Posted by: debrakolkka | July 22, 2011

Have you been to Volterra?

the hilltop town of Volterra

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.

great views of the Tuscan countryside from the town

At the top of the town is a large park with Rocca Nouva looming above.

Rocca Nuova overlooks the park

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.

Torre Buonparenti

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.

Piazza dei Priori

Piazza dei Priori

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.

inside the Palazzo dei Priori

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 door to  Duomo S. Maria Assunta

the door to Duomo S. Maria Assunta

decoration on the front of the church

the bell on top of the church

the bell on top of the church

the font in the baptistry

the font in the baptistry

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.

the marble pulpit

the marble pulpit

frescoes inside the church

frescoes inside the church

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.

the Deposition from the 13th century

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.

the Roman ruins

the partly reconstructed stage of the theatre

It is not possible to walk around the ruins, but there is a very good viewing area quite close.

the seating for the theatre

The whole area must have been incredible. Those Romans knew how to look after themselves.

the remains of the bath house

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.

Ristorante Enoteca del Duca

Volterra is a great place to just wander. Remember to look up, the buildings have some wonderful decorations.

I would love to know who this was

I would love to know who this was

I would like this on the front of my place

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.

a children's window?

a children’s window?

the side of a Volterra house

the side of a Volterra house

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.

the talented tree


  1. hehe the tree man is as you say, not something you see every day! 😛

    • He was amazing. It was obviously quite tiring as he had to take lot of breaks to take his branches off for a while.

  2. No I haven’t been to Volterra but it looks divine! I must hit you up for all the inside knowledge next time I (hopefully) go to Tuscany. I think you could spend a great amount of time combing through the city – and yes, the tree playing a saw was a surprise (usually it’s the other way around!).

    • Let me know if you go to Tuscany and I will give you lots of tips. It truly is beautiful. Did you see the post the other day on driving through Tuscany?

  3. Yes been there has reputation as being a windy place. There are some lovely black and white striped marble exteriors on the churches, did you see them?

    • It wasn’t windy when we visited, but as it is high on a hill that is always possible. We saw a bit of striped marble about.

  4. Volterra seems so beautiful and interesting too. Especially to be at the hill, I can imagine the view… The houses as always fascinating me. But what I liked most, the talented tree! It was amazing. Thank you dear Debra and Liz, Have a nice day, with my love, nia

    • I loved the tree too. People are amazing aren’t they?

  5. Yes I have been to Volterra, sadly though arrived very late in the afternoon and only had a few hours to wander before heading back to where I was staying. I saw the prison and thought what a strange place to have one, do you think it is still used? The views are amazing from on high, I managed to get some lovely pictures. I know I keep saying this but one day, I really must go back to this area.

    • I don’t know about the prison. We could see no activity there at all.

  6. We have been to Volterra a few times and, just as you say, it is a great place to visit. It used to be very calm before and with only a few tourists; unfortunately, it has become very prominent, particularly amongst young people because it is part of the “Vampires” (Twilight, etc.) saga as the birth place of the vampire’s royal family, the Volturis…!!!! Strange things do happen!
    Regarding the bust, I do not know who he is exactly; however, he is a member of the Medici family. Look at the nose and also the grand collar of the Order of St Stephen (created by Cosimo I of Medici), You will recognize the cross which you also find in the Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Church of St Stephen in Pisa.
    Volterra is worth a visit. Highly recommended. And I love your photo of the “talented tree”.

    • We loved our day in Volterra and the musical tree was a bonus.

  7. No, but I would love to go, what a wonderful tour – I don’t know when I will get to go away again so your posts are a breath of fresh air!

    • Thank you. I’m sure you would love Volterra.

  8. Good lord, I didn’t realise that the ‘talented tree’ was actually a busker – how fantastic.

    • Yes, that tree was playing music on that saw!

  9. That busker looks incredible! Every time I read one of these posts, I start adding to the list of places I need to go in Italy!

    • You will enjoy Volterra, I’m sure.

  10. Oh yes we did go there!! Such a lovely town, and such a steep walk, as we didn’t know about that car park near the main gate so walked up a million steps on one side of the town. But so much to see there! Volterra is famous for its alabaster and there are some absolutely nmagnificent carves plates and statues if this lustrous stone. I bought a beautiful plate, carved with flowers in caramel and white. There are some glass cases up that main street showing examples of the best work. The town is also well known because it as the larges Etruscan Museum in Italy, but the one in Chiusi is extremely well laid-out with everthing labelled so well. But the beautiful statue of the Ombra Della Sera is here and he is stunningly beautiful. Did you manage to see him at all? I loved Volterra!! Thanks for reminding me how lovely it was!

    • We have learned to drive up as close as possible to the top of these hilltop towns. If there is no car parking we can always go back down until we find it, but it often saves a long hard walk. I didn’t see the Ombra della Sera which means we simply have to go back. I have seen lots of copies, but that is not the same. Thanks for the tip.

  11. Haven’t been there but what a beautiful looking place. I just showed Monkey boy the busker and he was unconvinced there was a real man under there.

    • He was definitely a man, I saw him without his branches.

  12. We have a playing tree man in Lucca too!

    • I haven’t see him in Lucca. Perhaps he is just there is summer.

  13. The day I was there was windy and cold. Stopped in L’Encontro for a hot chocolate. Their drinking chocolate was one of the best I’ve had in Italy. I’m interested in everything Etruscan so Volterra could not be missed.

    • We plan on making it a regualr place to visit. It is not far from Bagni di Lucca and is such a nice day out.

  14. We loved Volterra. It was lovely to see it again but this time on your wonderful blog. We do enjoy it so.

  15. […] Asciano   Click here to see more of the spectacular drive to Asciano and here to see Pienza and here to see Volterra.   Our house in Vergemoli is coming along, thanks to our lovely builders.   what […]

  16. Thanks for the post Debra. Lovely to see one of our favourite tuscan towns.

  17. […] have visited Volterra before and you can see the post here. It is worth going back to look at the post just to see the clever tree. The town is well worth […]

  18. Wow. That tree was something! I haven’t been to Volterra yet but heard so much..

  19. Yes, once spent a week there in a rented apartment. Loved it. Lots of interesting villages to visit closeby.

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