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Things to do in Volterra, guide to visit Volterra

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The marvelous Volterra in the province of Pisa

Volterra is an outstanding town in the province of Pisa located about thirty kilometres from San Gimignano and Colle di Val d’Elsa. Volterra experienced a period of extraordinary brilliance in Etruscan times when it was one of the twelve City States which constituted the Etruria. We think that between the 5th and the 4th centuries before Christ, Velhatri (the etruscan name of Volterra) had already 25.000 citizens! A huge number if you consider the historic period and the current population of Volterra (little more than 10.000 residents). In this period Volterra had its first defensive wall, broader (about 7 km) than that of medieval times. In the third century b.C. Roma took control over Volterra. As we will see, also this period was very fruitful from an architectonic point of view.

During the Middle Ages and also in the modern age, the city continued to be enriched with new constructions. In particular, with the birth of the medieval town, Volterra received the new city walls and saw the building of some of the main monuments such as the Duomo and the Palazzo dei Priori. When, in 1472, the town was conquered by Lorenzo il Magnifico, a new fortress (the Rocca Nuova) was created near the previous one (Rocca Vecchia).

What to see in Volterra

Let’s start with our itinerary for visiting Volterra. I warn you that one day isn’t enough for visit accurately a town like Volterra, this itinerary is very long and it takes two or three days at least. If you decide to visit all the attractions in town, I suggest to get the “Volterra Card” to save some money.

Things to do in Volterra, itinerary for the visit

Our tour in Volterra starts in the area just north of the city centre, an area where are some of the main parking lot as the Vallebona’s one, the Bastione and the Docciola. In particular, we start from the last one (Docciola).

Guide to visit Volterra, main places to see:

Porta and fonte di Docciola

From the parking we can see the first part of the imposing  city walls of Volterra and the Porta di Docciola (a city gate). Just beyond the city gate we can find the big fonte di Docciola (1245) and a pleasant stairway rising up through the trees to the city centre.

Fonte di Docciola in Volterra
Fonte di Docciola (Photo by Carlo grifone / CC BY)

Piazzetta San Michele

At the end of the stairway, turn right in via di Sotto to get to the piazzetta di San Michele. Here we can begin to savour the atmosphere of the medieval town of Volterra. On our right we can see the Chiesa di San Michele, documented since the tenth century, and on the left the casa-torre Toscano. Is possible to visit the tower and, I don’t know about you, but when I get a chance to get up on a tower, I always do it!

Opening hours: 10.00-12.30 and 15.30-17.30

Ticket: 2 euro

Things to do in Volterra Casa-Torre Toscano in Volterra
Casa-Torre Toscano (Photo by Carlo grifone / CC BY)

Area Archeologica di Vallebuona

The archaeological area of Vallebuona, accessible from via Guarnacci, takes us back in time to the Roman era. This outstanding archaelogical site, also visible from via Lungo Le Mura del Mandorlo, presents some very interesting structures as the thermal baths (4th century a.C.) and the amazing roman theatre (first century a.C.) that is one of the most beautiful and best preserved of its kind. The theatre, discovered with the thermal baths in the fifties thanks to the excavation managed by Enrico Fiumi, is opem from march to november and often is used for events and concerts.

Address: via Francesco Ferrucci

Opening hours:
14 March – 1 November: 10.30-17.30
2 November – 30 November: saturday and sunday 10.00-16.30
1 December – 8 January: 10.00-16.30
9 January – 13 March: saturday and sunday 10.00-16.30
New year’s Day: 12.00-16.30

Tickets: regular 5 euro; reduced and groups 3 euro

Web site for events and concerts

Things to do in Volterra: The roman theatre in the archaeological area of Vallebuona in Volterra
The roman theatre in the archaeological area of Vallebuona

Palazzo Viti

Now back on our steps to get to Palazzo Viti in via dei Sarti. This big noble palace from the 16th century today is a house museum where is exposed the collection of Giuseppe Viti, traveller and alabaster merchant , who bought the palace in 1850. The exhibition runs through 12 rooms furnished with fine furniture, paintings, and other works that have maintained their original layout.

Address: via dei Sarti 41

Opening hours:
16 March – 1 November: 10.00-13.00 and 14.30-18.30
2 November – 15 March: only on reservation

Tickets: regular 5 euro; reduced 3 euro

Web site

Pinacoteca and Museo Civico di Volterra

The civic museums of Volterra are housed inside the palazzo Minucci-Solaini since the 1982 when the artworks coming from the Galleria Pittorica Comunale and from other institutions were joined. The quality and the reputation of the exposed artworks make the Museum a stage almost essential in visit to Volterra. Among the many masterpieces I want to mention the Taddeo di Bartolo‘s il polyptych Madonna con Bambino in trono e Santi , the Rosso Fiorentino‘s Deposizione and the Luca Signorelli‘s Annunciazione.

Address: via dei Sarti 1

Opening hours:
March-November: 9.00-19.00
November-March: 10.00-16.30

Tickets: regular 8 euro; reduced and groups 6 euro

Ecomuseo dell’alabastro

One of the most important productive activity in this zone is the extraction of the alabaster. A thriving business since Etruscan times which today is dedicated a museum located inside torre Minucci. The Ecomuseo dell’alabastro traces the history of the manufacture and marketing of Alabaster in the centuries. The tools used in machining and many works made with this material are exposed inside the museum.

Address: via dei Sarti

Opening hours:
March-November: 9.30-19.00
November-March: 10.30-16.30

Tickets: the same ticket of the Pinacoteca

Cappella della Croce di Giorno

From the Ecomuseo dell’alabastro take via del Mandorlo then turn right into via Ricciarelli and go ahead in via San Lino. Down the road stands one of the city gates, porta San Francesco, while on the right, overlooking a tree-lined square,we find the chiesa di San Francesco and the cappella della Croce di Giorno.

The chapel is an apsidal space that was entirely frescoed in 1410 by Cenni di Francesco and Jacopo da Firenze. The cycle of frescoes is about the legend of the Holy Cross and the stories of Jesus.

Piazza dei Priori

Now get back to via Ricciarelli in the direction of Piazza dei Priori. Along the road we can admire the beautiful case-torri dei Buonparenti. The two buildings (12th century) are located next to each other and are connected by a small corridor. A little further on, we finally reach the main square of the old town.

The big and beautiful piazza dei Priori is closed in every side from imposing palaces that represented the power in the city starting from the 12th century. Coming from via Ricciarelli, to our right is the Palazzo vescovile, originally it was a public granary and was used as the residence of the Bishop only since 1472. To our left, the palazzo Incontri occupies the entire northwest side of the square. Clockwise is the huge Palazzo pretorio. Once the seat of the capitano del popolo, this Palace is a combination of multiple structures on which it stands, to the right, the tower of the Podestà. On the other short side of the square is the castellated palazzo del Monte Pio and finally on the same side of the Bishop’s Palace, the palace with the same name of the square: Palazzo dei Priori.

Things to do in Volterra Palazzo Pretorio Torre del Podestà
Palazzo Pretorio and palazzo del Monte Pio

Palazzo dei Priori

The palace, built between 1208 and 1254, is the oldest among the town halls in Tuscany. The facade is adorned by the coats of arms of the Florentines commissioners and has an high bell tower (rebuilt in 19th century), from which you can enjoy a great view. Despite being the home to some municipal offices, the building is partially open to the public. In particular it is possible to visit the sala del Consiglio and the sala della Giunta on the first floor and other rooms on the top floor in addition to the aforementioned Tower.

Opening hours:
March-November: 10.30-17.30
November-March: 10.00-16.30

Tickets: regular 5 euro; reduced and groups 3 euro

Web site

Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra
Palazzo dei Priori (Photo by Etienne / CC BY)

Duomo and Battistero

At the end of the tour in piazza dei Priori, we can go to the nearby piazza San Giovanni to visit the Cathedral and the Baptistery.

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta was consecrated in 1120 and enlarged in the mid 13th century. Romanesque style outside, late Renaissance style inside that was extensively rebuilt during the 16th century. Along the three naves and in the chapels are located many artworks such as the Deposizione (1228) and some works by Mino da Fiesole and Andrea della Robbia.

The Cathedral of Volterra
The Cathedral of Volterra (Photo by Wikipedia / CC BY)

The Battistero was built in the second half of the 13 century in front of the Cathedral. It is an octagonal building adorned with white and green marble bands. Inside, look at the ancient baptismal fonts, one of those was made by Andrea Sansovino (1502).

Porta all’Arco

From piazza San Giovanni we can quickly get to Porta all’Arco (at the end of via Porta all’Arco). This city gate is part of the Etruscan walls (4th century b.C.) and preserves the original jambs and other original parts while the bow and the three heads are the work of the Romans.

Porta all'Arco in Volterra
Porta all’Arco (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Acropoli etrusca

The Etruscan Acropolis is located on top of the Hill on which also stands the fortress and is part of the parco Enrico Fiumi. To access the park you should take via dei Marchesi (from di via Porta all’Arco) and via di Castello. Some archaeological excavations unearthed in this area some temples and also a complex system of cisterns.

Address: Parco di Castello

Opening hours:
14 March – 1 November: 10.30-17.30
2 November – 30 November: saturday and sunday 10.00-16.30
1 December – 8 January: 10.00-16.30
9 January – 13 March: saturday and sunday 10.00-16.30
New year’s Day: 12.00-16.30

Tickets: regular 5 euro; reduced and groups 3 euro

The Fortress of Volterra seen from the Parco Enrico Fiumi
The Fortress of Volterra seen from the Park “Enrico Fiumi”

Museo di Arte Sacra di Volterra

After you have enjoyed the Park, you can take vicolo Ormanni to get to the Museo di Arte Sacra recently redesigned inside the chiesa di Sant’Agostino. In addition to the objects pertaining to Saint Augustine, are paintings, reliquaries, furniture and furnishings from the Cathedral and other churches of Volterra. The site chosen for the Museum allow us to appreciate all these works in their “natural habitat”.

Address: piazza XX Settembre

Opening hours:
Thursday: 14.00-18.00
Friday, saturday and sunday: 11.00-18.00

Tickets: regular 5 euro; families 10 euro; students and groups 3 euro; free for residents

Museo etrusco Guarnacci

Taking via Don Minzoni we quickly reach palazzo Desideri-Tangassi, where is the Museo etrusco Guarnacci. The Museum originated from works collected, and then donated to the city of Volterra, by the Abbot Guarnacci during the 18th century. Created in 1761, this is one of the oldest public museums in Europe. Its big archaeological collection is made by findings ranging from the Neolithic to the Roman period. It’s a huge amount of works from original collection has grown over time as a result of new discoveries and acquisitions.

Address: via Don Minzoni 15

Opening hours:
March-November: 9.00-19.00
November-March: 10.00-16.30

Tickets: regular 8 euro; reduced and groups 6 euro

The Fortezza Medicea

We are moving finally towards the final stage of this marathon in Volterra: the Fortezza Medicea. The fortress is located in a dominating position on the town just east from the Etruscan Acropolis. The majestic military complex is composed of two distinct structures: the Rocca Antica and the Rocca Nuova (old fort and new fort). The two forts are connected by a double curtain wall.

The Rocca Antica, located near porta a Selci, was built in 1342 by Walter of Brienne duke of Athens and then modified by Lorenzo il Magnifico. This is a trapezoidal building completed by a large semi-elliptical tower known by the nickname “la Femmina”. The Rocca Nuova was built between 1472 and 1475 by Lorenzo il Magnifico after the conquer of Volterra, as a tool for control of the city. This new fort is a large square building with four corner tower and a high central tower, the Torre del Mastio.

The Fortezza Medicea is not open to public because it is used as a jail, therefore we can to see it only from outside.

Porta a Selci and a tower of the fortress in Volterra
Porta a Selci and a tower (Photo by Vittorio Cucini / CC BY)

Volterra Card

Who want to visit many of the museums in Volterra should consider the idea of buying the Volterra Card. It is a cumulative ticket that last 72 hours allowing the access to the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci, the Pinacoteca, the Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro, the Palazzo dei Priori, the Acropolis and the Roman Theater.

Rates of Volterra Card are:
Regular: 14 euro
Family (2 adults + 2 under 16): 22 euro
Reduced (from 6 to 16 years, over 60, Coop and TCI members): 12 euro
Groups of adults (min 15): 10 euro
Groups of students (min 15): 6 euro
Under 6: free

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