Just like San Gimignano, Volterra is not properly part of the Chianti territory, but due to its vicinity to the majority of the Chianti villages, it is well worth a mention and a visit. But the tourists should not expect to find here the same colours and the sweet bends of the Senese countryside, and must be prepared to plunge into a harsher and sometimes empty landscape, dominated by the fascinating (and terrible) erosions of the land (called Balze).
Volterra's fame is bound to its Etruscan origin, one of the best preserved and richest cities of whole Tuscany. Velathiri was the original name of the city, capital of one of the 12 counties which the Etruscan territory was divided into.
In the 5th century b.c., Volterra could already count on a wall belt of 7 km diameter, the widest ever to be possessed by the city, and this was the last outpost to be defeated by the Romans in year 260 b.c. This is why the city represents a fundamental archaeological Etruscan site, and the Etruscan Museum Guarnacci is one of the biggest.
Here many finds of unquestionable importance are kept: jewels, terracotta sculptures, urns in alabaster and the famous “ shade of the night”: a bronze sculpture representing a man. In the area of Vallebuona it is also possible to admire some Roman finds, such as a theatre and a spa.
Volterra experienced a great economic expansion, partly due to the extraction and processing of alabaster. In the 13th century it was an independent village, then passed under the Florentine's domain. But the vicinity of Pisa always played a big role in terms of artistic and architectural influence. The municipality period also gave Volterra another supremacy: in 1208 began the works for the construction of the Priori Palace, the first of its kind to be built in Tuscany, which will be used as a model for all the other villages. On the same square where the Priori Palace lies, stands the Bishop’s palace. Once a granary, it was successively used as the bishop’s residence since the end of the 15th century, but the bishop moved into it only two centuries later.
The Duomo lies in Piazza San Giovanni, separated from the octagonal baptistery. Inside, the cathedral is rich of art works. The wooden sculpture of the Deposition is particularly worth a visit.
Other places to see are the Sacred Art Museum, hosted by the former Canonica, the Church of San Michele, in Pisan-Romanic style, the Art Gallery and the Civil Museum.