Volterra is perched high on a hilltop, with spectacular views in every direction. On the steep winding drive up to the town we happened upon a very cool sculpture- a giant circle that framed the picturesque hills in the distance. I later learned that it was created by Mauro Staccioli, a native of Volterra.
Many Tuscan towns were built on hilltops during medieval times, when such a position gave a defensive advantage. Steep, narrow streets are the norm, and many of these towns are still surrounded by their high city walls.
|Alabaster table in the Palazzo Viti|
Volterra is famous for another type of stone: alabaster. Inhabitants of this place have been carving alabaster since Etruscan times. The Guarnacci museum here has hundreds of cinerary urns fashioned from this stone as early as the 4th century BCE. We saw shops offering all kinds of things carved from alabaster, including lamp shades. In the Duomo there were alabaster windows that filtered in a soft dreamy light. Because alabaster is translucent, and can be cut very thin, it was used in medieval churches for small windows. We visited Volterra's Palazzo Viti, where we saw huge candelabras carved from alabaster, and rooms full of the rich furnishings that the alabaster trade afforded the family that once owned this wonderful place.
|Alabaster in Voterra: window in the Duomo, an alabaster workshop, alabaster candelabra in Palazzo Viti|
The Palazzo Viti is enormous! This long view through a number of rooms gives an idea of its size.
At the far end, framed by the last doorway, was a curious figure...a creepy blue-headed, hand-less guy with baggy purple leggings. He appeared at the end of the self-guided tour (perhaps as a warning of what would happen to sticky-fingered tourists who tried to escape with a purloined souvenir of the palazzo:) He reminds me that in recent years, Volterra has become a magnet for fans of other creepy creatures. In the popular Twilight books written by Stephanie Meyer, Volterra is the ancient city inhabited by the most powerful coven of her fictional vampires, the Volturi.