This original Etruscan hilltop settlement, sitting atop an enormous bluff and surrounded by strong walls is a jewel of Roman, Etruscan, medieval, and Renaissance art. It is a city of magnificent vistas from farmlands to mountain views. Writer D. H. Lawrence once described Volterra as a city that sits, "on a towering great bluff that gets all the winds and sees all the world."
A city of importance during the Etruscan era and one of the largest centers in Etruria's 12-city confederation in 4 BC, the Etruscans left beautiful bronzes and a large collection of alabaster funerary urns depicting their impeccable skill in carving the translucent and exquisite white alabaster. The art continues to flourish in artisan workshops throughout Volterra.
Rich in alabaster, an important industry of the city, and in mineral waters, such as those of S. Felice and the Moie, or salt springs, even more important are the Soffioni of Larderello, from which boric acid is extracted, the sulphur lake of Monterotondo, the copper springs of Caporciano, and the baths of Montecatini.
A stroll along the streets of the historic center or a visit to the three city museums, the Etruscan Museum, City Art Gallery and Museum of Sacred Art, validates that history has left its marks on Volterra. And in concert with its ancient treasures is the city's natural beauty that can be enjoyed on foot, horseback or bicycle.
Volterra is the native city of the poet Persius Flaccus, of the humanists Tommaso Inghirami and Raffaele Maffei, of the painters and sculptors Baldassare Perugini and Daniele Ricciarelli, and according to the "Liber Pontificalis"; Volterra was the birthplace of St. Linus, the immediate successor of St. Peter.
The mysterious city nestled on a hilltop can trace its historical roots back three thousand years but maintains the medieval character and charm of narrow streets, tower houses, palaces, and churches within its protective walls. Once one of the most prosperous and powerful of Etruscan cities during the half-millennium before the birth of Jesus, it experienced centuries of turmoil to emerge as one of the principle cities of medieval Italy.
Influences from the medieval, Roman and Etruscan worlds are evident throughout the city --medieval palaces and church buildings, the remains of the Etruscan gateway, Porta all'Arco, and the Etruscan Museum with over 600 funerary urns, the First Century Roman theater, suggesting the importance of Volterra under the Roman rule.
During the 5th century BC, Volterra's greatest territorial expansion took place, coupled with the extraction of the minerals from the mines of the nearby Colline Metallifere (Metalliferous Hills) and Volterra's domination of the other nearby lucumonie (big cities). The Romans in 80 BC defeated Volterra after a long siege. They were the last lucumonia to surrender, and this began a downfall from its former position of Etruscan importance that would not be recovered.
During the era of the town's partial rebirth, the bishops maintained the power to elect the consuls and the reconstruction of the city walls and the Etruscan-Roman walled enclosure and its entry gate, Porta all'Arco (Arco Gate), was completed.
The end of the 14th century marked the beginning of Florentine control over the city and the undoing of Volterra, paradoxically because of its own fortune. As Florentine's power grew, its rulers cast covetous eyes on the alabaster mines. A little over a century later, in 1472, during the rule of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the people of Volterra rebelled against the Florentine policy of keeping production of the mineral deposits of alum down and prices up and pocketing all the proceeds.
Federico da Montefeltro, leader of the Florentine army, was given credit for the idea to erect a fortress like the Rocca (a castle on a rock with scarp walls enclosure) built in Toscana. It is from here that the ambitious program to strengthen the Florentine territory borders started. The strengthening of Volterra had a duel purpose: To overpower the city and create an important stronghold against Siena.
Volterra lies in the heart of Italy's truffle country, and incorporates this specialty food item, considered the diamond of the culinary world, into its cuisine in every imaginable way -- for sauces, butters, pastes, oils, stuffed into ravioli and flecked over fresh pasta -- the rich aroma and flavor as captivating today as it was a thousand years ago.
Beyond truffles are other local specialties that are as popular like wild boar pasta, pasta with a pumpkin sauce and pasta made with chestnut flour with a sage butter sauce. Excellent local cheeses like pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and foods made from wild game such as salsiccia di cinghiale (wild boar sausage) are offerings in most households and in many restaurants.
Bruschetta, thin-sliced Italian bread, topped with fresh chopped tomatoes, robust pecorino cheese, or olives is a favorite appetizer, followed by pasta with truffle sauce, melon and prosciutto and a fresh-from-the-garden salad.
For dessert, ossi di morto (bones of the dead man) -- a rock-hard local confection made of egg whites, sugar, hazelnuts, and a hint of lemon, or pane di pescatore (fisherman's bread), a dense and delicious sweet bread full of nuts and raisins are a satisfying end to a meal.
Enjoy the famous Chianti wine or the dry white wine, Vernaccia, or any of the famous wines of Toscana to accompany the foods of Volterra.
Once named the Bishop's field, it was the heart of the civic life of the town. When the commune gradually took over the bishop's rule, the towers and the first dwellings were built here. An elm tree was planted in the main square where the consuls and elders gathered to discuss and constitute laws.
The palace, designed by Maestro Riccardo in 1239, has a three-storey facade adorned with trilobed, double arched windows and the glazed terracotta coats of arms of the Florentine magistrates (15th-16th centuries). In 1472 the palace became the seat of the Captain of Justice and two Marzocco lions were added as a symbol of the supremacy of Florence.
The entrance leads to the stairway where a fresco of the Crucifixion with Saints by Pier Francesco Fiorentino can be seen. The magnificent Council Hall with a cross vaulted ceiling exhibits the fresco of The Annunciation and Four Saints, by Jacopo di Cione. A large canvas of The Marriage Feast at Cana, painted by Donato Mascagni in the 16th century is also exhibited.
A complex of several buildings, it originally built as the seat of the podesta' and the captain of the people. The tower is considered to be one of the most ancient towers of Volterra and is traditionally known as the Tower of the Little Pig for the statue of the animal put on a shelf.
Originally built as a grain store, the palace became the bishop's residence after 1472 when the original Bishop's palace was destroyed by the Florentines to make way for the fortress.
Dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the cathedral was reconstructed around 1120 on the site of a preexisting church dedicated to the Holy Mary. Built in late Renaissance style, the cathedral still preserves the Romanesque Latin cross with one nave and two aisles. It is rich in art with the dividing columns decorated, ita six altars framed by a sculptured frieze in Montecatini stone, and a magnifient gilded coffered ceiling, designed by Francesco Capriani, carved by Jacopo Pavolini and gilded by Fulvo della Tuccia. A painting of the Holy Spirit (Heaven) dominates the central nave, surrounded by the sculptured busts of various saints. Above the altar, the Assumption Mary with saints Vittore and Ottaviano.
The church includes several Chapels with wood panels of different religious scenes:
The Serguidis Chapel. Attributed to Vasari, the chapel was completed in 1595, decorated in stucco by Leonardo Ricciarelli and painted by Giovanni Balducci. Above the altar, a wood panel of the Resurrection of Lazarus by Santi di Tito painted in 1592. Two canvas paintings by Giovanni Balducci in 1591: The Expulsion of the Infidels from the temple and the Parable of the Loaves and Fishes are there.
The Chapel of Saint Ottaviano, A sarcophagus, containing the remains of the hermit saint, executed in 1522 by Raffaele Cioli as a gesture of gratitude at the cessation of a plague. Tuscan masters were among the great artists of the 15th century who created the bishop's throne, the chaplain benches and the ceiling frescoes. The marble altar, executed at the beginning of the 19th century, is surmounted by a marble ciborium sculptured by Mino da Fiesole in 1471. On either side of the altar stand two ornate 13th century marble columns with Corinthian capitals surmounted by two genuflecting angels bearing a candle holder, attributed to Mino da Fiesole.
The Chapel of Saint Paul or of the Inghiramis. Rich in variety of marble, the chapel was built for Admiral Jacopo Inghirami and designed by Alessandro Pieroni. Frescoes depicting the life of Saint Paul decorate the ceiling. The Baptistry of Volterra appears in the scene of the "procession to Damascus" in the lunette above the altar, along with four members of the Inghirami family, one of whom is admiral Jacopo, conversing.
The Chapel of Verani. Wood panel of the Immaculate Conception painted by Nicolo' Cercignani, aka Pomaracino in 1586.
The Pulpit. Three relieves -- The Last Supper, The Annunciation and the Sacrifice of Isaac and the Lions -- are the 12th century works of the Gugliemo school.
The Funeral Monument of Mario Maffei. Commissioned by his family and erected as a memorial to the benevolent, renowned humanist and bishop of Cavaillon who died in Volterra in 1537, the work was executed by Giovan Angelo Montorsoli, an assistant to Michelangelo.
The Oratory of the Virgin Mary. Two niches, closed by 17th century wrought iron gates, contain The Nativity with a background fresco of the Journey of the Three Kings by Benozzo Gozzoli and the Epiphany. The terracotta figures of almost natural size have recently been attributed to Giovanni della Robbia.
The Sacristy. Reliquaries, possibly part of a choir executed by Gaspare di Nando di Pelliccione from Colle Val D'Elsa in 1423 and a large 17th century cabinet containing the precious silver reliquary busts of the Volterran saints are housed here.
An inscription at its base testifies to the rebuilding of the bell tower in 1493 after the collapse of the original.
The facade of the 13th century Baptistery is adorned with stripes of white and green marble with the main entrance decorated with the sculptured heads of Christ, the Virgin and the apostles. The interior maintains an austere simplicity and displays a marble frieze framing the altar -- the work of Mino da Fiesole and Alessandro Balsimelli, The Ascension, painted by Nicolo' Cercignani in 1591, a baptismal font by Giovanni Vacca (1760), and a second baptismal font depicting the Baptizing of Christ and the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Justice, sculptured by Andrea Cuntucci, aka Sasovino in 1502.
Founded in 1761 when the noble abbot and erudite historian Mario Guarnacci (Volterra 1701-1785), a collector of antiquities, donated his archeological collection to "the citizens of the city of Volterra", the museum is one of the earliest public museums in Europe. The donation included a library of over 50,000 volumes, a gesture that bequeathed a prestigious cultural heritage to Volterra, along manuscripts, incunabula, and unique works with magnificent miniatures from the15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century works on theology, literature, history, botanics, medicine, geography and humanistic disciplines. A noteworthy section is that on the local history of Volterra and its territory.
The Museum also includes prehistoric treasures -- over 600 cinerary urns carved in alabaster and tufa or molded in terracotta, collections of coins, ceramics, jewelry, sculptures, utensils, idols and small bronzes.
Luigi Fedra Inghirami, an employee of the cathedral, began this important collection in 1842 rescuing paintings belonging to suppressed religious orders. Today, the museum boasts paintings from local monasteries, churches, the cathedral, the Saint Linus conservatory in San Pietro and Spedali Riuniti, recognizing the Art Gallery and Civic Museum as a significant collector of medieval and contemporary works of art.
An open portico embellished by 11th century sandstone pillars gives access to the Museum of Sacred Art. Housed in the Bishop's Palace, the Museum displays works of art from the cathedral and the churches of the diocese along with a collection of wooden and fictile sculptures, holy vestments, ecclesiastical furnishings and the only remaining 14th century marble sculptures once housed in the Cathedral. Decorated with beautiful 10th century architraves from the Pieve di San Lorenzo in Montalbano, and the marble cherub frieze, the work of Mino da Fiesole, trilobed arches and marble columns, this is a museum of treasures.
A rich collection of 16.200 files and papers documenting the history of Volterra from the free Comune (12th century) to the Unity of Italy (19th century).
In 1260, as the Ghibellines came to control, forty stone masons were hired to build a wall more secure than the original Etruscan wall surrounding the city.
The main gateway to Volterra, Porta all'Arco dates back to three different periods: the sides and the walls of the 5th century BC, the tufus arches of the 1st century BC and on the outside, three basalt heads of uncertain timing said to represent the Etruscan gods Tinia (Jupiter), Uni (Juno), and Menvra (Minerva).
The gate that leads to Florence through the Era valley, it is constructed in the same architectual structure typical of Volterra, though modifications in the 16th century are evident. Originally called S.Agnolo after a nearby church dedicated to the Archangel, the tower above the gate once used as an armory, was destroyed in 1530.
Called the Gate of Santo Stefano or the Pisan Gate as it leads to Pisa through the Era valley, it is the only gate that still preserves traces of the original frescoes painted in the vaults and an engraving of the Pisan canna, a unit of length, slightly longer than that of Volterra engraved on the facade of the Palazzo dei Priori
A single arch held up by medieval walls makes this very different from all the other gates of the city. The gate flanks a tiny chapel with a bell tower and offers a magnificent panoramic view of the soft rolling hills as far as the sea.
In the heart of the Etruscan city is Fortezza Medicea, built by Lorenzo il Magnifico to be used as a prison. Surrounded by a pleasant park, the fortress continues to be used for this purpose.
The two towers, Buonaguidi and Buonparenti are connected by a brick archway as were the families in marriage. The towers dominate and strategically command the crossroads.
Constructed of sandstone and embellished with large ashlar framed windows, this elegant Renaissance facade is attributed to Ammannati. In 1819 a theatre, designed by architect Luigi Campani, was built in the interior courtyard. The theatre was named after the latin poet Aulus Persius Flaccus from Volterra whose figure is portrayed on the stage curtain by the 19th century artist Nicolo' Contestabile.
An excellent example of Renaissance architecture, the palace was completed in 1527 and purchased by Mario Guarnacci in the 18th century to house the first Etruscan museum and library.
The construction began at the beginning of the 1st century B.C. by the wealthy Caecina family who dedicated the monument to Augustus. It is a structure of prominence with large terraces, arched niches, seating for audiences, an orchestra pit and wooden stage where the actors performed. Today, nineteen rows of the central and lower cavea (audience seating) are still visible. Steps leading to the seats are in Montecatini stone and Carrara marble columns adorn the scaenae frons
Roman Baths just behind the theatre were discovered in 1760 and are named after Monsignor Mario Guarnacci who uncovered them. Documents attest that the baths are datable to the 3rd century AD. Remains of the furnace (ipocaustum), two cold baths (frigidarium), a warm bath (tepidarium), the hot bath (calidarium) above the ipocaustum and the sauna (sudatorium) are still visible.
Situated at the highest point of Volterra, 1800 feet above sea level and offering a breathtaking view of the countryside, is the Etruscan acropolis. Situated in a beautiful park, named after the Volterran archeologist Enrico Fiumi. The structure provides interesting archeological evidence of Volterra's history. The foundations of two Etruscan temples -- Temple A and B can be identified, along with vestiges of dwellings dating back to the Hellenistic period, a complex system of cisterns one of which is known as the Piscina (swimming pool) and ruins of medieval towers and roads.
The Etruscan tombs in Volterra are simple as compared to others that are decorated with paintings and adorned with sculptures. Many of the tombs were carved into the sandstone below ground level and are often referred to by the locals as "Etruscan holes". Two tombs date to the Hellenistic period, and a 5th century B.C. tomb, composed of a few chambers sustained by pilasters carved in the rock, is near the church of San Giusto.
Volterra Teatro is an international festival of theatre, music, dance, video, art and culture that occurs in July. It includes displays of modern art, italian and international performances, workshops and special guests.
Every year during the last week of August, Volterra returns to its medieval past with historical parades and a market of craftsmen, musicians and jugglers to recapture the spirit of the Middle Ages.
On the first sunday of September the historical group Sbandieratori and Balestieri perform the medieval art of flag throwing and archery -- a Volterra tradition since 1406. Once a year they organize the Astiludio, a spectacular tournament in medieval costume between historical groups from various towns in Italy.
Volterra is famous for its Alabaster. In the city you can find several shops selling artifacts and handmade unique pieces carved into this semi-transparent stone.
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This original Etruscan hilltop settlement, sitting atop an enormous bluff and surrounded by strong walls is a jewel of Roman, Etruscan, medieval, and Renaissance art. It is a city of magnificent vistas from farmlands to mountain views. Volterra is rich in alabaster, an important industry of the city.