The walled Etruscan town of Volterra is one of Tuscany’s most evocative hilltop towns, yet it was relatively unknown to tourists until the Twilight series, but fans might be disappointed to learn that the movie scenes were actually filmed nearly 70 miles away in Montepulciano. Volterra was one of the 12 Etruscan power centers from the 4th – 6th centuries BC and its medieval center remains one of the best preserved in all of Italy.Even still, Volterra is visited by far fewer tourists than nearby San Gimignano and worth a day trip when visiting Tuscany. Here’s our recommendations for five free things to do in Volterra:
1. Visit the Piazza dei Priori
You don’t have to be a Twilight fan (I’ve never read the books or seen the movies) to appreciate the beauty of the 13th century Palazzo dei Priori. It’s the oldest town hall in Tuscany, though the tower is not completely original. The top half of the tower was destroyed in Volterra’s last earthquake and then rebuilt in 1846.
2. Admire the Roman Theater
Located just outside the city walls, the Roman Theater was built in the 1st century AD and financed by two members of the Caecina family. Though only open March – November, if visiting in winter the theater can be viewed from a terrace inside the walled city. The vaulted corridors that served to connect the stage to the external vestibules and the remains of the porticus post scaenam, a roofed area located behind the theater, where the spectators gathered during intermission, are clearly visible from above.
We visit a lot of churches on our travels throughout Europe, and to be honest, it’s been quite a while since the interior of one really wowed us. The Duomo itself dates back to 1120 but the interior was completely modified in 1584 when the enthusiastic Bishop Serguidi was more than happy to adhere to the new reforms stated by the Council of Trent. Designed by Francesco Capriani, carved by Jacopo Pavolini of Castelfiorentino, and gilded by Fulvo della Tuccia, be sure to look up at the gilded and richly decorated colorful ceiling.
4. Window shop for alabaster
The working of alabaster is an ancient tradition in Volterra and the deposits of alabaster in the city’s surroundings are considered to be some of the most precious in the world. The numerous alabaster shops around the city are like a museum of beautiful works. Admire things like bowls, sculptures, picture frames, and boxes handcrafted by artisans still following the traditional methods of working alabaster that have been passed down through generations.
5. Pose for a picture in Porto all’Arco
The medieval wall surrounding Volterra was built in the 13th century and six gates allow entry through the wall into the center of the city. This wall was a reconstruction of the ancient Etruscan walls that once surrounded Volterra and a bit of Volterra’s Etruscan past remains at Porto all’Arco. Three lion heads carved in the stone crown the gate, though they are nearly unrecognizable in its state today.
Here a bonus item for things to do in Volterra, though not free as the other five on our list:
6. Eat Tuscan specialties at Trattoria Bada Ganzo
We randomly picked Trattoria Bada Ganzo while wandering around Volterra and looking for a place to have lunch. We couldn’t have found a better pick! The menu is filled with Tuscan specialties like pappardelle with ragu of hare and taglioni with sauce of wild boar (both are delicious!). Start out with the fondue of Volterra cheese served with crusty bruschetti and compliment it all with a liter of the house Tuscan red wine.
Via Dei Marchesi 13, Volterra
What are your favorite things to do in Volterra?