Visiting Volterra in Tuscany

Today we give you some tips for visiting Volterra which is only 12 km from our rent villa in Tuscany. Volterra , although small, is important and proud of its history. Excavations have shown that the hill between the rivers Cecina and Era was already occupied by a settlement in prehistoric times. This was succeeded by the Etruscan town of Velathri, a member of the Etruscan League of twelve cities, which covered an area about three times the size of the present town. In the 3rd c. B.C. the town became a Roman municipium under the name of Volaterrae. In the Middle Ages it was a free commune, which contrived to retain its independence until it was brought under Florentine protection in 1361. It is famous as a centre of alabaster-working, a craft which was revived in the 19th c.

PIAZZA DEI PRIORI. The piazza is dominated by the façade of the PALAZZO DEI PRIORI, the oldest municipal palace in Tuscany: the first stone was laid in 1208 and work finished forty-six years later. The glazed terracottas and coats of arms on the façade are highly ornamental and bear witness of the time when the city was governed by priors. The palace is topped by a tower that was partially rebuilt in 1846 after an earthquake. The marble clock (1856) is the work of Angiolo Bianchi.
On the opposite side of the piazza stands the PALAZZO PRETORIO and the Torre del Podestà known as TORRE DEL PORCELLINO because of the small wild boar carved on the façade. On the left-hand side of the piazza facing the Palazzo dei Priori stands the Palazzo del Demanio whose medieval-style façade was built in the 19th century.
DUOMO AND BAPTISTERY. The Duomo, consecrated in 1120, was enlarged in the 13th century, possibly to a design by Nicola Pisano, while the interior was subdivided into a nave and two aisles in the 16th century. The decoration of the Duomo was modified in 1842-3. The interior conteins some noteworthy pieces, including the group of the Deposition made of carved poplar wood, the 16th century coffered ceiling and various decorative elements of the presbytery: the ciborium (1471) by Mino da Fiesole, who has also made the angels holding candlesticks on the side of the altar and the choir (1404). Opposite the Duomo stand the octagonal BAPTISTERY (13th century) which possesses a baptismal font created in 1502 by Andrea da Sansovino.
MUSEO DIOCESANO D’ARTE SACRA. Fouded to display works from the Duomo and other churches in the diocese, this museum boasts a fine sculpture section, although its two most famous works are a cross painted on wood (13th century) and the Enthroned Madonna with St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist (1521) by Rosso Fiorentino.
MUSEO GUARNACCI. Since 1877, the Palazzo Desideri-Tangassi has been the home of the Etruscan Museum, which grew from the urn collection of Abbot Piero Franceschini.
FORTEZZA. The upper part of Volterra is dominated by the unmistakable shape of the Renaissance fortress that stretches from east to west , with two long walls uniting the two main buildings: the trapezoidal Rocca Vecchia (1342) to the east and the Rocca Nuova (1472-5), built by Lorenzo the Magnificent, with four embattled corner towers and an impressive central keep.
ROMAN THEATER. This dates back to the 1st century A.D. and has a spacious cavea (semicircular seating area) spread out over the hilltop; nineteen rows of seats face the orchestra pit. Ionic and Corinthian columns support a large arcade behind the proscenium. Also in the monumental complex, a mosaic pavement, a calidarium and a frigidarium are all that remain of the baths dating back to the 4th century.