The hilltop town of Volterra sits in the heart of the Tuscany region of Italy and is an interesting town to explore. As our Rick Steves tour stopped in Volterra for two nights, we had no idea what discoveries lie ahead for us in this walled Tuscan town with its ancient stone walls.
Arriving in Volterra, our bus dropped us off several blocks from the Hotel La Locanda, a quaint hotel located inside the walls of the historic center of town where we were staying for two nights. We walked along the cobblestone streets like pro travelers, pulling our small suitcases and bags, easily arriving at our hotel.
The first evening we enjoyed dinner at La Carabaccia, a local restaurant where the food was served family-style. The food and new friends made for an enjoyable evening. Leaving the restaurant, we enjoyed evening views of the vista near the restaurant and a moonlit stroll of Volterra.
Seeing some interesting sites in Volterra
The following morning our tour group met up with a local guide, an American expatriate, Annie Adair, who led us on a walking tour that touched on Etruscan, Roman, and medieval history of Tuscany and Volterra. We visited the Piazza dei Priori, the town’s main square with its famous town hall, the Palazzo dei Priori. Nearby is Volterra’s Duomo, the small Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and bell tower. The columns by the door of the cathedral were pillaged from the ruins of the Roman Theatre. Facing the cathedral is the baptistry with its green and white facade.
2000 Year Old Arch Gate–Wow!
We continued the short walk to the old city wall to the Porta dell’Arco, the mighty Etruscan arch gate that has survived over 2,000 years!! Talk about well made!! Not only has this stone gate survived the centuries, but it also survived a German attack in World War II.
Annie explained how, in 1944, the Volterrans learned of a planned Nazi attack on the gate to keep the Allied troops from advancing through Volterra. So they pulled up the cobblestone road leading to the arch and passed the stones in a line to build a barrier in the archway (photo of the people passing the cobblestones on display in town). With the arch barricaded, the attack was canceled. They saved the ancient gate arch!
Roman Theater Ruins |1950s Excavation
A short walk along the old wall took us to an overlook where we had a great view of ruins from the ancient Roman Theatre from the first century. You can see large sections of the stage as well as ruins from 19 rows of seating. Romans baths were also excavated in the area. The ruins were discovered by Enrico Fiumi in the 1950’s, and he led the excavation that included work done by patients from a local psychiatric hospital.
Interesting Visit to an Alabaster Studio
Our tour included a visit to Alab’Arte, a local alabaster workshop where we were amazed! The shop was full of white carvings, vases, and sculptures of all descriptions (and white dust!!). Alabaster is quarried nearby and has always been a big industry for this area of Tuscany. It is softer than marble and easier to work with and is beautiful and translucent when cut very thin. We enjoyed seeing the handcrafted pieces of local artisans Roberto and Giorgio and watch as Roberto made a bowl that was later presented to a couple in our group who were celebrating their 50th anniversary.
Must See Museum in the Walled Tuscan Town
Our next stop was the nearby Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. We saw interesting Etruscan funeral stone boxes with unique carvings, ancient tools, alabaster pieces, and Etruscan artifacts from the area. The most famous piece is a thin, elongated boy statuette called Ombra della Sera (Evening Shadow). I have a written a separate post with additional information about this museum.
See Some Lovely Italian Art
After an enjoyable lunch under the white canopies of Pizzeria il Rifugio, we stepped in to visit the small oratory of Sant’Antonio Abate (St. Anthony) which was near our lunch restaurant. We observed the tiny, quiet chapel with its beautiful art and painted terracotta altarpiece. I felt a sacred peacefulness there in this tiny church located on a busy pedestrian corner.
We then headed to the Pinacoteca Gallery that houses many important paintings and art collections. The most famous piece at the gallery is the Deposition from the Cross by Rosso Fiorentino. We were amazed at how few people were there and that we could walk around easily to view the art. The collections included many Madonna and Child paintings on wood panels using very vibrant colors. Here is a beautiful example of the works in the gallery, a painting by Stefano di Antonio di Vanni named Madonna and Child between Angels.
Time to Wander through Volterra
We enjoyed a fun afternoon of exploring Volterra, including shopping for jewelry at the famous Fabula Etrusca and canvasing alabaster stores and local shops. I enjoyed strolling the pedestrian streets of the old stone town with its walls, alleys, lanes, vistas, and hidden corners. I snapped photos as we walked through town, hoping to capture the charm. Here are a few of my favorites.
After an enjoyable walk around town, we finally settled on the outdoor restaurant Ristorante Etruri at the Piazza Dei Priori. It was a lovely dinner to end a captivating day in the walled Tuscan town of Volterra.
The quaint, historical town of Volterra was definitely a highlight of our tour.
I hope you enjoyed the post. Geaux travel!