Homes and Villas Abroad
  • Home
  • Properties
    • Property Search
    • Luxury Properties
Contact us
SearchAdvancedBrowse by region


Popular cities:

  • Home
  • Blog
  • Volterra: The allure of Tuscany's hidden gem

Volterra: The allure of Tuscany's hidden gem

Nearby San Gimignano may be the one to which the foreign tourists flock in their thousands every summer. But there are many astute visitors who have been to this part of Tuscany and will insist Volterra, 12 miles away, is just as appealing, if not more so.

They have included the writer D H Lawrence, who decades ago – as he came here to study local Etruscan culture – described Volterra as being “on a towering great bluff that sees all the world”. Coming to this most alluring of Tuscan hilltowns, it’s clear to see what he meant.

Volterra – which like its famous neighbour San Gimignano is on the edge of the Chianti region – sits some 1,770ft above sea level, dominating the Cecina Valley below and on a clear day offering a stupendous view as far as the Tyrrhenian Sea 25 miles in the distance.

What Lawrence could have added is that it is an mouth-watering mix of Renaissance, Etruscan, Romanesque and medieval art and heritage. Its rich, eclectic history is evident, for instance, in its first century Roman theatre and baths, one of the era’s best-preserved remains in all Italy. Its original columns, stage and nearly 20 rows of seats still remain.

That rich, varied past is evident too at Volterra’s Etruscan Museum and Alabaster History Museum. Alabaster, in plentiful supply in the Cecina Valley, played a major role in ancient Volterra’s rise to prominence. By the fourth century BC the Etruscans had turned Velathri, as it was then known, into a thriving commercial centre with a population twice the present-day 11,000.

Velathri was a key exporter of minerals, alabaster and iron products to other states around the Mediterranean basin. Alabaster handicraft still thrives here and Volterra is one of Italy's best towns in which to purchase alabaster produce.

However, Volterra is best known for its walls, which completely surrounded it. Most of the structure is nearly 800 years old but some sections remain from the Etruscan era 2,400 years ago. The southern part of the walls takes in the famous Porta all’Arco gateway. A section of it dates back to Etruscan times, while the upper section was rebuilt by the Romans some 400 years later. That is still stands at all is down to local World War Two resistance fighters, who in 1944 blocked it with stones to stop it being blown apart by Nazis trying to stop the Allied advance.

Volterra’s principal attractions include:

Piazza dei Priori: This is the heart of the town. Its buildings include the 12th century Palazzo dei Priori, Tuscany’s oldest civic hall and the inspiration for Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.

The Duomo (cathedral): Backing onto the Piazza dei Priori, this Romanesque delight dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Despite its simple façade, its vast interior boasts several stunning artworks, chiefly Mino da Fiesole’s marble ciborium (1471). Its ceiling, embossed with gold and azure in the 16th century, is decorated with local saints, including St Linus, who in AD67 became Rome’s second pope.

The Baptistery: This octagonal structure, from the 13th century, lies behind cathedral. The foremost of the artworks it contains is the Sansovino white marble baptismal font from 1502.

The Medicea Fortress: A sprawling military redoubt that remains one of the most impressive ever built in Renaissance times. Constructed after the Florentine’s brutal invasion, it is still in use as a top-security prison facility.

Enjoyed this article? Then why not browse through our vast range of properties to buy in Italy?