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Description

The name Volterra comes from the Etruscan Velathri. As early as the seventh century BCE, the Etruscans had founded an important settlement, which rose to the size and power of a Locumonia, i.e. a city state, the seat of a Lucumo (the supreme ruler of Etruscan cities), and had a powerful surrounding wall more than seven kilometres long. We can still admire today the Porta all’Arco and the Porta Diana which date from the period. The theatre is from the Roman period. It was later used as a spa and today hosts a summer festival of theatre, music and poetry.
This position, at the meeting of the Era and Cecina rivers, as well as the wealth of mineral resources, led to the city’s rise in the Middle Ages, and to the construction of large buildings and towers and the Piazza dei Priori. It was a period of internal struggles between the bishops and the municipality; the latter emerged victorious, but then had to yield to the Belforti family in the fourteenth century. The Belfortis were driven out in 1361, accused of trying to sell the city to Pisa, which had an interest in Volterra because of its natural resources and strategic position. Florentine domination lasted centuries, as is still well demonstrated by the Medici Fortress, commissioned in 1475 by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and by the palaces of important Volterra families, such as the Ricciarellis, Minuccis and Gherardis, which were transformed taking inspiration from Renaissance architecture.
The hilly territory of Volterra stretches between the valleys of the Era to the north and those of the Cecina to the south, with cliffs, ravines and the Berignone-Tatti nature reserve. Hiking and cycling are excellent ways to discover the natural beauty of these places.

Information
Consorzio turistico Volterra, Val di Cecina, Valdera
Piazza dei Priori, 19
56048 Volterra
t. +39 0588 87257 . +39 0588 86099
www.volterratur.it

Geographical area
Val di Cecina

Population
over 11.000

Distance from Pisa
65 km

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Culture

Etruscan Acropolis
At the Parco Fiumi, close to the Medici Fortress, is an archaeological site that has now become a city park. The excavations at the acropolis have shown an area dedicated to religious activities. Here, beginning in the sixth century BCE, religious buildings and service areas connected to them were erected, including storehouses and religious residences.

Badia Camaldolese
The Camaldolese abbey and its adjoining church were built in 1030 near the church of San Giusto al Botro, where the bodies of Saints Giusto and Clemente were preserved. It was lost in the seventeenth century to cliff erosion. This centre of culture and art is home to the works of a school that imitated Giotto, as well as a library full of manuscripts. Although it is now in ruin, we can still admire the elegant sixteenth-century cloister and the refectory with a cycle of frescoes, the Life of San Giusto. The church’s Romanesque apse and the massive medieval bell tower still remain.

Baptistery
The current baptistery was built in the thirteenth century, although some architectural and decorative elements seem to date to an earlier era. The interior, in Volterra stone, has six niches embedded in the thick walls, accomplished following a technique used in this area in the mid-twelfth century. It has a domed octagonal shape and a facade covered with white and green marble with a portal that shows influence from Nicola Pisano. Inside are sculptures and a pentagonal baptismal font with the Baptism of Christ, Faith, Justice, Charity and Hope sculpted in white marble, a 1502 work by Andrea Cuntucci, also known as Sansovino.

Casa Museo Palazzo Viti
Palazzo Viti, one of the most beautiful private residences in Italy, is open to the public, with its twelve rooms – furniture, paintings, porcelain, alabaster collections and other artistic objects of great value, representing Italian, European and Oriental art from 1400 to 1900. All is just as it was seen over the centuries by the kings and the princes who were guests here, and by directors such as Luchino Visconti who set their films here.

Roman cistern
The Roman cistern is part of a complex system of cisterns across the city. Accessed by a narrow spiral staircase, it is a “pool” built by the Romans to collect rainwater.

Duomo (Cathedral)
The Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and has a cross shape. Entering from the marble portal, the visitor is welcomed by twenty-two columns in pink granite that divide the structure into three naves. The transept is decorated with the technique of flattened ornament. The interior, despite the antique structure, offers a Renaissance appearance overall. Inside we can admire the sculptural group of the Deposition, a work from 1228 depicting Christ held up by the Madonna and St John the Evangelist.

Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro
The plan for the ecomuseum was born in the main cities where alabaster is a centuries-old tradition: Volterra, Castellina Marittima and Santa Luce. There are two different museum routes, for the excavation of the alabaster and for processing and sale.
In Volterra, visitors can tour the alabaster museum in the Torre Minucci, which focuses on the history of the styles of processing and working of the stone and displays exhibits ranging from Etruscan funerary artefacts to nineteenth-century medallions.

Medici Fortress
The fortress, with its powerful and majestic appearance, is found at the summit of the Volterra hills. It consists of two structures: the Rocca Vecchia and the Rocca Nuova, both commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Walls
The original city walls date to the Etruscan period and were modified several times over the centuries. The stone is panchino, which is very common in the area. The Etruscans also used it for cinerary urns. The first city wall, 7 km long, was extensively reworked during the Middle Ages, its length reduced to just 2.6 km. Of the nine gates for access, two can be dated back to the Etruscans.

Museo Diocesano di Arte Sacra
It opened in 1932 in the Palazzo Vescovile, which is now an offsite office; the museum moved to the Church of Sant’Agostino in 2017. Here, in addition to the artworks already designed for the church, visitors will find others that came from the Cathedral and from other churches in the diocese: paintings, reliquaries, furnishings and sacred furnishings offer additional embellishment to the monumental church.

Museo Etrusco Guarnacci
The museum contains a very important collection of Etruscan art. The first civic museum exhibiting Etruscan finds was founded in the eighteenth century, after ruins were discovered through the excavations by canonist Pietro Franceschini and following a donation from Monsignor Mario Guarnacci. Subsequent excavations added to the collection, but its core is still the collection of 600 funeral urns in terracotta and alabaster.

Palazzo dei Priori
The earliest building here was constructed in 1208 at the behest of imperial Count Palatine Ildebrando Pannocchieschi. It was built in the most important town square, where today we can also see the Duomo, Palazzo Pretorio, Palazzo Vescovile and Palazzo Inghirami. In the thirteenth century the twenty-four elders who governed the city used it as a residence. The facade is made entirely of stone and has string courses, and is decorated with the terracotta coats of arms of the Florentine families who took power in Volterra beginning in the fifteenth century. The building currently houses municipal offices and exhibitions.

Palazzo Minucci-Solaini – Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro
The Minucci family commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Elder to build it in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, and it presents similarities to Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Guadagni. It was built on pre-existing medieval towers owned by the Minucci family. The internal structure is centred around an elegant cloister decorated with partially preserved frescoes. When the Volterra branch of the Minucci family became extinct, the palace was bought by Sebastiano Solaini and some of its rooms were used to work alabaster. Since 1942 it has been owned by the state and houses the Pinacoteca and the Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro.
The plan for the ecomuseum was born in the main cities where alabaster is a centuries-old tradition: Volterra, Castellina Marittima and Santa Luce. There are two different museum routes, for the excavation of the alabaster and for processing and sale.
In Volterra, visitors can tour the alabaster museum in the Torre Minucci, which focuses on the history of the styles of processing and working of the stone and displays exhibits ranging from Etruscan funerary artefacts to nineteenth-century medallions.

Palazzo Minucci-Solaini – Pinacoteca e Museo Civico di Volterra
Even in the past, Palazzo dei Priori and the Duomo were home to important art collections; in 1905 Palazzo dei Priori opened an exhibition featuring Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross. The collection, which includes works by Luca Signorelli and Taddeo de Bartolo, was moved in 1982 to the new Palazzo Minucci-Solaini location, following a very successful temporary exhibition held the previous year in the same halls.

Roman Theatre
It was built between the end of the first century BCE and 13 CE at the behest of the rich Caecina family, as evidenced by the dedicatory epigraph now kept in the Guarnacci Museum. It was cut into a natural incline, left intact by the Etruscans, had a diameter of 60 meters and could accommodate 3500 spectators. At the end of the third century CE it was abandoned and converted into a bath complex. In medieval times, the new city walls enclosed the highest part of the steps. It is the venue for an important summer festival.

Torre del Maschio
It is located inside the Medici fortress. Since its construction in the fifteenth century, the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the fortress has always been used as a prison; it is still a medium-security prison today. It recently opened for tours, by appointment.

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Food and wine

Pecorino delle Balze volterrane – Pecorino DOP Committee
This pecorino cheese, treated with olive or holm ash, was granted the Protected Designation of Origin status in 2015. Excellent whether fresh or matured, it is also suitable for vegetarian diets because it is made with vegetable rennet.

Salt
Volterra salt is one of the finest “Made in Italy” products. It is said to be “recrystallized” because the water is first purified at 80°C and then brought to 130°C in crystallizers.

Truffles
With the properties of the subsoil, it is not unusual for truffles – including the prized white truffles – to grow and be collected and processed here.

Wine
The municipality is included on the Pisa Hills Wine Trail.

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Crafts

Small artisan companies have replaced the ancient systems for extracting alum, alabaster and salt.

Alabaster
Volterra is where the finest alabaster in Europe is worked. Today, the local artisans are united by the Alabaster Artisans Cooperative.

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Activities for visitors

The Cliffs of Volterra
The cliffs extend along the southwestern side of Volterra’s territory, between Val di Cecina and Val d’Era, and were formed by the many landslides of the clay soil.

Berignone nature reserve
Numerous trails run through the Berignone nature reserve, routes that mostly roll through green areas rich in flora and fauna.

Montenero nature reserve
The upper Cecina valley’s smallest reserve stretches along the northern slopes of Montenero. Erosion from the Torrente Strolla has dug gorges and deep inlets to create a typical landscape impassable in some places.

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Camper area