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.