Monday, February 28, 2011

Travels in Italia - Volterra

This was K's Grand Tour of Italy before returning to the U.S. I lobbied for a hill town visit as that's quintessential Italy. We picked Volterra. This would have been a great choice if (1) we hadn't had fog the entire time we were there blocking our view, and (2) Volterra weren't quite so off the beaten path. That appealed to us, and the trip to and from Volterra included a nice bus ride through the Tuscan countryside. Sadly, Volterra was actually ABOVE the clouds the whole time we were there, meaning that gorgeous view over the hills of Tuscany was completely obscured. In addition, this was the only hotel we booked on the fly, and it was horrible. Since we were only staying one night, it was fine, and since our trip was eleven nights and four hotels, having one bad seed wasn't too bad. Our hotel, Albergo Nazionale, only had two redeeming features: (1) It is quite literally, the closest hotel to the bus drop-off piazza, and (2) the view over the hills would have been incredible had it not been foggy. We were first assigned to a room that had not been touched by cleaning staff, even down to unmade and rumpled beds. We were then assigned to another room that had all the elements needed for a nice room, but was so dated and put together so poorly, that I stayed up all night long, waking from multiple nightmares of being eaten by bed bugs (to be fair, we did NOT get bitten by bed bugs at this hotel).

Despite this, the town of Volterra is a nice walking town. I think we were the only tourists in town, and this being the off season, many shops and restaurants were closed. Volterra does have a very interesting, Etruscan Arch, dating back to the 4th century B.C. It is part of the original city walls for this once important trade route city. Hard to imagine sleepy Volterra as one of the region's most important cities, but I suppose things can change in 2300 years.

The most amazing thing about Volterra is the virtually unadvertised, ancient Roman ruins that are fascinating. We could see no evidence of opening hours, the possibility to visit the ruins, or any other marketing ploys, but we were able to get great views by looking down from the old city walls. Apparently, these ruins were only discovered in the 1950s. There is an amphitheater, still containing parts of the columned stage, and our guidebook states this theater dates back to 10 B.C. There also seem to be what looks like a Forum area or perhaps some covered market stalls. We had seen some little signs on Volterra's street corners pointing the way to various sites around town, but for the most part, we just wandered around on our own. This made these ruins that much more delightful to find. We had no idea of their size, and this is one of the delights of Italy. The country is chock full of absolutely ancient ruins, and you never know what you're going to find when you turn a corner. It could be a dumpster full of garbage, an ugly, Mussolini era building, or 2000 year old ruins casting a bit of ghostly magic about the surroundings.

All in all, Volterra was a nice little break, but I was glad to move on to Siena.
A Volterra Street View
Twilight fans take note...the Volturi are from Volterra and parts of New Moon are set in Volterra. However, while a few scenes were filmed here, the majority of on-location filming was in another hill town, Montepulciano

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