Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Day 6: Volunteers in Volterra with a side of Pisa

"Italy and the spring and love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy."
                                                                            -----Bertrand Russell

Wisteria along the arbor of the villa. We hear bees buzzing in it all day long.
Today we slipped the surly bonds of Villa Leonidas for a visit to Volterra. I frankly had not heard of it, but followers of the vampire series will recall it is where Edward planned to take his life. (I am told. I have no idea what this means, but some of you will.) This city of 11000 people was also built by the Etruscans and has been around since at least the eighth century BC and some believe as far back as 15th century BC. It's old! As you may recall from the prior posts, the Etruscans fought bitterly against the Romans, but ultimately were defeated and enslaved. 

One of many great things about journeying to Volterra from our perch is the drive through the beautiful Tuscan landscape in the spring. It's very green and you can appreciate the rolling hills, vineyards, olive trees and rustic buildings and palazzos.

Some of our wine snob compadres: Sandy,Jim and Kim

Paul found a means of espressoing himself.
Volterra has many attractions such as the Etruscan walls, tall buildings and narrow streets with many little shops and restaurants beckoning you inside. This is another town where auto traffic is minimal.

Typical Volterra street view 

The facade of the Palazzo Priori which housed the government and the church.
There are many tourist attractions to see here including the cathedral and the government house seen  above built in 1206. Paul and I marvel how this construction could have taken place during those times with the equipment available, but then again, enslaving people was popular.

The inside of Cathedral Volterra

A grotto of the cathedral
Many of the cathedrals we have visited have lighting now, but Volterra has not gone out of their way to update most of the building. Even on a sunny spring day, the inside is dark and cold and rather uninviting. There were other attractions in the city center, but we wanted to concentrate on the Roman and Etruscan aspects in our time here,so off we went to the acropolis.

The archeological park near the acropolis. 

The remains of the Etruscan acropolis.
The acropolis is in general not very well preserved, but it was still inspiring to walk where the Etruscan's hung out 2500 years ago. This structure is just outside the medieval city walls and worth a visit. What is well preserved is the Roman cistern. This was built to supply water to a city of about 1000 people. We were asked to don hard hats to enter it. It was a voluminous and impressive structure which collected rainwater.

Paul is walking inside a very large cistern.

this gives you some idea of how big it was.

The stairs down were very narrow. Looks like DNA to me !

The opening into the cistern.

We exited here and walked to the Medici fort. We wanted to visit it, but apparently it is now a prison. No need to go to jail in Italy, thank you.
the Medici fort at Volterra. 
From here we were fortunate to have a little time to go to the Etruscan museum. It's really amazing what is there. Most of it is funerary caskets or urns with decor. We were very impressed with the volume of the urns as well as how they were preserved. 

Etruscan funery urn.

Something we noted was the usual urn was decorated with a figure holding something that was shaped a lot like a plate. We were not sure what this represented and haven't found anyone yet who can tell us.

A funery urn with two dolphins. 
We would recommend this museum as a place to see some amazing ancient art. It was well organized. No English though. 

From here we were off to lunch and we ate at da Beppino.

Lunch break

Lovely local wine.

Mauro,our guide and driver. Yes. he is actually sober.

My lunch entree--Nude ravioli
After lunch, we had two treats. One was this magnificent Roman amphitheater. Unfortunately, folks got fed to the lions here. We enjoyed seeing despite the reasons for its existence.

roman amphitheater
From here we were treated to a demonstration of work in another Volterra craft--alabaster. I did learn that alabaster is calcium sulfonate which is GYPSUM, the same stuff that makes up White Sands in New Mexico. We watched the gentleman below carve a candle holder from scratch. 

An alabaster craftsman
From here it was to the van to move to Pisa. And the views of Tuscany were great along the way.

Beautiful Tuscany

a look back at Volterra
Fro Volterra, it was approximately an hour to Pisa.

University of Pisa
I remember learning about the leaning tower in approximately the third grade.  And since then, I literally dreamed of seeing it. So today, a dream came true. I never realized the tower was the bell tower of a cathedral and that the church, baptistry and bell tower sat on one site. But I learned today. 

The leaning tower, church and baptistry. All are a little cockeyed.

He insisted
The church was beautiful as always with gorgeous ceilings and altar. They had someone playing the organ which was lovely. Great acoustics.

Pisa cathedral view.

We topped off a great day with a meal Orti di via Elisa...typical Lucca food and wine. Delicioso!

Today was amazing. Volterra was an essay in history of the region in one small  walkable city with multiple historical attractions set in the beauty of Tuscany. It was hilly for anyone who thinks they want to visit.  Viewing the tower at Pisa was a lifelong dream fulfilled. How could you not be pleased with a day like this?

Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There's no looking at a building after seeing Italy. 
                                                                         ----Fanny Burney

Paul's Ponderings:  A long but great day out....Volterra was a fabulous medieval town and then the mother of all USA 3rd grade views of the leaning tower of Pisa.   Jocularity aside, seeing the tower was pretty great, given that I figure I learned about it at least 45 years ago with respect to both the science experiments done there by Galileo but also the mere fact that the thing leans over at such a notable angle.  The other large monuments in Pisa also lean a bit, but are not as tall, ergo they are not as impressive if leaning is your point of interest!  Looking back at my poor 3rd grade memory, the tower was both more white than I expected (very white marble) but also a bit larger than I would have conjured it up from photos.   Actually it's huge and leaning fairly notably, which is awesome in person. It's also very ornate -- clearly someone spent a lot of time building this thing.  The other central monuments were also interesting, but it's hard to compete with a worldwide icon.  We are told the subsoil in the area is the reason for  the leaning -- it can't support the weight of these buildings.  Towers excluded, we had a nice ride thru this part of Tuscany to both Volterra and Pisa.  This was topped by a wonderful meal in Lucca with some local wines and great food.   A very satisfying day.   

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