Volterra is not far from San Gimignano and Siena in gorgeous Tuscany, but it doesn’t seem to attract the same number of visitors. This is a puzzle as the city is lovely, with lots to see and do, including some excellent Roman ruins.
It is also a good thing as there are fewer people crowding the streets, making a visit very pleasant. The town sits very prettily on a hill 550 metres above sea level.
At the top of the town is a large park with Rocca Nouva looming above.
The original part of the fortress, Rocca Antica, with its round tower, was built in 1343 and the rest was added by Lorenzo Medici after the town was captured by Florence in 1472. It has been since used as a prison, but it looked deserted when we were there.
Like San Gimignano, Volterra had lots of house towers. They were used for defence and protection. The doors were positioned high above the ground and ladders were used to gain access. These could easily be drawn up in times of danger. The house towers of the Buonparenti family lie on opposite sides of the road and are joined by a brick archway. They originally formed part of the city walls. They still look very impressive centuries later.
The lively Piazza dei Priori is the focus of the town. It is lined with very well preserved private and public palaces. The Palazzo dei Priori is the oldest communal palace in Tuscany.
The Duomo S. Maria Assunta sits behind the Piazza dei Priori. It was consecrated in 1120, extended in 1254 and refurbished in the 14th century.
The pulpit in the cathedral is one of a series of great Romanesque pulpits in Tuscany. It was built from marble in the 12th century.It was dismantled at one time and put back together incorrectly. It looks pretty good to me.
We were about to leave the church when an oldish lady approached and asked if we had seen the famous Deposition. We had no idea what she was talking about, but she was so keen for us to see it that we went searching. We found it and were suitably impressed. The Deposition is from the 13th century and is one of the few wooden sculptures remaining from the Middle Ages.
Mary and St John stand on either side of the cross, Joseph of Arimathea is holding the body of Christ and Nicodemus is bending to remove the nails in Christ’s feet with a pair of pliers. Restorers have been quite lavish with gold paint.
We saw the lady later in the day and she was delighted that we had found the treasure.
The Teatro Romano was uncovered in the 1950s. The excavations revealed the ruins of a temple dedicated to the godess Bona, a theatre and a bathhouse. A prominent local family, the Caecina, presented the city of Volterra with the theatre at the end of the 1st century BC. The bath house was built in the 4th century AD from the ruins of the theatre.
It is not possible to walk around the ruins, but there is a very good viewing area quite close.
The whole area must have been incredible. Those Romans knew how to look after themselves.
We had lunch at a restaurant with a lovely outdoor dining area. The food was excellent and there was a wonderful cellar underneath the restaurant where we were encouraged to browse.
Volterra is a great place to just wander. Remember to look up, the buildings have some wonderful decorations.
I read that there are “children’s windows” in the towers, small windows under the larger windows to allow the children to look out without falling. I’m not sure if the one below is one such window, but it could be.
I’ll leave you with something I am willing to bet you don’t see every day – a tree playing a musical saw. This talented tree was busy at work in Piazza dei Priori. It must have been tiring work, he had to stop occasionally to take off his branches and have a rest.