San Gimigano & Volterra
San Gimignano -
The well-preserved medieval town of San Gimignano, with its stately stone tower, is a big hit with kids. In the 13th century, it was a thriving commercial center, well-positioned on the trade and pilgrim routes between the Alps and southern Italy. The noble families built stone house towers, competing with each other for the most impressive, and also to defend against against invasions.
Torre Grossa and the People's Palace (Palazzo Communale)
- Start your explorations in the center of town, at the Palazzo Communale (Palazzo del Popolo). Climb up the Torre Grossa
, the biggest tower of all, for a view of the Tuscan countryside. As you walk through the13th century Palazzo Communale
, don't miss the medieval crests
in the courtyard and a really beautiful jousting knight on horseback and more crests in Dante's Hall.
Piazza dell Cisterna
- This piazza was once the commercial heart of the medieval town. Flop down on the steps of the old well, the cisterna, that dates back to 1237. Just off the square, the little Vicolo dell'Oro was once lined with goldsmith's workshops.
The old fort, Rocca
, is now a public park with trees and green space to run around, and views of the countryside.
Take a walk outside the old stone walls of the city, stopping to see the old medieval wash house, il Fonti
There are open air markets
in the Piazza del Duomo on Thursdays and Saturdays. In June, there's a medieval festival
, people dressed as knights, lords and ladies, and a knights' tournament.
Volterra might look like another medieval town, but it's much older and was once much bigger, dating back to Etruscan times, when it was called Velathri. The Romans pushed out the Etruscans, and called the city state Volterrae. The city was beseiged in the Roman civil wars, sacked by Caesar and lost a bunch of its territory. From ancient times, one reason Volterra was so popular - its valuable mining resources of iron, silver, copper and alabaster.
- Take a run around the ruins of the 1st century BC Roman theater. You can still see rows of seating, tunnel access to the seats, stage area, and fancy marble columns to stage right. Behind the theater are the baths - hot and cold, and a sauna room.
Medici Fortress (Fortezza Medicea)
- The fortress is really two forts. The Old Fortress, "Rocca Vecchia," was built on the rocky outcropping in the 14th century. After Lorenzo di Medici conquered Volterra in the 15th century, the Rocca Nuova was constructed to improve city defense, with a sturdy stone wall connecting the new and old fortress. You can't go inside the fort, but from the outside, this fortress is simply magnificent.
Old city walls
- Volterra has two sets of ancient walls - Etruscan walls, which enclosed the bigger city, and an inner wall built to defend the city in 1260. Don't the miss the Etruscan gate (Arco Etrusco)
, and other round-arch medieval gates at various points around the old town.