The real life in the Tuscany you dream of
Time and history, art and lifestyle, people and their stories over thousands and thousands of years: this is Volterra.
An Etruscan and Roman capital, a pearl of medieval art, crossroads of people, a coffer of artworks, the town dominates the beautiful surroundings, pristine and moving, of the Valdicecina.
The quick glance at the sequence of squares and tower-houses, churches and vaults, climbs and gardens, spans as far as the sea, where the blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea surprisingly merges with the green of the fields, olive groves and vineyards.
Volterra is waiting for you, noble and proud, mysterious and magical, lively and amusing, to enchant you at first sight.
Built on a hilly ridge of the Pliocene, between the valleys of Era and Cecina, surrounded by a double row of walls, the Etruscan and the medieval ones, Volterra, in the province of Pisa, (545 m. a.s.l.) is one of the most important centers of Tuscany, both for the presence of monuments that witness to the civilizations that have succeeded one another during 30 centuries, and for the production of Tuscan alabaster. The objects made with it today are among the most typical and traditional products of Italian craftsmanship.
Inhabited since the Neolithic period, the town experiences the period of Villanovan culture on which the Etruscan civilization flourishes in the 8th century. Once become one of the 12 lucumonies of the Etruscan nation, in mid-3rd century B.C. it is subjected to Rome of which it becomes an important municipality.
Once Christianity settled in, Volterra followed very soon the new faith and at the fall of the Roman Empire (479 A.D.) it became the seat of the bishop at the head of a very large diocese. After the barbarian domination and the bishops’ rule, the free commune is affirmed, formulating its own statutes since the first half of the 12th century. But its autonomy did not last long. Free from the power of the bishop-count and the rule of the Belfortis (1361), it had to struggle against the hegemonic politics of Florence. Open attempts to rebellion (1429), measures to put up with the situation, compromises and apparent friendship only delayed the final subjection to Florence, which took place in 1472 on account of the alum quarries of Volterra.
Today, Volterra is a town still untouched by the hectic pace of contemporary life and the visitors to Volterra immediately have the impression of finding themselves in a particular city, where one has a feeling of living in an ancient time, among the narrow streets of a medieval village, among the crafts that are deeply rooted in an Etruscan past. With its mainly medieval appearance it contains huge quantities of Etruscan findings, such as the Porta all’Arco dating back to the 4th century, the Acropolis, the walls still visible in some parts of the city. The Roman presence in Volterra is documented by the important ruins of the Theatre of Vallebona, from the Augustan Age, spa buildings, and a big water cistern. The medieval look of the town is not only evident in the urban layout, but it stands out especially in the palaces, the tower-houses and churches: the Palazzo dei Priori of the 13th century, Palazzo Pretorio, with the embattled tower called ‘del Porcellino’, the two groups of Towers of the Buonparentis and the Bonaguidis, the tower-houses Toscano, the Cathedral of the 12th century, that contains works from the medieval and renaissance period, the Baptistry, an ancient construction dating back to the 13th century, made of rows of Volterran stone, the convent church of St. Francis with the adjacent chapel of the Cross “di giorno”, frescoed by Cenni di Francesco in 1410, the church of St. Michael “in foro” with its Pisan facade as well as the church of St. Alexander.
The Renaissance civilisation affects Volterra in a remarkable way, but without altering the medieval atmosphere. Just to mention some: Palazzo Minucci-Solaini, perfectly set among the medieval tower-houses, Palazzo Incontri Viti, which has the elegant 19th century theatre Persio Flacco in its courtyard, Palazzo Inghirami, Palazzo Ruggieri, the convent complex of St. Jerome with the Della Robbias’ earthenware items, as well as the Medici’s Fortress that, rising on the medieval built-up area, is the beginning and the end of the urban context.
In addition to the monuments and the numerous testimonies of art and history, Volterra offers the view of the surrounding rolling hills that is abruptly interrupted on the west by the wild and impressive spectacle of the Balze. The erosion phenomenon has determined the destruction of the most ancient Etruscan and Italic necropolises, of the most ancient Christian churches and the ruins of the Badia Camaldolese of the 11th century.
Finally, Volterra has three museums of a remarkable historical and artistic value.
- The Guarnacci Museum is one of the most important museums in Italy for the wealth of Etruscan-Roman heritage artifacts.
- The Pinacoteca (picture gallery) and the Civic Museum contain valuable tables from the Senese and Florentine schools, among which the “Deposition from the Cross” by Rosso Fiorentino.
- The Museum of the Opera del Duomo, of remarkable importance not only for the abundance and variety of the textile materials, but especially for the jewellers’ crafts, the illuminated antiphonaries and the 14th century sculptures from the Senese school.