The "Rocca" or Fortress in Volterra

Volterra provides an opportunity to see the remnants of three distinct, different periods in the history of these Italian hills: Etruscan, Roman, and medieval.

By the fourth century B.C., Volterra was already a busy commercial town and one of the most important of the twelve city-states that together comprised Etruria. When Rome annexed Etruria in 351 B.C., Volterra became an important city of the empire. When Rome finally fell, Volterra continued to be important locally, allied with and ruled by Florence.

The city is dominated by the Fortezza Medicea, or Medici Fortress, perched high atop a ridge. The fortress dates from the 1470's, and is named for Lorenzo de Medici who had it built. Also called "La Rocca" or "the rock", it served first as a military stronghold and later as a prison.

Behind and below the fortress you now find the Enrico Fiumi Archaeological Park. The park offers a wide grassy parkland ideal for picnicing or walking quietly. On the side away from the fortress, however, there is an archaeological site where one can see the foundations of a number of Etruscan buildings including two major temples. There are also remnants of a number of dwellings, some dating from much earlier times.

From the Etruscan ruins, there is a view of the medieval center of Volterra. To reach it, however, you must retrace your route through the park entrance and down the street outside. Entry to the medieval center is through a gate in the new city wall built in the 13th century when the city "downsized" and abandoned the larger Etruscan perimeter.

The main square in Volterra is the Piazza dei Priori. Along with the Palazzo dei Priori with its five sided tower and Florentine insignia there are a number of other buildings dating from the 10th through 14th centuries. Here also you will find the Duomo and Baptistry.

Roman Theater (foreground) and baths (background)

Just north of the city gates are the ruins which survive from Roman Volterra. There is a large ampitheater, the Teatro Roman, built in the first century B.C. Adjoining the ampitheater are the ruins of a large complex of baths. These date from approximately the fourth century A.D.

Volterra is in west-central Tuscany, just outside the western boundary of the Chianti region. It is about 45 miles southwest of Florence and only 30 miles from Siena.


Copyright 2003 Harry B. Rowe