The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - CONTENTS - WORDS: ANN RICKARD

Just when I think I have a favourite Tus­can hill­top town, up comes an­other to en­chant me. I could go on like this for years, driv­ing across the re­gion com­par­ing one de­light­ful town after an­other and I’m sure there is many a trav­eller in Italy be­fore me who has done ex­actly that. San Gimignano is prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar of all the Tus­can towns – it cer­tainly draws the masses – but it is Volterra that has crept into my psy­che.

While San Gimignano could be said to be brash with its 14 tow­ers and its Palazzo Co­mu­nale, Volterra at 550m above sea level is its more re­strained cousin.

With an Etr­uscan, Ro­man, Me­dieval and Re­nais­sance his­tory it has more than its share of an­cient tow­ers and civic palaces.

The palaces are now used as mu­nic­i­pal build­ings, and in the early evenings when the lo­cals come out for pas­sig­giata, that lovely rit­ual of strolling slowly around the town, they sit out­side th­ese hand­some build­ings, adding to the melo­dra­matic tableau of the Tus­can hill­top town dream.

Volterra has a his­tory stretch­ing back to the 7th cen­tury BC. The Etr­uscans were there first but they kept no writ­ten records (ac­cord­ing to my ge­nius travel mate who stud­ies th­ese things and knows some­thing about ev­ery­thing), so much about them is a mys­tery.

How­ever, the Etr­uscan mu­seum gives a glimpse into their cul­ture and life­style with its host of pre­cious arte­facts in­clud­ing a mag­nif­i­cent dis­play of urns.

The Ro­man Theatre and baths, com­mis­sioned in the 1st cen­tury BC, and built in the Greek fash­ion, is one of the grand­est and most pre­served in Italy, and a ma­jor tourist draw­card today.

In its hey­day, the theatre could hold 2000 spec­ta­tors. Some of the orig­i­nal tiered seat­ing fol­lows the nat­u­ral con­tour of the slope and leads to the grace­ful col­umns of the an­cient baths.

The theatre ruins are mes­meris­ing and easily viewed from atop the Via Lungo le Mura del Man­dorlo.

Dur­ing our visit, a stage was be­ing pre­pared to host a jazz con­cert in the ruins that evening and we watched the work­ers as they bus­ied them­selves with equip­ment, and won­dered how the spec­ta­tors those thou­sands of years ago were en­ter­tained (prob­a­bly with Greek tragedies, my learned friend thought.)

Alabaster has long been big in Volterra. The pale and gor­geous translu­cent min­eral was used to make win­dow frames for many of Italy’s me­dieval churches.

Today there are a few out­lets in Volterra dis­play­ing alabaster pieces of ob­ject d’art and sculp­tures.

Now Volterra has drawn in­ter­na­tional fame for its as­so­ci­a­tion with the Twi­light book and movie se­ries.

Its Pi­azza del Pri­ori, clock tower, tur­rets and me­dieval ram­parts all make a fit­ting and for­bid­ding back­drop for the vam­pire tale.

At night, when the tourists have left and the cob­bled streets are empty, the town takes on a ro­man­tic gloom.

Walk­ing qui­etly on the cob­ble­stones in the shad­owy dark, sur­rounded by an­cient build­ings that hold so much his­tory and ex­ude a stately dig­nity, is spine-tingly. An overnight stay is es­pe­cially rec­om­mended.

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