Palazzo dei Priori
Arguably the most well known building in Volterra we headed for the Palazzo dei Priori after climbing the long and steep sets from the parking lot.
The Palazzo dei Priori was constructed in the early 13th century. It is particularly noteworthy because it is the first and oldest building in Europe built for the functions of a city/state. The name, "priori," means prior in English. The prior of the city/state of Volterra lived in the building and basically ruled the entire town. To avoid corruption he was not allowed to leave the tower during his entire tenure as prior. His edicts were delivered by messengers who would have little to no contact. The town prior however was allowed to see and hear worship services since the priory was connected directly to the Volterra cathedral. Because of their isolation town priors served terms of less than a year. The Florence priory is modeled after the one built in Volterra.
We did not go inside the Palazzo dei Priori. We found the outside however to be understated grandness with the looming tower and multiple adorations on the priory.
Porta all Arco
While not particularly impressive to look at the Porta all Arco can trace its construction back to before Christ. The arch constructed by the Etruscans has survived nearly 2,500 years with only slight reconstruction during Roman times and World War 2.
There are three pigs that adorn the outside of the arch. A lot of speculation has occurred over the years as to why the pigs were placed on the wall. Perhaps it is a sign that thousands of years ago eating pig was for the wealthy. Wild boars are still found in the region.
Story has it that during World War 2 in 1944 when the Nazis were fleeing Italy they wanted to blow up the arch and wall to prevent access from arriving Allied troops. So the night before the Nazis were due to arrive local townspeople filled in the wall with stones. The arch was never destroyed and the stones were taken down in a short time.
The arch is definitely worth a quick look and in particular to see the piglet adoration on the outside of the arch.
Chiesa di San Giusto
You won't discover this pretty church while walking within the walls of Volterra. We discovered it to both avoid the rain and try and get some panoramic views of the City. There is a small road leading off the main highway going east out of town and that leads up to the church.
What is striking about this church is that all crude and plain the exterior stone facade is. The church was designed by The Church of San Giusto is located outside the historical center of Volterra, near the Etruscan city wall, on top of a green slope. The building was designed by John Coccapani and developed by his student Ludwig Matches. There are four stone columns that house the statues of of San Lino, San Giusto, San Clemente, and St. Ottaviano. It is my understanding that this church was constructed to replace an earlier church in Botro that honored Saints Clemente and Giusto.
We did not have the opportunity to visit the inside of the church due to the late time of the day and inclement weather.
Still searching for the address and hours that the church is open to the public outside of mass.
Visit the Cooptativa Artieri Albagtro
Dating back to the time of the Etruscans alabaster has been used as a material for making works of art and utility. Alabaster occurs naturally in the subsoil around Volterra. It is much more malleable than materials such as marble and is used to make lamps, chandeliers, vases, bowls, and many decorative objects.
We came across the Cooptativa Artieri Albagtro while walking the streets of the historic town. The society was formed in 1895 to preserve traditional craftsmanship techniques in the art and sculpting of alabaster. Currently there are at least 27 local artisans that belong to the society including 23 specializing in alabaster.
Browsing through their store is almost like going to a museum. There is a historical gallery, showroom, and a video room. Despite our efforts to find the video room we could not locate it. There are many absolutely gorgeous lamps and chandeliers that are highlighted in a most impressive way. Unfortunately their prices were a little high for my budget.
The cooperative also conducts tours of alabaster production that are offsite. Definitely worth a look inside this unique cooperative/store to see the beauty of some of these objects.
There is no cost to enter the cooperativa. Hours were not posted on the door.
I just happened to be in Volterra when a thunder storm moved overhead. Lightning struck and the sounds of thunder echoed across the valley and back. It was an amazing moment. The small town has some wonderful views, and you will easily find them even before you reach the city gates.
- Road Trip
WALK THE TOWN
Volterra is small enough that you can walk for two hours and see quite a bit of it. Along the way they have the usual shops, but there are some artisan shops with sculpture that are exceptional. You might find an antique souvenir here, too. You could spend the morning exploring, have pranzo (lunch) and then have time to explore the hills beyond.
If you like wine, there are some great red wines made here, and many enotecas in which to find them. We had a super red that was not expensive in our restaurant and we ended up buying several from them to bring home.
- Wine Tasting
- Food and Dining
- Family Travel
Chiesa di San Francesco
San Francesco, as it is usual with most of the Franciscan churches, has very simple stone facade decorated only by the city coats of arms. The church was built in the 13th century and it is all I can say about it because it was closed during time of my visit.
The Baptistery of the cathedral stands right opposite to it at the same square. It is the 13th century structure and has octagonal base plan. Some elements on its facade indicating that baptistery could have been erected even at an earlier adte. The facade is adorned with stripes ofwhite and green marble, suggesting Pisano style which is very common in Tuscany. The interiors maintains simplicity but housing an exceptional piece of art. There is octagonal marble baptismal font sculptured by great Sansovino in 1502.
- Family Travel
Palazzo Minucci Solaini - Pinacoteca
The splendid Renaissance palace Minucci, which now belongs to Solaini, is probably the most beautiful palace in Volterra. It has very elegant facade and exceptional inner courtyard. Palazzo Minucci the 15th century work of Antonio Sangallo the Elder in collaboration with Baccio d'Agnelo, nowadays is The Art Gallery and Civic Museum housing important local works of art.
North of the cathedral, at the intersection of Via Roma and Via Ricciarelli is 13th century Casa-Torre Buonparenti. Right opposite to it stands the 12th century Casa-Torre Buonaguidi. This two medieval palaces, colloquialy called Case-Torri Buonparenti, are connected with an brick archway which is pretty unusual for the medieval times full of rivalty between the noble families. This is different story because Buonparenti and Buonaguidi were the families in marriage.
Casa Torre Toscano
Casa Torre Toscano is composed of two towers constructed in 1250 and it's home of Giovanni Toscano who was the treasurer to the King of Sardinia. It is situated on the Piazza San Michele, right next to the church. The bulding was purchased by different local families and finaly was bought by Guarnacci who added the 16th century palace which descends the Via di Sotto.
Porta di Docciola
Porta di Docciola was built in the 13th century, at the same time when new city walls were built. It served as a link between the city and the fertile valley bellow. The gate with its rounded arches still preserves the features of the 13th century Volterran architecture.
Porta del Arco
Porta dell Arco is the only remaining part of the ancients city walls from the 5th century. It was incorporated in the city walls, built in the 13th century, when the Ghibellines succeeded the Guelphs. From it external part the gate is decorated with the three human heads, could it be just a memory to those who were built the wall or it was warning for the enemies? In the medieval times it was habbit to cut off the head of the defeated enemy and expose it on the city walls.
Porta Fiorentina is originally called Porta San Agnolo, after the nearby church. It was built in a very typical architectual structure of Volterra, some modifications though carrried out in the 16th century. During the siege of the town in 1530, the tower above the gate, which served as an armoury, was completely destroyed. The gate leads to the direction of Florence and therefore the locals call it Porta Fiorentina.
Porta San Felice
Porta San Felice is the gate with a single arch sustained on both sides by the medieval walls. It is very different from the all other city gates. The gate flanks a tiny chapel and together with it creates one of the most attractive city sites, at least to me. The gate offers a magnificent panoramis view of the rolling hills around Volterra.