The longest walls in Etruria
A great example of Etruscan architecture
Volterra’s walls are a work of military engineering built to defend Volterra back in the Etruscans’ time and modified throughout the centuries.
The first walls, of which we still have big stretches, were built by the Etruscans around the 4th century b.C. and were in-use throughout all the Early Middle Ages, until the municipality of Volterra decided to build a new defense system, which still incorporates a big part of the Etruscan walls.
The ancient walls around the city were around 7 km long, whereas the current walls are only 2.6 km long.
The material that was used the most is the “Panchino”, a rock that’s typically from West Tuscany. The variety used in Volterra has a very fine grain and is white. It was also used for cinerary urns, for the bricks on the “palazzi” and to pave the roads.
During its peak of power and wealth Volterra was defended by an efficacious ring of walls, which in the 1st century A.D. still made an impression on visitors, as the geographer Strabone observed. The same fortification system proved a serious problem for Silla’s expert and bloodthirsty army, which for two long years during the civil war besieged the town where Mario’s followers had retreated.
The circuit, of which long sections can be admired at S. Chiara, Golfuccio, Guerruccia and Pescaia, was the most important fortification network in Etruria, with a perimeter of over 4 miles and enclosing an area of 116 hectares. An exquisite example is also to be found in the town centre itself, inside the “Centro Studi S. Maria Maddalena”. The wall has two ancient gates, the Porta all’Arco and the Portone, both important examples of Etruscan architecture. Outside the fortification are the Necropolises of the Main Gate, Badia, Ulimeto and Ripaie, which have been under excavation since the 18th century.
The sites at Marmini, S. Giusto and Ulimeto offer some examples of tombs belonging to the Hellenistic period (end 4th-1st cent. B.C.). Their finds, among which are the famous cinerary urns made of tuff and alabaster, are part of the extraordinary Etruscan artistic collection in the Guarnacci Museum, one of the most ancient public museums in Europe.