground reservoirs of water (lagoni) can be recovered, and the steam is harnessed to produce power.
Map of Volterra Attractions