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.