If you’re planning a trip to Italy soon don’t forget to include Volterra on your itinerary. If you’re working with a travel agent, ask them about adding it to your travel plans. You don’t want to miss this historic town with Tuscan roots that date back to before the 7th Century! There are over 3,000 years of history and do they have a story to tell you!
The city of Volterra is a town that sits on top of a hill not far from San Gimignano. It’s recommended that you take at least two days to explore but if you’re pressed for time, there are certain things you need to see before moving on to your next destination.
You’ll see sights such as the Roman Theatre that dates back to the 1st Century, BC. It was excavated in the 1950’s. There’s also the Volterra Cathedral that got an expansion in the 13the Century after an earthquake. These are just a few of the sites you’ll see when you travel through the Pisa region of Italy. If you only have one day to explore Volterra, here is what we recommend you do!
Volterra was once a powerful member of the Etruscan League of Twelve Cities which means you don’t want to miss what remains from this ancient time in history. To give you a little bit of a background, the Etruscan League was founded by two noblemen of Lydian Descent who were brothers named Tarchum and Tyrrhenus. The league was both economic and religious and it was similar to other Greek States. As you visit Volterra, be sure to enter from the Porta all’Arco because it’s the only gate that managed to survive from the original Etruscan Wall. The gate dates back to the 4th Century, BC. Be sure to look up as you pass through the gate–God’s weathered head is watching you on your journey.
Once you enter through the gates, find Priori Palace. Priori Palace is the current and oldest town hall in the region, dating back to 1208. It was completed in the middle of the 13the Century but it suffered from a blow in 1472 when Volterra was stripped of its administration. It has breathtaking views from the top but you’ll need to make quite a climb in order to see them. The windows on both the second and third floors are intact and to this day they maintain their Romanesque structure.
If you choose to remain on the ground you can always go shopping. There are plenty of artisans who have set up shop and if you get hungry you can always grab a bite to eat at one of several restaurants on site as well. Dining choices include Osteria dei Poeti Volterra, La Vecchia Lira, and Del Duca. Take note, however, that these restaurants are only open in the evening for supper.
Then there’s the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a Roman Cathedral that dates back to the 12th Century. It’s dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and it’s ceiling is covered in gilt. It was built in 1117 after an earthquake destroyed most of the town. Go inside and you’ll notice the unique architecture as the nave and the interior space come together to form a cross. The nave is covered in with stucco that looks like it might be rose colored granite. The stucco was completed in the 16th Century and completely restored in 1842 and 1843.
Be sure to see the pulpit that has three reliefs. These reliefs represent the The Last Supper, the Annunciation and the Sacrifice of Issac. Once you finish at the Cathedral, visit another nearby church, San Francesco’s Capella della Croce di Giorno. San Francesco’s is covered in beautiful frescos you won’t soon forget.
After you’ve had your fill of churches take a walk to the nearby Roman Theatre. You can’t miss it because it’s visible from outside the walls of the city and it’s located near Porta Fiorentina. There is an admission fee to get instead because you’ll need a ticket but don’t hesitate to go inside. It’s half-circle seating that was built into a hill. You can reach it by climbing stairs to the roofed corridor which to this day still stands for all to see.
It’s architecture had an influence on the Romans but the architecture itself was a product of Greece. At the height of its’ existence it seated between 1800 and 2000 spectators. The theatre fell in the 13th Century but it was excavated in the 1950’s.
Once you exit the theatre be sure to learn about the people who built Volterra. Learn all about the Etruscan World by visiting the Museum Guarnacci. At the museum you’ll see a vast collection of funeral urns as well as Italy’s best collection of Etruscan artifacts. It is also one of the oldest public museums in Europe. You’ll also get to view the statue “Ombra della Sera” which in Italian means Evening Shadow.
“Ombra della Sera” made its debut in 1737 as a work of art displayed with other pieces of Etruscan antiques. It was commissioned by an artist by the name of Alberto Giacometti. The statue itself is a representation of a nude man, about 22 inches long. In its’ own unique way the statue is rather odd. The body of the man depicted is rather elongate but the head is in proportion to that of a man who might be alive when the statue was carved. Archaeologists claim that “Ombra della Sera” dates back to the 3rd Century BC.
If you’ve never tried truffles, you’re missing out! Truffles are a type of fungus found near tree roots. Yes, they are a fungus but don’t let them scare you off. They are rather delicious and Italy is famous for them. Some species of truffles are actually rather rare which can make them somewhat expensive but try not to pass them up. They are quite the delicacy and depending on the region of Italy, they come in several different varieties. In the northern regions of Italy, they are white. Be sure to find a restaurant that serves them before you leave!
From Tuscany to Rome and everywhere in between Italy has plenty of opportunities to both see and do things. Take advantage of all that Volterra has to offer while you’re there!