The dramatic location of VOLTERRA – built on a high plateau enclosed by volcanic hills midway between Siena and the sea – prompted D.H. Lawrence to write that “it gets all the wind and sees all the world – a sort of inland island”, and indeed, you can often find seashells embedded in the paving of streets and squares. Busy but still atmospheric, the town’s walled medieval core is made from the yellow-grey stone panchino. Tourism has boomed here recently thanks to an unlikely and incongruous source: its fictional role, in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, as the home of a 3000-year-old vampire coven known as the Volturi; the tourist office proffers a walking trail of vampire-related sites.
Volterra is one of the most ancient of all Etruscan communities, and still abounds in Etruscan artefacts. Thanks both to its impregnable position, and its alabaster mines, the Etruscan settlement of Velathri survived through the Roman era and beyond. In due course, however, its isolation proved to be its downfall. Under Florentine control from 1360, Volterra failed to keep pace with changing trade patterns, and the town itself began to subside, its walls and houses slipping away to the west over the Balze cliffs, which form a dramatic prospect from the Pisa road. Today, Volterra occupies less than a third of its ancient extent.Read More
A form of crystallized chalk that has a delicate, milky texture, alabaster lends itself to the sculpture of fine, flowing lines and close ornamental detail. Even in quite large blocks, it is translucent. The Etruscans and Romans extensively mined Volterra’s alabaster for sculpting. Until the 1960s, large alabaster factories were scattered throughout the town centre, but – not least because of the quantity of dust they threw up – large-scale production was moved to outlying areas. These days, only about a dozen artisans are permitted to maintain workshops in the town centre, and Volterra’s famous art school is the only one in Europe to train students to work alabaster.