Perched high on a Tuscan rocky hill, a small commune huddles in the skirts of ancient Etruscan walls and fortress. This is home to some of Italy’s finest Etruscan artefacts. And if are being honest, we’d never heard of the Etrusans until now, so a quick wikipedia to check out the facts. The ancient settlers migrated to Italy from Asia around 900 BC. These are the folks who taught the Romans how to build roads and looking around their work certainly stood the test of time.
In the early morning, the church bells chime and echo down the village slopes, ever shadowed by the tall, elegant cypress trees. We are enticed to climb the stone steps before the sun gets unbearable. At the base of the steps, an ancient water bath now home to nesting pigeons. After about 50 steps you are offered a choice of three paths, each taking you to a different point on the hillside. Each day we choose a different path and explored a different part of the village, hillside and its surround area.
Around 9.30 the sleepy streets begin to fill with the sound of chirpy Italian voices, purling through open windows. Buongiorno, Ciao, Bella…all sounds that just make you want to smile. I love Italy. Busy streets, a handful of market stalls, a nice mix of locals and tourists all helps creates a wonderful atmosphere.
Coffee drinkers sit outside the cafes, forking dainty little cream confectionery sprinkled with crushed amoretti.. amor cakes. I so want to join in but I daren’t, they are highly addictive and loaded with ‘get fat quick’. In the street across the square crowds mill and mooch. We wander over. A cheese shop attracts attention but the distinct aroma during mid day heat is rather pungent. Further down another small alley with various local producers selling their wares and offering free tasters. The Italians haggle with customers and gossip with locals, all at the same time. The atmosphere is buzzing.
In the square, stand in the middle and do a 360 degree turn. Nothing but fine renaissance buildings and elegant detail, I guess its the epitome of Tuscany architecture and appeal. Volterra’s streets and squares, such as the Piazza dei Priori have scarcely changed since the 16th century. Just wandering around you can spot simple clues as to when it was built. From the shape of doorways and arches, to elegant windows, all reveal the style and period of the building. The square is surrounded by wonderful buildings..the palace, town hall, piglets tower and the bishops palace to name but a few.
From the square we headed off track and down a residential street. The rampart walls of the village are thickly embedded with blue campanula flowers. Some of the houses form part ramparts with amazing views. The unique combination of stone buildings with the odd house painted in terracotta and yellows with rustic, over-hanging roofs. As you climb above the houses and look back, you appreciate the varying shades of terracotta roofs. As we walk higher we spot a rather large castle looking building. We head on over.
To reach the castle we walk through an archeological park. A lush area of grass and trees with a little bit of welcomed shade. Mac n Tosh make a bee line for a fresh water tap. To our right, a sectioned off area with a few odd lumps of rock. The information panel says its a Roman bathhouse. Its a lovely stroll through the park before we reach the ‘do not enter’ signs. The streets are lined with police cars and military signs. At first we are unsure why but then we spot the sign. Its a prison and home to some of Italy’s bad boys. The Rocca was built by the military with fine rounded bastions and grand central tower.
If you scoot to the other side of the prison via the allies to arrive at the Arco Etrusco. This is an Etruscan gateway built around the 3rd century BC. The gate was saved from destruction in WorldWar II during a battle between the partisans and the Nazis.
Half way down the street Mac n Tosh discover their first pot cat. A funny and amusing time that involved lots of barking, shuffling and bravery!
At the opposite end of the town to the Rocco lies the Roman ruins. The bath and theatre complex excavated in Volterra was built after Rome conquered the city in the 4th century BC. The area is sectioned off and it would appear access has been restricted for some time. The best views are from the cliff face up in the town.
Volterra was until now unknown to us. But now it ranks as one of our best finds in Italy…a small, walled medieval core with ooodles of Italian atmosphere. There are great views from the windswept heights, enjoyable walking, great motorbike rides and interesting Etruscan museum. The town lies at the heart of an alabaster mining region, so plenty shops sells lots of white ornaments and moulds. If you walk down some of the small alleys (just out of town) then you are sure to find small houses with converted basement workshops.
Volterra is just superb…by the way, I could stay another week but Craig is frightened we will grow roots!