Volterra, Italy is a Medieval Hilltop Village that Should Not be Missed While Visiting Tuscany
After spending an amazing week in Florence, Italy, we at lostinbeautifulplaces.com decided to get out to the countryside and experience a different side of the Tuscan region. Located about 80km south-west of Florence and south-east of Pisa, in the heart of the Tuscan region, sits the hilltop town of Volterra. Volterra is the oldest town in the Tuscan region, with a storied history that dates back before the 8th century BC. With an impressive amount of structures remaining from the Etruscan, Roman, and Medieval periods, Volterra is a perfect place for any history buff and photographer to explore.
Our friend, Corinna, who is an amazing artist and owner of Vitrium Glass in Volterra, suggested that we make this historic village our next destination on our travels through Tuscany. We are very thankful for this recommendation because we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Volterra, as it exceeded all of our expectations. This Tuscan village, with its small crowds, is so rich in history, architecture, food, and art that we wanted to share our travel experience with our readers. We have compiled a list of reasons to visit Volterra, Italy.
Volterra, originally named Velathri or Felathri has a storied history. Under Roman rule, it grew and prospered until the fall of the mighty empire. Later it was occupied by the Florentines, the Medici family and then ruled by the Duchy of Tuscany. Today Volterra is a wonderfully preserved village with its ancient structures from the Etruscan, Roman, and Medieval periods. Here are a few historic points of interest not to missed on your visit.
Guarnacci Etruscan Museum
Guarnacci Etruscan Museum is one of the first public museums in Europe. Founded in 1761 by Mario Guarnacci, a collector of antiquities, when he donated his collection to the citizens of the city of Volterra. Today, the museum contains one of the most extensive Italian collections of Etruscan art and is housed inside the Desideri Tangassi Palace. There are over 600 preserved urns in the museum, divided according to the subject of the bas-reliefs of the vessel: there are ornamental motifs like images depicting Greek mythology, demons, masks, and fierce animals. Entrance to the museum costs 8 Euros per person. It is included with the Volterra Card which costs 16 Euros per person or 24 Euros for a family (or a couple) and is valid for 72 hours.
The Alabaster Museum
Volterra is known as the city of alabaster. The large natural deposits of alabaster in the surrounding hills are considered some of the most precious in the world. Working with alabaster is an ancient tradition in Volterra. The Etruscans used alabaster to make urns and used it for creating other works of art, as well. The Alabaster Museum is located within the medieval Tower Minucci. The museum includes a selection of works, tools, and materials that document the history of working alabaster from the Etruscans through modern times. Entrance to the museum costs 8 Euros per person. It is included with the Volterra Card which costs 16 Euros per person or 24 Euros for a family (or a couple) and is valid for 72 hours.
Palazzo Viti is one of Volterra’s most historic homes and is now houses a museum that is open to the public. It was constructed in the late sixteenth century by local nobleman Attilio Incontri and the design is attributed to Bartolomeo Ammannati. The palazzo was bought by Giuseppe Viti in 1850. Today it’s interiors contain nineteenth-century decorations and furnishings, a large collection of alabaster art, and ancient oriental objects that belonged to Viti, an eclectic traveler, and an alabaster dealer. The cost to enter the museum is 5 Euros per person. An appointment must be arranged in advance to visit this museum.
Museum of Sacred Art
The Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art in Volterra is located inside the Church of Saint Agostino and includes works of art originating from the Cathedral Basilica, various churches in the city and other religious institutions in the diocese. The Church of Saint Agostino is a 13th Century structure that was remodeled in 1728. Founded in 2017, the museum also maintains its function as a place of worship to this day. The entrance to the museum is free.
Etruscan Acropolis and Roman Theater
The Etruscan Acropolis is part of the Enrico Fiumi Archaeological Park. It consists of a complex layering of Etruscan, Roman and medieval structures and is located on the highest hill, next to the fort built by the Medici family. The area also preserves the remains of the ancient plumbing system. The Roman Theater in Volterra was built at the end of the 1st century BC, during the Augustan period. It was built within the perimeter of the Etruscan/Roman defensive walls and had a capacity is estimated at 2,800-3,500. The Roman Theater was excavated for several years starting in 1958 by Enrico Fiumi. The entrance to the park is 5 Euros per person.
The narrow streets of Volterra contain hundreds of perfectly preserved buildings that are seemingly frozen in time. Walking through its neighborhoods and plazas is like stepping back in time to the Medieval period of Italy. Ancient roads, traditional shops, historic homes, and famous civic buildings fill the entire walled area of town. Listed here are a few highlights of Volterra’s unique Tuscan architecture.
Palazzo dei Priori
Etruscan Walls and Gates
The Etruscan walls and gates are must-sees for those interested in the history of Volterra. The walls of Volterra represent a feat of engineering dating back to the Etruscan era and gradually modified over the centuries. The original walls, many of which still survive, were built around the 4th century B.C. and remained in use throughout the early middle ages until the Municipality of Volterra decided to erect a new defensive system, which would encompass much of the original Etruscan walls.
There are 6 gates along the Etruscan walls into the city, with many sections dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Porta all’ Arco, the oldest gate, dates back to the 3rd of 4th century BC and includes carvings of three mysterious heads. Some believe that they depict the gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while others think they are Castor and Pollux; others still believe they are not human heads, but rather lions watching guard over Volterra.
The Porta San Felice gate is the western entrance into the walled city. This gate with a single arch, sandwiched on both sides by medieval walls is very different from the other gates of the city. The gate flanks a tiny chapel with a bell tower and offers magnificent panoramic views of the rolling hills. From this spot, the Mediterranean Sea can be seen on a clear day. Down the stairs from the San Felice archway, remnants of the old cistern system can be admired. A walking path toward the Volterra Cathedral follows the wall to
Volterra Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is the current seat of the bishop of Volterra. It was built around 1120 on top of a pre-existing church dedicated to St. Mary and was then expanded in the second half of the 13th-century. The marble doorway was built using recovered materials from the Roman theatre. Entrance is free.
Baptistery of San Giovanni
We probably would have walked past the Baptistery of San Giovanni if it wasn’t for the sounds of a saxophone tempting us in with the amazing acoustics that the small church provided. The Baptistery of San Giovanni is an octagonal 13th-century religious building standing just in front of the Duomo of Volterra, in the center of the city. It was supposedly set up in the seventh century at the site of a Roman Temple dedicated to Sun worship. Entrance is free.
3. Art and Artisans
Volterra has a long history as being a center of Etruscan art. Etruscans first began carving alabaster over 2,000 years ago. Today, the village remains a center of art production, both with alabaster and other materials. While there are many galleries and art studios to visit while in Volterera we only had time for a few. Do not be afraid to poke around and discover some of the many studios and galleries throughout the town.
Kalpa Art Living Gallery
Kalpa Art Living is truly a wonderful place with one of a kind pieces of art. Elegant and classy, with exhibitions of extraordinary works of art. It is a space of rare beauty. Here history, culture, and art come together in a timeless collection.
Vitrium Volterra is a wonderful glass shop. Corrina is an expert at creating one of a kind glass jewelry, mosaic mirrors, tables, and lamps. They are true to the Italian tradition of fine glasswork with and fantastic modern twist. She speaks English as well as Italian and is extremely knowledgeable of all things Volterra. Her studio is located adjacent to the Etureasan Museum. Not only is this her art shop but it also doubles as her studio, which means you will most likely find her working on a one of a kind piece of art.
4. Food and Drink
Volterra lies in the heart of Tuscany which means there is no shortage of mouth-watering restaurants, gelaterias and places to enjoy an aperitivo (a before-dinner drink).
La Carabaccia is a rustic cafe that is run by two sisters. They have a small rotating seasonal menu and everything is made from scratch. Reservations are recommended as it is small and loved by the locals.
II Sacco Fiorentino is an excellent dinner choice. It is located just off the Piazza dei Priori down a small street. The service was excellent, the food was fresh with lovely flavors and the night time ambiance was just right.
Another fantastic choice is Torre del Porcellino. Located on a quiet street with outdoor seating. The restaurant features attentive knowledgeable staff and excellent menu choices. Many of their dishes use locally sourced ingredients including the local specialty, wild boar as well as fresh vegetables and a great selection of wine.
If it is a drink you fancy, before or after your meal, we highly recommend stopping in for a creative cocktail at Antica Velathri cafe. You will instantly be welcomed by the owner Pietro, who’s love for creating a memorable cocktail, shines with pure enthusiasm for his craft. He also has a small food menu of savory bite-size snacks that his mother creates. It truly is a family affair.
When in Italy we always enjoy sampling gelato in every town we visit. L’isola Del Gusto Gelateria is a great choice when you are needing a cooldown after a day of sightseeing. With many unique and traditional choices, it was no surprise why many people get there gelato from here.
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