(text by V.Piasta)
To know Volterra, one must come into contact with the
territory surrounding it.
The position of the town, on this hill emerging like an island from the pleasant undulation of Tuscan countryside, the rich and characteristic vegetation, the alternation of open landscapes with woods are ideal elements for different and interesting excursions.
As this guide has not any purpose to speak about extraurban itineraries amply, we shall propose only a particular route which will allow you to know and appreciate a very beautiful part of Volterra territory.
Our route begins from the «Chiesa di S. Girolamo» (St.
Go down the hill walking along a path (an ancient Roman path) winding among several farms and olive-groves, pass the small romanesque «Chiesa di S. Lorenzo» (St. Laurence's Church) and go up the slope leading to Mount Voltraio, on the spot where in the Middle Ages there was still the homonymous «Borgo».
So, starting from the «Chiesa di S. Girolamo» (St. Jerome's Church), go along the asphalted road and after going through a narrow underpass, you arrive at an iron cross, here the road forks: go on your right, along «Via Vicinale S. Cristina», leading down to the valley.
At the second turn you can already see, in the distance, the destination of your excursion: Mount Voltraio, a hillock having a very peculiar form, completely covered with trees.
As the itinerary to follow is not indicated by any sign, it is necessary for you to keep in mind some intermediate «stations»:
they can constitute precise landmarks to ask information to the people you may meet along your walk:
1) Casa Santa Cristina di Sotto;
2) Casa Santa Cristina 11;
3) Casa Pinsano or La Fornacchina;
4) Casa S. Lorenzo (with the Church), locality «Strada»;
5) Casa Fontitatti (or Ricciardi);
6) Villa Palagione, on Mount Voltraio.
After the first turn (on the right), the road forks into three different directions: go along the path in between, pass a small image of Our Lady with inscriptions (1833/1897), and walk on, towards your left, as far as you arrive at a driveway: in front of you there is «Casa Santa Cristina di Sotto».
Turn on the right and after 50 metres you reach another house, soon after a cross-roads: the road on the left leads you to a big oak-tree near a smaller chestnut.
Here leave the driveway and walk down another pass: on the slope you still find oaks, on your right olive-trees.
This road is not much frequented and here and there it is made hard by the brushwood.
Then you reach a larger road with a sandy bed (Via degli Allori), tum on the right and you arrive at «Casa Pinsano».
After passing other farms, you
find a road sign (metres 150, «give right-of-way) and soon after, on the left, a branch
leading to the farm «S. Lorenzo a Strada»,
a farm which is considered one of the most beautiful in Volterra countryside, owing to
the lay-out of its buildings and its small, nice tower-bell.
The homonymous romanesque church was documented for the first time in 1302 in the tax register («Decima») but it was built before 1300.
In the following centuries the farmer's house and all the buildings for the several animals were built around the church, so that they formed an only whole; most of the works were executed towards the half of the 18th century.
As to the church, it preserves, still today, the original romanesque characters of its structure.
In 1444 the «Ecclesia di S. Laurenti» is mentioned in other documents: the «Capitolo del Duomo» (Cathedral Chapter) stated they were disposed to put it at disposal of Franciscan Friars for the foundation of their monastery.
Yet on November 24th, 1444 they decided to build the monastero on the place where today there is the «Chiesa di S. Girolamo» (St. Jerome's Church).
Until 1842 above the altar of the «Chiesa di S. Lorenzo» (St.Laurence's Church) there was a polyptych by Alvaro Pirez: the «Madonna con Bambino tra i Santi» (Our Lady with Infant Jesus among the Saints), executed in 1423 for the «Chiesa di S. Agostino» (St. Augustine's Church). Now it is exhibited in the city's picture gallery.
The pathway goes on beyond the farm on the right, down along «Via di Fontitatti», whose block paving, most probably dates back to the times of the Romans; in the Middle Ages this path linked up Volterra to Mount Voltraio, directly.
After reaching the asphalted road 439d, turn on the left and after a few metres turn down the road on your right.
Pass the farm «Fontitatti» and go on until you reach «Villa Palagione» (built in 1598), next to it there are the chapel and other buildings. The Minucci family were the first owners, but in the 19th century it belonged to the Ricciarelli family; lately, when the whole was already going to ruin, it was bought by a group of Germans and Italians. On your way up you will also pass a small sign that leads to the beautiful holiday flat "Il Villino".
On the other side of the road, after some deserted buildings, the steep slope leading to the ruins of «Rocca di Monte Voltraio» (Mount Voltraio Fort) (about 20 minutes) begins.
The presence of the Emperor Ottone I di Sassonia (Otto I of Saxony) in this place on June 12th, 967, already witnesses the existence and the importance of the «Borgo» in a period when Volterra had not yet recovered from the devastation caused by the Hungarians in 916.
At the beginning of the 13th century, during the fierce fights between the Commune of Volterra and the Bishops of the Pannocchieschi dynasty, Mount Voltraio was attacked over and over again and destroyed.
Later on Volterra did its best to subdue it, even by taking possession of its buildings.
Only in 1252, when Mount Voltraio joined the Commune of Volterra voluntarily, a lasting peace established between the two centres.
This important date was carved out in a marble tablet by Master Ciroldo from Lugano and first it was placed on a wall near the «balco» (balcony), but today it is on the facade of Volterra Baptistery.
In 1335 the fortress was occupied by the Sianese and later it was made free again by Pietro Belforti.
After the plague of 1348 the «Borgo» depopulated completely and toward 1500 it was partly demolished by the Florentines.
Today there are only some ruins: remains of the walls, the foundation of a tower, several metres deep, and the already named «balco», which you can reach walking beyond an ideal line which joins the remains of the walls to the foundation of the tower, and crossing a small depression. It is a plateau, 4 metres wide and 56 metres long, from which you can enjoy a fine view. It was used as a defensive bastion, too. The wonder full view you can enjoy from the top of the mountain, give you a clear idea of the very good strategy position in which the ancient «Borgo» was.
The way back is just the same you went on going there. Those who do not want to walk back, can catch a bus (in the direction of Volterra) on asphalted road 439D.
Remember that on the bus there are no tickets, so it is necessary to get them at Volterra before leaving.
ritorna in cima indice di Toscana/Volterra