Volterra is located in the center of a rich mining area of alabaster and other minerals: the shops of the famous place for the processing of 'alabaster Volterra el' onyx. Founded under the name of Velathri was a major Etruscan centers belonging to Dodecapoli, the Confederation Etruscan religious and cultural. During the High Middle Ages, it became an important center Lombard, but due to its reputation for mineral deposits, Volterra was virtually destroyed by the Florentines that they appropriate in mines and by 1360 it took control.
In those years after many attempts at rebellion and in 1472 Lorenzo de 'Medici and the Duke of Urbino destroy any vain attempt at independence with a terrible siege rovinante followed by looting.
Volterra, submitted in Florence, could not keep pace with the technological and commercial innovations, and in so doing become a commonplace provincial center. Remain intact cobbled streets, the imposing city walls and numerous typical medieval lanes, making it a city full of charm and history.
The heart of the city of Volterra is Piazza dei Priori, completely surrounded by medieval buildings, including the oldest: Palazzo dei Priori, built between 1208 and 1257 which, they say, perhaps served as a model for the construction of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The facade was to be definitely different from what we see today, decorated with the arms of the Florentine commissioners.
The tower was to be made of wood, unlike the present one, which was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1846. From the tower you can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area.
Entered into the Palace, you can take a look at the room City Council, on the first floor. This room, used to hearing the Board since 1257, has a beautiful wall frescoes by Jacopo di Cione depicting the 'Annunciation of 1383.
On the opposite side of the Palazzo dei Priori, you can admire the Palazzo pretorio, eclipsed by the tower of the Guinea pig, so called because of the wild boar made of stone Volterra that protrudes above the last window of tower.
Also in the square you will see the Bishop's Palace, where they hosted the grain market, and a series of tower-houses are very similar to those of San Gimignano. Inside the bishop's palace is a small Museum of Sacred Art, containing works fine as the Bust of St Lino, a glazed terracotta by Andrea Della Robbia, a reliquary made of silver and gold, a wooden tabernacle painted by Bartolomeo della Gatta and many other important works on display in three rooms.
The cathedral, also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, was consecrated in 1120 and over the years has undergone several transformations: mainly in the Romanesque style, and a small part in the Pisan style with marble striped black and white, typical of the twelfth century.
Battistero stand outside the arches carved with the heads of Christ, the Madonna and of the Apostles. Inside it is worthy of the importance water, based on an ancient funerary monument of Etruscan origin, and a baptismal font dating from 1502, designed by Andrea Sansovino.
Inside the cathedral, on the aisle right you reach the transept, which opens the Chapel of the Deposition, which stands out on valuable group in polychrome wood. Next is the Chapel of Sant'Ottavio, where it is kept the body of the saint, the patron saint of the city.
The Art Gallery is located inside the Palazzo Minucci-Solaini, near Piazza dei Priori.
Inside are preserved collections of the highest artistic value: a group of sculptures including a Romanesque capitals made of alabaster in Volterra, illustrated with some pagan symbols such as a mermaid with two tails and Daniel in the lions.
The paintings are in most of the Sienese school: a polyptych depicting the Madonna with Child and Saints, attributed to Taddeo di Bartolo, a large canvas depicting St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Peter and the prophet Isaiah.
Other paintings are of the Florentine school, with Renaissance masterpieces such as the Christ in Glory, the 1492 and the Annunciation by Luca Signorelli. The most beautiful gallery remains the extraordinary table with the Descent from the Cross painted by Rosso Fiorentino in 1521, a masterpiece of mannerism.
It is one of the most important archaeological museums of the Italian scene, with inside a range of local artefacts, among which about 600 funeral urns: made of alabaster, travertine and terracotta bas-reliefs on the sides representing the activities in the period, such as hunting wild boar or the departure of deceased to the Underworld. On the lids of the urns are portrayed in incredibly realistic bodies of the deceased.
Other exhibits are on display at the piano: the urn of the spouses, and numerous sculptures in bronze.