In ancient Italy, several hundred years before Christ, the Etruscans lived in the Etruscan Empire. An area that today includes parts of northern and central Italy. The Etruscan empire consisted of 12 "capitals", built on hills, surrounded by walls. One of the twelve cities is current Volterra. One of the stops in Tuscany that we didn't plan at all, but which turned out to be a really positive acquaintance.
Volterra meets us with an unexpected surprise already at the parking lot. Vallebuona is an archaeological area dating back to the 100s before Christ. Here are the remains of the city's large amphitheater and also the ruins of a large Roman bath. The amphitheater is one of the largest remaining in Italy and at one time 2000 seated visitors could sit here and enjoy the spectacle below. A significant part of the city's population. Many of Vallebuona's white marble Roman columns still stand, gossiping about how beautiful the buildings must have been in their heyday. The ancient Romans undeniably had an eye for beauty.
Once inside the wall, we wander through the small alleys towards the center of the city. Among gelato shops, alabaster sculptors and truffle sellers. Volterra is Tuscany's alabaster city. In the time of the Etruscans, alabaster was used for everything from sculptures to burial urns. From being an important craft in the area, the art was forgotten for several hundred years. Not until the 20th century was the craft picked up again here in Volterra. Today, the alabaster sculptors display small vases and sculptures in their shop windows, and the prices are quite affordable considering that carving alabaster by hand is a time-consuming job. If you want to go shopping, keep in mind that you need to have a few extra kilos in your hand luggage. Alabaster can break quite easily and can be risky in checked luggage.
Compared to the other cities we visited in Tuscany, Volterra is unexpectedly free of tourist buses and crowds. This is how I want to experience a medieval town in Tuscany, wandering by myself in a narrow alley.
At the city's main square Priory Square is the oldest town hall in Tuscany – Palazzo dei Priori. Look up before you move on - here is also Praetorian Palace with its odd little pig statue on a shelf at the top of the tower Torre del Procellino.
We arrive at a viewpoint with blooming cherry trees (or is it apple trees?) and great views of the sunny landscape. Behind the pink flowers peek Duomo Santa Maria Assunta forward with its dome-shaped roof. For some unfathomable reason, I'm really craving a cherry gelato right now, and fittingly enough, a gelateria is right next door. Today's second gelato. "Not a day without gelato in Italy” is the holiday rule.
We sit down and look out over the landscape. The gelato melts a little faster than expected, but that's a nice problem in the warm spring sun. The whole family is simply having a good time right now.
We continue on the small road Via di Castello, a small alley surrounded by walls. On the other side of the wall is a large park with another of the city's excavations - Parco Enrico Fium. Here lie the remains of two temple-like buildings and even the remains of a developed sewage system. A sewage system that was built 2000 years ago. A pretty cool thought. The park doesn't seem open though? Or it's us who can't find the official entrance.
In front of us looms the great The Medici Fort (Medici Fortress) up. Almost a little fairytale-like and cute, with its round tower and big wall. From here you can see many miles across the expanses of Tuscany. After Florence won over Volterra in a bloody war in the 15th century, this fort was built in 1474. The fort was to protect the production of the nearby alum mines – an important ingredient in the textile production of Florence.
Almost all the old houses are built in sandstone yellow stone and the new houses are painted in the same color. The washstands are hanging in the backyards, an old gray-haired aunt is on her way to the store to shop and almost all the shutters are closed to prevent the sun and heat from entering. There will be a lot of Tuscany feeling on this unplanned stop. I would have liked to have stayed here a little longer.
We walk towards the car again. Time to steer the bundle towards today's planned destination - San Gimignano.
How do I get to Volterra?
Volterra is 8 miles southwest of Florence and 5 miles northwest of Siena. You can take the train to the Saline di Volterra station (about 1 mile from the center of Volterra) and then take the local bus to Volterra. If you come by car, there are plenty of parking spaces north of the city wall. All parking spaces are outside the city walls.
Read more about everything from history to parking in Volterra on the official site Municipality of Volterra. If you want to learn more about alabaster, you can visit the Guarnacci Museum (historical museum with, among other things, over 600 old urns) or Ecomuseo dell'Alabastro (museum only about alabaster).
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