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Volterra, the city founded by the Etruscans  

Volterra is very ancient and walking through its streets and alleys, you can still breathe a very particular medieval air because its ancient streets are timeless. 

Even more marked feeling when the streets are invaded by the event in costume Anno Domini 1398, the second and third Sunday of August. 

Brief history of Volterra 

Volterra is a city in Tuscany, located in the southern part of the province of Pisa.  

It dominates from the top of its 531 meters of height the back of a relief that separates the Val d’Era from the Valley of Cecina, in the middle of the Maremma of Pisa.  

It was founded by the Etruscans with the name of Velathri, in the seventh century before Christ, and became one of the most important cities – state of Etruria. 

Unlike other cities near the sea, Volterra was not afraid of pirate raids and its underground rich in minerals, including alabaster, allowed it in ancient times to develop and thrive economically and socially, enough to become a bulwark of the Etruscan civilization. 

Conquered by the Romans, it retained considerable independence and in the Lombard period, it became the seat of an important constituency. 

In the Early Middle Ages it was governed by the bishops-princes until finally in the twelfth century it could become a free Commune.

In 1361, with the rise of the Lordship of the Belforti, a powerful family from Volterra, an exponent of the Guelph faction (supporters of the Papacy)A new chapter in the history of Volterra was opened that ended with the expulsion of the Belforti and the Florentine domination of the city at the beginning of the XV century. 

Volterra then followed the events of the Republic of Florence (1527-1530) and after the return of the Medici to Florence was part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, an ancient Italian state that lasted for two hundred and ninety years, from 1569 to 1859. 

It suffered, from 1800 to 1814, the invasion of the Napoleonic troops, a disastrous period, where disappeared many works of art of the city, presumably all finished in France. 

From the Risorgimento onwards Volterra followed the historical events of Italy.

Foto : Unsplash

What to see in Volterra 

In Volterra there are two archaeological areas, open to the public with the rules of a museum: the Etruscan acropolis and the Roman archaeological area of Vallebuona. 

The Etruscan Acropolis is located within the large Archaeological Park Enrico Fiumi, near the Medici fortress. 

Unfortunately, it has a scarcity of remains due to the very perishable materials with which the Etruscans built. 

In fact, unlike the Greeks and Romans who used marble and stone, they also used wood, terracotta and raw clay to build temples. 

What can be admired today in the acropolis is the result of a great urban reorganization that took place in the Hellenistic period in the III-II centuries B.C. 

The other important archaeological area of Volterra is the Roman area of Vallebuona, an ancient city district, where once stood the Roman Theatre and the baths; the area is located in Piazza Caduti Martiri dei lager nazisi. 

The Roman Theatre of the End of the 1st, a.c. was discovered in the 50s of the last century, and is one of the best preserved in Italy. 

The Roman Amphitheater, just outside the city center, was discovered by chance in 2015, with the excavations still in progress, can only be visited on request.

The Walls of Volterra are a work of military engineering built in Etruscan times but changed a lot over the centuries, especially between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. 

In the walls open the ancient medieval gates and the only Etruscan door remained almost intact is the Porta all’Arco. 

This Etruscan door still retains its original three-headed decorations. 

The other ancient door, which still retains some original parts of the Etruscan era, is the Porta Diana, outside the medieval walls. 

The others are: Selci door; Marcoli door; Docciola door; Florentine door; San Francesco door. 

Continuing the “Etruscan” tour in Volterra, a visit to the beautiful Guarnacci Museum in Via Don Minzoni n.15 is almost a must. 

The Museum is located in the Palazzo Desideri Tangassi, and is one of the oldest public museums in Europe; in fact, it was founded in 1761, when the noble abbot Mario Guarnacci donated his vast archaeological heritage of Etruscan finds to his hometown of Volterra. 

The Museum offers a wide overview of statues, pottery, cinerary urns and more found underground in Volterra during the various archaeological excavations. 

Volterra, like the vast majority of Italian towns and villages, boasts a large number of churches, oratories, monasteries and churches to visit, both inside the city and in the hamlets of its municipal territory.

Foto : Unsplash

The most important church of Volterra is the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. 

The beginning of the construction of the Cathedral dates back to the twelfth century and was completed in the eighteenth. 

The façade is in Romanesque style, while its interior is a mix of styles of various eras where the late Renaissance style still predominates. 

Remarkable and imposing its coffered ceiling that combines with skill geometric and floral decorative elements with oval frescoed saints. 

The Cathedral houses works of art by Benozzo Gozzoli and Andrea della Robbia; moreover, you can admire the considerable wooden group of the Deposition of Christ, of unknown author and dated to 1228 according to a document kept in the Cathedral. It is the oldest work of art kept in the Duomo of Volterra. 

A stop in the beautiful Piazza dei Priori, listed in the list of the most beautiful squares in Italy, leaves amazed the tourist who admires it for the first time. 

It is located in the medieval heart of Volterra and is surrounded by the most important buildings of the city. 

The Palazzo dei Priori, built in 1239, is now the seat of the Municipality of Volterra but since the thirteenth century it has been the town hall, therefore, included among the oldest municipal buildings in Italy.

You can also visit the bell tower of the Palazzo dei Priori to admire the beauty of Volterra from above. 

Other buildings to visit in the square are: Palazzo Pretorio and the Torre del Porcellino; Palazzo Vescovile, Palazzo Incontri and Palazzo Pio. 

In addition, do not miss a visit to the Pinacoteca and Museo Civico di Volterra, in Via dei Sarti 1, to admire the immense heritage of works on display including the splendid Deposition from the Cross of the great Florentine Red, dated 1521. 

The Pinacoteca is located in the beautiful Renaissance palace Minucci – Solaini. 

Other architectural works to see are the medieval tower houses of Buonparenti, Baldinotti and Toscano. 

In the city there are several interesting Renaissance palaces, built by local noble families including Palazzo Inghirami, Palazzo Maffei and Palazzo Beltrami. 

The imposing Medici fortress located near the Enrico Fiumi Park is worth a visit. 

It consists of two buildings: the Rocca Antica and the Rocca Nuova joined together by the so-called Cammino di Ronda. 

The Rocca Antica is close to the Porta a Selci and includes ancient parts of the fortification, while the Rocca Nuova was built by Lorenzo de Medici on the site where the Palazzo dei Vescovi was destroyed by the Florentines in 1472.

Built for military use, it was used as a political prison and in its cells passed both the opponents of the Medici and the patriots of our Risorgimento.  
Today it hosts inmates for life and time, with a section of judicial prison. 

Volterra is also famous for the craftsmanship of alabaster and in the city, you can admire ancient and modern works at the Ecomuseum of Alabaster located in a section of the Pinacoteca di Volterra, with entrance from Piazza Minucci 2. 

First courses: 

The panzanella and the ribollita, dishes poor and rich in vegetables of the peasant kitchen. 

Second courses: 

The cod Florentine style; 

Wild boar with mushrooms and polenta, hare with three wines. 

Sweets: 

Cake with biscuits, rags.

Typical gastronomy of Volterra

Volterra: how to get there 

Volterra can be reached by car and by local buses from Florence or Pisa. 

For those travelling by train, the nearest station is in Cecina. 

From Cecina you can continue by bus, or by train, to Saline di Volterra where you need to change buses and continue to Volterra. 

Tourists who want to visit Volterra must take into account its history of ancient Etruscan and Roman cities and start their tour starting from these areas. 

It is therefore advisable to have a map of the city, available at the Tourist Offices located in Piazza dei Priori 20.

Autore: Rosa Garofalo

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