Volterra

Situated on a tall hill, Volterra is one of the oldest towns in Tuscany, it is an Etruscan settlement with finds that date back to the IX century BC. Worth a visit are: Palazzo dei Priori, the oldest public building in Tuscany and the remains of the large Roman theatre built around the birth of Christ. 

A centre of Villanovan culture in the period between IX and VII centuries BC, the ancient Velathri became, in the Etruscan period, the capital town of one of the twelve lacumonie (religious city states), surrounding itself with strong walls until the V century BC and extending throughout the hill in an area much vaster than today. 

The walls and the splendid dominating position made the town easily defendable, as proved by the fact that it was the last Etruscan centre to suffer the military and cultural domination by the Romans. In the V century Volterra was an important bishopry seat and the influence of the bishops was protracted for some centuries, until the consolidation of the town as a free Council. It was in this period that the main public buildings and the last of the city walls were constructed, a period, furthermore, characterised also by the struggle between the Guelph and Ghibelline families. It was this internal division that favoured the advent of the Florentine domination, making it an important military centre in the struggle against Siena. 

The Medici wanted also to strengthen the defensive structures by building the fortress that was to become a rather conspicuous element of the urban structure of the town. A structure that, today, shows obvious signs of all historic periods making Volterra a true open air museum. The walls and the gates are of the Etruscan period, the archaeological area with the Theatre and Roman Forum (open daily from 11am to 5pm), the Palazzo dei Priori, the Municipal Palazzo, the Cathedral, the Baptistry and the walls are from the period of the Medieval communes.

The Guarnacci museum is one of the oldest public museums in Europe: founded in 1761 when the noble abbot Mario Guarnacci (Volterra 1701-1785) gave his vast archaeological property, gathered over years of research and purchases, to the “people of the city of Volterra”. The donation – that also included a library of over 50,000 volumes – was an act of extreme farsightedness as, as well as giving the city a very important cultural instrument, avoided the danger that the vast, accumulated heritage could be lost. Guarnacci, a very erudite historian, author, among other things, of a book about the oldest inhabitants of Italy (“Le Origini Italiche”, Lucca 1767) that at the moment of publishing caused lively polemic reactions among the erudite environments, certainly had the great merit of attracting attention to Volterra from the great intellects of the time such as Giovanni Lami, Scipione Maffei, Anton Franceso Gori, who dedicated themselves to the scientific diffusion of the material of his collection via important publications and constant news on magazines such as “Le Novelle Letterarie” (Literary Tales), published in Florence by the same Lami.