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Italy > Volterra


From whichever direction you arrive, the road is all curves and turns without respite and Volterra is at the top and visible from afar because this part of Tuscany has few trees and wide open valleys. "From the terraces of Volterra wrote Guido Piovene-onecan look over the landscape of leaden white, similar to that of clouds of a thunderstorm, but that colour is constant in time, because it belongs to the ground. In the cold season it is laid bare and, in the heat it is covered with stretches of vegetation, from which it shines through, especially if the light is oblique, like water in the reeds.

Sometimes you can see a white ox on the bruised vertebrae of the ground rising towards Volterra and, often, no human being for miles. Volterra dominates, monochromatic, because even the roofs seem covered with a layer of ash. The beautiful squares and sloping streets, tower-houses, combine the charm of the medieval with the remote of the Etruscan museum, which is among the richest in Italy." In ancient "Velathri',' the highest point of the hills separating the Era and Cecina Valleys, was the capital of one of the twelve lucumonie of the Etruscan territory. By the fifth century BC it was already surrounded by walls, within a perimeter of less than 7 kilometers, much wider than all the others, a sign of the town's mining and trading importance. The subsoil is rich in rock salt and gypsum. Gypsum is present in different forms, one of which is alabaster, the city's real resource and that of its artisans who, using this "pietra panchina" built the town.

In 260 BC the last of the Etruscan cities fell under Roman influence. Around the thirteenth century with the establishment of the free Commune, the town put its hand to the construction of the walls, the main civic and religious buildings and, in particular, the two areas symbolising of the powers of the time, the Piazza dei Priori and Piazza S. Giovanni.

Passing in 1472, and not without pain, into the hands of the Florentines "the city in one day was stolen and lost," noted Machiavelli it became, with the construction of the fortress, a strategic bhold on the border with the Sienese territory. Plaving lived long in the reflection of the Medici, the city had new momentum only under the Plouse of Lorraine in the eighteenth century, which improved roads and increased agricultural and alabaster production.

The main monuments are clustered around the historic Piazza dei Priori and among the surrounding streets. The Palazzo dei Priori, begun in 1208 and completed in 1257 under the mayor, Bonaccorso Adimari, was the first Tuscan City Hall and served as a prototype for others. On the south-west of the square stands the Bishops' Palace, built originally as a public granary in the thirteenth century and transformed into a bishopric in 1472 but only in 1618 actually used for this function. The oldest building in the square is the tower called "del Porcellino" (the Pig) because of the figure portrayed above a double shelf. On the left side is the Praetorian Palace, with its crenelated tower.

In Piazza S. Giovanni stands the Cathedral, dedicated to the Assumption. It was consecrated in 1120 and renovated in the thirteenth century with the typical characteristics of Romanesque architecture, as evidenced by the decorations in white and black marble of the portal. Among the many works of art inside, the polychrome wooden group of the Deposition, a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture, and a beautiful pulpit with parts dating from the 12th century are of outstanding beauty. Separate from and facing the Cathedral is the Baptistery, built in 1283 to an octagonal design. The beautiful baptismal font bears reliefs sculpted by the hand of Sansovino (1502).

Of the remaining religious buildings, the church of S. Michael, also Pisan-Romanesque, is of particular note with it lower part of blind arches supported by capitals dating back to the twelfth century. Leaving aside the individual merits of the many noble palaces, though mention should be made of the thirteenth century Buon Parenti tower-houses So too of the city's museums. Firstly the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, located in the former rectory of the Cathedral, then the Art Gallery and Civic Museum in Palazzo Minucci-Solaini. Here you can admire the works of Taddeo di Bartolo, Rosso Fiorentino and Luca Signorelli. We could not leave out the museum, or rather eco-museum, of alabaster, in the Minucci tower-house; a journey in archaeological material from the Etruscans to the present day, accompanied by exhibits showing how this translucent stone is worked.

Finally, of great interest is a visit to the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum where a wealth of sculptural pieces (urns of alabaster, clay and tuff), and the collections of jewellery and bronzes (including the beautiful bronze statue of an adolescent called 'Shadow of the evening ', dating from the third century BC) are on exhibit.

The archaeological site of Valle, where Roman remains, such as the theatre and baths, have been excavated, is also worthy of a visit The Fortress stands on the highest point of the city. It was the symbol and instrument of Florentine power. The trapezoid-shaped old fortress and semi-elliptical tower date back to 1343. The new fortress was built in 1472 by Lorenzo the Magnificent Medici to credit his presence in both military and economic terms, with the exploitation of local alum mines. A square with four round towers at the corners and one in the centre, is considered to be one of the largest bholds of the Italian Renaissance. Its fate, however, does not equal its reputation as today, as indeed yesterday, it is used as a prison.

The best view of the great erosions of the Baize (crags) is to be had from the Guerruccia plain. It is the dramatically tangible sign of the unstoppable erosion of the clay cliff underlying the city. Ancient necropolis, the church of St. Clement, the early church S. Giusto and monastery of San Marco are among those monuments that, over the centuries, have been swallowed into the abyss. "City of wind and rock," according to Gabriele dAnnunzio; the "hard, steely, city open to the sun and the winds like an ancient tragedy," according to the critic Cesare Brandi, Volterra does not give way to the softness and the sweet harmonies of a stereotypical Tuscany.


Piazza dei Priori the Cathedral and Baptistery the church of San Michele the art gallery and Civic Museum the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art The Guarnacci Etruscan Museum the Baize crags.

Reason for awarding the Orange Flag: The town has an exceptional historical-cultural value, and old town.

mostly pedestrian, enclosed within the walls together with a wealth of local shops, restaurants and hotels.

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