The origins of Volterra (the Etruscan Velathri, the Roman Volaterrae) date back to prehistoric times. The first Italic inhabitants gave way to a more enterprising population – the Etruscans – who, towards the end of the 8th century B.C. settled on the high hill and in the Volterra area, creating on of the most powerful states of their confederation.
The Etruscans were replaced by the Romans. Then, as the centuries went by, the destiny of Volterra became linked to the fortunes of the cities of Florence, Lucca and Pisa.
The town of Volterra is dominated by the Cyclopean Fortress used as a jail. The Dungeon is made up of the Old Fort (1300) and the New Fort (1400).
Piazza dei Priori is the heart of Volterra, surrounded by illustrious buildings such as Palazzo Vescovile, Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Pretorio.
Palazzo dei Priori dates back to the 13th century and houses a picture gallery with masterpieces by Luca Signorelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and other important artists.
The cathedral, the facade of which is attributed to Nicola Pisano, offers numerous paintings by Tuscan artists, a Madonna by Jacopo della Quercia, a marble tabernacle by Mino da Fiesole, a fresco by Gozzoli and a 13th century pulpit.
Many buildings in Volterra are antique and impressive. As one walks through the town's streets one breathes the air of the past.
Don't miss Porta all'Arco, a grandiose piece of evidence of Etruscan Volterra. The thresholds are original, as are the three large heads that were put back in place by the Romans when they readapted the arch. The most likely hypothesis is that the three figures are supposed to represent the Etruscan custom of beheading the enemy.
Also worth visiting is the Roman theatre with two orders of steps and numerous Corinthian capital columns.
The numerous museums include the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum, one of the most complete in Italy. It houses about 700 funeral urns made of alabaster and tuff, ceramic vases, bronzes, ivories, glassware, jewellery and coins.