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Bewitching Volterra

  • Bewitching Volterra

    Volterra lies 28 km west of Colle di Val d’Elsa and represents a magical outing. Volterra is beguiling, less touristy than San Gimignano, Cortona or Pienza but arguably just as compelling. Perched on a majestic, windswept ridge overlooking the Sienese hills, Volterra commands its setting and remains the most Etruscan of Tuscan cities. The Porta all’Arco, the Arched Gate, is the best-preserved Etruscan gateway in Italy, dating from the 4th century BC. Partially remodelled by the Romans, the gate still rests on massive Etruscan bases and is the only surviving part of the Etruscan walls. Volterra displays some of the best Etruscan art outside Rome, with the finest treasures in the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci. Founded in 1761, this is one of the oldest public museums in Europe and is easily the city’s finest museum. The funerary urns and alabaster sarcophagi run the gamut of Etruscan demonology and Greek mythology, featuring sea monsters, Greek gods, beaked griffins and sirens. Any walk through Volterra reveals Roman remains, the Etruscan city the Romans adapted to their tastes. Etruscan Velathri became Volterrae, an important Roman municipality when Rome annexed Etruria in 351 BC.

    Beyond Etruscan Volterra is the visual magnificence of the medieval city. Piazza dei Priori, the town’s set-piece square, is proof of Volterra’s rich medieval heritage, with its cluster of noble palaces. The square is dominated by the lofty Palazzo dei Priori (1208), the oldest town hall in Tuscany and supposedly the model for Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. To the south of Piazza dei Priori is Piazza San Giovanni, the religious centre of Volterra. Crowning the square is the 12th-century Duomo, with its Pisan Romanesque façade. Renaissance buildings blend in surprisingly gracefully with the medieval Volterran houses. Palazzo Incontri-Viti is an impressive mansion that also feels like a private home. It began as the home of a discerning alabaster merchant and his heirs are still in residence. Each salon is grander than the next, adorned with art, porcelain and alabaster, a reminder that the palace once belonged to one of Volterra’s richest citizens. After exploring the patrician palaces, retreat to Le Cantine del Palazzo, the Etruscan-Roman cellars below Palazzo Incontri-Viti, for a drink or a meal in a cavern-like setting with a Roman cistern as decoration.

    No visit to Volterra is complete without seeing an alabaster-carving workshop. As everything in Volterra, even alabaster-carving is an Etruscan legacy. It is one of the many gifts the Etruscans have passed onto their descendants in this most Etruscan of cities. The ancient craftsmen made great use of alabaster from the 5th century BC onwards, primarily for their beau¬ti¬ful¬ly sculpt¬ed funerary urns. In the local museums and workshops you’ll come across bowls, urns, medallions, religious artefacts, candleholders, lamps, vases and Neoclassical sculpture. classic Tuscan cuisine. Ender your stay in a vaulted Volterra inn. Tuck into zuppa volterrana, a thick vegetable and bread soup, or trippa alla volterrana (tripe cooked with tomato, sausage and herbs). Other hearty dishes include pappardelle di lepre (pasta ribbons in hare sauce) or the same pasta with wild boar (cinghiale). For more on the city, see our full Volterra guide.

    Volterra tourist office:
    T: (+39) 0588 87257

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