Saturday, 3 May 2014

Volterra, Italy

Here a little bit more from our Italian trip to Tuscany. From Pisa airport we set the course to Volterra and a little bit of culture. (I hope you notice that we start with the culture and not the food and wine!)  I have already told you what I expected from this city but alas, the shooting of New Moon was not done here. It was rather clear from the beginning although I think that the landscape going up to the town might have been the place. A long stretching plain, at this time of the year, entirely green and blooming.

The town was an important centre already in the Etruscan times. The name in Etruscan is Velathri or Felathri). It is believed that this place was inhabited during the Roman Age as early as the end of the 8th century BC. In the 5th century AD it was a bishop's residence and the religious important continued during the 12th century. When the episcopate went into decline, Volterra became interesting to the Florentines who conquered them. The Florentines were an oppressive power and not always popular and occasionally rebellion occurred. In 1530, when the Florentine Republic fell to the Medici family, Volterra came under their control and their history was then connected to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

Today it is a little bit of a sleepy town, at least in the beginning of April. The narrow streets are lined with shops, restaurants, cafes and wine shops. We slowly walked up to the Piazza dei Priori, where the old Palazzo dei Priori is now the present day Town Hall, designed by Richard of Como (Maestro Riccardo). The work began in 1208 and the Hall was finished in mid 13th century. Continuing over the square and following one of the small, narrow streets on the other side of the square we ran into the Palazzo Viti. Once a grand palace it is still today inhabited by descendants of the first Viti merchant. Twelve rooms are open to the public and you it is a pleasant walk around the grand rooms which was once visited by kings and princes. They are filled with porcelains, alabaster collection, paintings, books, furniture representing European and Oriental art from 15th to the 20th centuries. Luchino Visconti used the palace as a film location for 'Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa' ('Sandra') featuring Jena Sorel and Claudia Cardinale. The film won the Venice Festival's Golden Lion.

Volterra also features in other fictional work than New Moon. Stendahl had a famously disastrous encounter in 1819 with his beloved Countess Mathilde Dembowska; she recognised him there although he had disguised himself in new clothes and green glasses (! that would attract attention if nothing else!). She was furious (I don't know the background, but it sounds interesting enough to venture into!) It seems he used this incident in one of his books; On Love. Volterra is also the place where Italian author Valerio Massimo Manfredi puts the story of his novel Chimaira.

Upon leaving it is suitable to go to the view point to have a good view over the ruins of the Roman Theatre fronm the 1st century BC which was excavated in the 1950s as well as over the Tuscan landscape. Upon driving down from the village if you turn around you can admire the Etrucsan walls, including the well-preserved Porta dell'Arco from 3rd-2nd centuries BC and the Porta Diana gates.

Roman theatre and view over
the Tuscan landscape

The Etruscan Wall

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