Volterra the city of Alabaster is an ancient town in the province of Pisa, with a characteristic medieval appearance.
Surrounded by rolling hills, the town still retains clear traces of its Etruscan and Roman past, starting from what remains of the ancient walls of Etruscan origins, whose construction continued, however, until the Middle Ages. The ancient town wall offers six access gates to the city, including the ancient Porta dell’Arco, a perfectly preserved work dating back to the Etruscan era.
Walking through the streets of the village you arrive in the central square where the majestic Palazzo dei Priori stands out, the oldest town hall in all of Tuscany.
Another place of interest to visit is The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, dating back to 1120. The cathedral is a mix of Romanesque architecture as regards the facade and Renaissance for the interior, especially in the abundantly decorated and gilded ceiling.
The Etruscan Guarnacci Museum instead houses hundreds of funeral urns found in the area, many of which were obtained from alabaster and tuff; inaugurated in 1761, it is one of the oldest public museums in all of Europe.
The Pinacoteca, housed in a splendid Renaissance palace, preserves beautiful masterpieces, like the famous Deposition by Rosso Fiorentino.
Speaking of museums, for the more adventurous, Volterra also hosts an interesting museum of torture, while for lovers of archaeology the visit to the Roman theatre and Etruscan acropolis is a must.
From the top of its dominant position, the Medici Fortress still controls Volterra and the surrounding countryside. The fortress was built in 1474 by will of Lorenzo de ‘Medici. Today it houses a prison, so it cannot be visited, but you can see it from outside in all its majesty.
Volterra is renowned not only for the beauty of its historic centre but also for the extraction and production of alabaster objects. It is an ancient tradition that draws precious material from the nearby quarries since the time of the Etruscans. There are several things to buy as souvenirs to take home, all handmade by local artisans who still follow the ancient methods of craftsmanship, handed down from generation to generation.
For those interested in deepening the tradition of alabaster processing, you can make a jump to the Alabaster Ecomuseum: it is an interesting journey around this rock: from extraction to production and sculpture to its commercialization. Here you can also visit the artisan workshops and admire over 300 sculptures ranging from the Etruscan era to the contemporary one.
Various traditional events take place in Volterra every year. Among the most important is “Ut Armentur Balistrarii”: an ancient crossbow shooting tournament. Another one is the medieval re-enactment “A.D. 1398 “which, on the third and fourth Sunday of August, brings the town back to the past. Finally, another event not to be missed is the “Palio dei Caci“: it takes place on the last Sunday of October during which people, in medieval costumes, must run the steep Via Franceschini by rolling some forms of cheese.
Certainly, the best time to visit Volterra is from spring to early autumn when the days are still warm and the sky is blue.
Volterra is also known by Twilight fans. Stephenie Meyer, in her famous novel New Moon, speaks of Volterra as the town where the members of the powerful Volturi clan reside, that is the royal family of vampires in charge of ensuring compliance with the laws of the species. Contrary to what one might think, the scenes of the movie directed by Chris Weitz were not shot here but in the town of Montepulciano, in the province of Siena.