Dwight Peck's personal website

Two weeks in Piemonte and Tuscany

in northwest Italy's worst weather in yonks

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

We're spending eight days in Lucca, with time built in for sightseeing in the region. So now we've moved on for . . .

An afternoon visit to Volterra

We've just been dashing all round San Gimignano, and now we're pulling into Volterra, 30-odd kilometres to the west over the Tuscan hills.

Characteristically, we've snuck in round the wrong end of town, the Porta a Selci, just under the Medici Fortress but a long march to the city centre.

Volterra's certainly got antiquity going for it -- the question for me (Kristin's been here before) is how much of it is left. Built on top of a Neolithic village, the Etruscans had an important presence here; it was one of the Etruscan Twelve-Cities League, and it's said that the city site has been continuously occupied since the 8th century B.C.

This is the huge Fortezza Medicea, can't wait. Oops. It's presently a practicing prison, with "no photo" warnings all over the place (and a popular restaurant run by prisoners). The present city walls were mostly built in the 1260s, but the so-called Medici Fortress was built in 1342 by Walter of Brienne, the "Duke of Athens", then briefly the signore of Florence, and then upgraded by Lorenzo Medici the Magnificent in 1475, after the sacking of the city in 1472.

A disused church. Volterra came under Roman influence with the rest of Rome's northward expansion through the Etruscan homelands; Scipio Barbatus fought an indecisive battle against the Etruscans here in 298 BC, in the first year of the Third Samnite War, and the city sided with the Romans in the Punic Wars. It's said to have been besieged for two years by Sulla and captured from supporters of the Younger Marius in 80 BC.

By the Augustan period, ca. 0 BC, there were a huge theatre, baths, aqueducts, and what not else, but amongst these Roman survivals, there are still portions of the Etruscan-era city walls remaining now. (The Guarnacci Etruscan Museum is raved about, but closed whilst we were there.)

A non-partisan war memorial to everybody who died, on whatever side, in the Piazza 20th September

The ubiquitous Museum of Torture, bustling in summertime

Volterra must have been Christianized quite early -- St Linus, called Peter's Successor and the second Bishop of Rome, is said to have been born here, but the first Bishop who's recorded here is Eucharistus, who was thrown out by the then-Pope in 495. But it was evidently the centre of a large episcopal diocese by the 5th century AD and we've seen, earlier today, that the Bishops of Volterra dominated San Gimignano politically and economically from the mid-10th to the early-13th centuries.

The Via Gramsci (which suggests that there's been a Marxist government here at least at some point).

After centuries under the dominance, or protection, of its bishops, Volterra was absorbed into Florence's sphere of influence in the 1360s, not without a certain amount of bad feelings -- rebellions against unpopular rule got the city sacked by the Florentines in 1472 and again in 1530 -- and thereafter it was part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until it elected to join the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont and a unified Italy in 1860.

The restaurant Don Beta on the Via Giacomo Matteotti

Street scene: the Via Matteotti (named after the prominent anti-fascist martyr)

The Torre Toscano (from 1250), with an idle loafer

The Restaurant Da Beppino on Prison Street (Via delle Prigioni), leading towards the Cathedral

But we're headed up the Via dei Sarti to the picture gallery, the pinacoteca in the Palazzo Minucci; rushing against the clock.

Too late, we've missed the art gallery. We proceed.

The Divino in Veritas wine bar, in Piazza Minucci next to the pinacoteca, leading to the workshops of the Rossi alabaster company (alabaster is a major product of the region)

Up the alley on the left -- we hear shouts and laughter.

The city centre: the Piazza dei Priori, with the Palazzo dei Priori, now the city hall, backed onto the cathedral (in stripes), with a fire truck at the ready! And the tourist office on the right.

The Palazzo dei Priori, dating from 1239, with della Robbia heraldic arms of Florentine governors across the front and flanked by the symbolic lions of Florence on little shelves, added in 1472

-- Let's roll!

Presumably all pre-planned and consensual, and insured

On the left, the Palazzo Pretorio, and the city's first tower, called the Tower of the Little Pig (the pig sticks out up near the top of the tower); originally the residence of the podestà and the Captain of the People, or local militia commander.

The Palazzo Incontri, now the Savings Bank of Volterra, formerly a seminary

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, or Duomo of Volterra, dates from the rebuilding in 1120 of an earlier church that was destroyed in an earthquake three years earlier. It was dedicated as the bishop's seat after the Florentines destroyed the original cathedral during their sacking of the city in 1472. The stonework came from the town's Roman theatre.

The nave in a Romanesque Latin cross configuration, with side chapels, and with lots of Renaissance improvements

There are several good works by Andrea della Robbia, and a terracotta life-size set of Holy Family figures by his son Giovanni della Robbia that didn't photograph well in the dim light.

The pulpit with the Last Supper relief and nasty little lions at the base are from the 12th century

The ubiquitous "lions eating people" motif again

The nave and altar again

We'll leave on a happy note.

The cathedral belltower dates from 1493, replacing an earlier one that fell down.

The octagonal Baptistry of San Giovanni, from the 13th century, stands just outside the Cathedral's front door. They must have been running out of that attractive striped black and white marble fairly early on.

The font and statue of John the Baptist date from the mid-18th century

Kristin awaiting the rapture

The baptistry again

Views of the suburbs

Don't Look Now.

Next to the cathedral, this is a small museum of the organization La Misericordia di Volterra, dating from 1291, and including . . .

. . . photos of some of their ambulances over the years.

Street scene alongside the cathedral

Fire trucks in repose -- with an insistent bzzz-bzzz-bzzz overhead that is disconcerting and stressful . . .

. . . just think how the Pakistanis and Yemenis feel. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz all day long. Stressful.

Bzzz. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz. We can find you anywhere!

The cathedral belltower

The remains of the Roman Theatre from the city walls

The Via Lungo le Mura del Mandorlo (but no almond trees), above the theatre

There's not much left of it, but the excavations are ongoing, so we have that to look forward to.

Street scene

A last look at hilltop Volterra as we head north towards the autoroute around Pisa, and back to Lucca in time for dinner.

Lucca by night. Tomorrow: Prato

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 9 December 2014.

Piemonte and
Nov. 2014