Etruscans were obviously the first to carve alabaster, specially for their cinerary urns. They used to portrait scenes of the everyday life, as well as a rich mythology and their beliefs of the world beyond. Many of this pieces are shown in an exhibition in the important Guarnacci Museum at Volterra. There are pieces spread over museums like the Archeological Museum of Florence, the Vatican Museum, the Louvre and the British Museum.
Etruscans have left a legacy that goes really beyond the art of alabaster. At Volterra there is an very important “Acropolis”, located on the highest point of the town, 552m above the sea level. The site encloses the foundations of two Etruscan temples, the road which delimited the sacred area, the vestiges of dwellings dating back to the Hellenistic period, a complex system of cisterns and ruins of medieval towers and roads. Besides, the view is breathtaking, a wide open scenery from the Apennines to the sea (the coast is less than 20km from Volterra).
Certainly interesting to visit are the Etruscan burial sites. The tombs are not so large and painted like the ones in Tarquinia, Chiusi or Populonia, but of undoubted historical value. The tombs have been carved in the sandstone below the ground level and curiously called by local people the “Etruscan holes”. Indeed a fantastic experience!
Jumping ahead a few centuries, we get to the Roman Theatre and the Roman Baths. The Roman Theatre, stated to be built on the 1st century B.C., dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, stays just below the medieval wall – from the plateau you have a 360° view of the large Theatre.
The structure of a Roman Theatre is clearly visible: there are still the 19 rows of the central and lower cavea (where people used to seat); the itenera scalaria (stairs used to get to the seats) made of Montecatini stone; the semicircular orchestra originally covered of marble. The stage was originally framed by two Carrara marble columns with Corinthian capitals.
The Guarnacci Roman Baths, instead, stay right beyond Porta San Felice, and took the name of the man who has uncovered them on the 1760. The Baths were dedicated to Emperor Giordian III so they date back the 3rd century A.C. The original structure of these public baths is still very well visible and shows what remains of the furnace (ipocaustum). Two cold baths (frigidarium), a warm bath (tepidarium), the hot bath (calidarium) above the ipocaustum and the sauna (sudatorium). The site is under restoration now.
The Middle Age and Renaissance town:
Entering the medieval walls, you will be able to admire the Middle Age as well as Renaissance constructions and art. The Romanesque Cathedral has been reconstructed in 1120 on the place of an old church dedicated to the Holy Mary. Some marble pieces of Nicola Pisano decorate the façade. The interior is completely Renaissance style, renovated right after the Council of Trento by decision of the Bishop Serguidi, preserving only its Romanesque Latin cross.
The Cathedral has 15 chapels, all decorated with wood panels, marble sculptures, painting and much more, composing almost a museum that holds pieces of important Florentine or Pisan artists from the 15th to the 18th centuries.
The pulpit, the sacristy and some funeral monuments make their contributions to this important collection. The bell tower and the baptistery, as many of the medieval cathedrals, are separated from the church. The baptistery, erected on octagonal base, is built on the 13th century while the bell tower has been rebuilt on the 1400’s on the place of the original one whih collapsed.
Walking in the town you will pass through many Renaissance House-Towers and Palaces, usually built by the powerful families or bishops of the period, among them the twin House-Towers Buonaguidi and Buonparenti, connected by a bricked archway as were the families in marriage. The towers dominate and strategically command the crossroads and delimit the main square.
To finalize this never ending exhibition of art, history and culture, the archways, medieval gates and walls, built of the local yellow-red sandstone, during the 13th century, compose a plan of the original medieval city, with its low archways like small tunnels to enter the city, its narrow streets designed by the buildings boarders, decorated with thousands of symbols, high relief’s, wooden doors, wrought iron handles… in short, all medieval atmosphere!
Besides, the hundreds of Italian cafes, restaurants, souvenirs and alabaster shops, typical products groceries, and wine shops Volterra still reveal much of the typical Tuscan way of life! Not to mention the very special landscape you will admire coming with the car along the roads that led to Volterra… it is simply overwhelming and unique, with its green and yellow hills, and Volterra’s fortress drawn against the sky on the top of the highest hill! Don’t miss a stop at one of the alabaster show rooms along the road. They are all amazing!
Our villas located close to Volterra: VOLTERRA VILLA PONTEGINORI SANT HIPOLITO COLOMBAIA RICKY LOUISA GIGLIO WHITE LOTOS BLU LOTOS
You can also find interesting the reading about Volterra in the blog Around Tuscany