Etruscan stone, Porta all’Arco
Witness of history and sentinel of the town for thousands of years, the gate is an admirable example of architectural ability of the ancient inhabitants of Volterra
Porta all’Arco (one of the town’s gateways) is the most famous architectural monument from Etruscan Volterra. It was built using different materials and techniques, and this is a sign of the modifications made over the centuries. The gateway has a stone arch, decorated with three sculpted heads on the outer façade. The doorposts are made of sandstone blocks and date to the 4th century BC.
The three heads and the arch date to the 3rd and 2nd century BC: The stone used is different: the ashlars of the arch are made from a calcareous stone from the neighborhood of Volterra, while the heads are made of selagite a kind of stone coming from the area of Montecatini Val di Cecina.
It is still unclear what these three heads decorating the arch represent, eaten away by centuries of exposure to the strong winds coming from the sea. It is generally thought that they represent the triad of the Gods guardians of Volterra, Jove, Juno and Minerva from the Greek and Roman mythology. Alternatively, they could be Jove and the two Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux.
An urn housed in the Guarnacci Museum from the 1st century has an illustration of a siege taking place around a gateway decorated with three heads: this probably is the most ancient representation of Porta all’Arco existing. In the Middle Ages a further tower was added, on top of the Etruscan tower, of which we know little or nothing as it was demolished in 1544.
The gateway is the only Etruscan element remaining from the southern part of the ancient walls of Volterra, replaced by a more modern perimeter wall in the 13th century, following the same route.