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  • We're in Volterra which is one of the most attractive of all the Tuscan walled towns.

  • It's amazingly preserved.

  • The town is about a thousand years old and the buildings we see today easily date back

  • to the Middle Ages and the earliest foundations of Volterra go back to the Etruscan days,

  • nearly 3000 years ago.

  • There was an Etruscan town here and it was one of the main dozen Etruscan towns in what

  • is today Tuscany and eventually was conquered by ancient Rome.

  • That was about 300 BC and the Romans ruled for that era until about 500 A.D. and then

  • comes the Middle Ages, and later occupation by Florence.

  • Back in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, 1400s, there was a lot of rivalry between

  • the city states, and Volterra was actually an autonomous city, state.

  • It has a marvelous wall around it, which is beautifully preserved today.

  • It goes for about 3 miles all around the city, preserving the stone historical gem intact.

  • It's mostly pedestrian zone when you're in the old town.

  • The residents live in the old town and they all work here.

  • It's a great tourist center, and yet it's a little bit off the beaten track of tourists.

  • You can't get here by train.

  • You can get here by bus, so it's so for example about a two-hour bus ride away from Florence

  • direct buses maybe five times a day.

  • So it's certainly feasible if you are staying in Florence for a couple of days or in Siena,

  • you can get over the Volterra, and you would really be delighted to see how beautiful this

  • town is.

  • And of course there's a whole bunch of restaurants, there's pizzerias, snack shops, coffee shops,

  • lots of little stores.

  • One of their specialties here is alabaster, and earlier they had a lot of alabaster mines

  • which are actually still in operation today.

  • And the shops sell this very fine thin white stone alabaster, and they make plates out

  • of it and bowls, lampshades, little figurines.

  • Earlier in the history of Volterra a different mineral was important.

  • It was alum, A-L-U-M alum, and that was used for setting the die in textiles.

  • That was very important in Florence, which was a great textile center and one of the

  • reasons why Florence under the Medici wanted to control Volterra, and so they did, they

  • conquered it.

  • Lorenzo the Magnificent sent the Duke of Urbino over here with his troops and massacred some

  • civilians in Volterra and subdued them, and then paid them a little pittance as a reward

  • to keep them in line and for several hundred years, Florence dominated Volterra.

  • There's a handful of very charming small hotels within the walls of Volterra in the old town.

  • We're staying at one called La Locanda, it is quite nice, and there are three or four

  • other significant hotels and then some tiny ones and some bed-and-breakfasts, pensiones,

  • so you can find places to stay.

  • If you are here during the busy season, of course, you want to be sure to make reservations.

  • We are here in the off-season, it's November, which is really a lovely time to be traveling

  • in Italy.

  • Temperatures are nice and there are very few tourists around.

  • Most attractions are open, some are closed, some restaurants are closed, and attractions

  • to have somewhat limited hours, but November is wonderful to be here.

  • The availability of hotel rooms is no problem.

  • You can get a table in a good restaurant without worrying, and you don't see many crowd.

  • You have the town all to yourself, shared with the locals.

  • Volterra, put that on

  • your map.

  • We'll be taking a look at Volterra with a local guide, Annie, who is quite famous in

  • the area as one of the premier local tour guides in Volterra, and Annie is going to

  • be showing us the town.

  • Volterra is Tuscany's oldest continuously inhabited town.

  • That's why it's such a great place for history lovers, but it's also, it's also

  • a town that has a very vibrant local community.

  • It's not a big town, it's not a big city, it's more than a village.

  • But it's just, it's got so much going for it today as it did in past centuries.

  • Volterra has been inhabited since at least 1500 BC, that time when central Italy was

  • inhabited by a people called the Villanovans.

  • Later in the eighth century BC, they would be more or less replaced by the slightly more

  • famous Etruscans.

  • Now the Etruscans and Tuscans are not the same thing, but Tuscany doesn't get its name

  • from these ancient inhabitants of the region.

  • They were pre-Romans, although they do kind of develop together with Rome, but they're

  • doing some of the world's most magnificent gold jewelry.

  • Not to mention many other cultural productions at a time when Romulus and Remus were basically

  • being suckled by the she-wolf on the banks of the Tiber River.

  • And Volterra would become one the, one of the 12 Etruscan city-states and one of the

  • most powerful and populous.

  • By the fourth century BC, Etruscan Volterra counted a population of about 20,000 people,

  • which is astonishing, I mean it's larger than Rome for almost a century.

  • And it also means that Volterra in the Etruscan period had a lot more people in it than it

  • does today.

  • So today, we're officially 12,000 people, but that counts people like me who live in

  • the countryside, whereas in centuries past, they'd only count the people living inside

  • the city walls.

  • It would make Volterra today 5000 to 6000, compared to 20,000 back in the fourth century

  • BC.

  • This piazza that we' re in, Volterra's main square, is called Piazza dei Priori.

  • It has been the center of civic life, since as long as anyone can remember.

  • The oldest building in the square is the Tower of the Piglet, the Tore del Porcellino.

  • We don't know exactly when it was built, but we know when it was constructed it was

  • originally used as a residence for a private noble family, like so many of the house towers

  • built in Tuscan towns in that period.

  • So, San Gimignano, Volterra, Florence, Pisa, they all had house towers such as this.

  • What we do know is that in 1226, halfway through the construction of the town hall building,

  • the Palazzo dei Priori, the town government was so fed up with waiting for the construction

  • to finish, that they bought the tower from the family had previously owned it.

  • And it's in that tower that would hold their government meetings, until of course their

  • palace was completed.

  • Now, it's a mystery to us as to why there is a piglet up there.

  • Historians have investigated the old families that have owned, in the research, you know

  • what were their coats of arms?

  • What were their activities?

  • What were their names?

  • Is there some reason why we have a piglet up there.

  • And unfortunately there's no answer.

  • He is the, only thing I can suggest is maybe, at a time when farm raised meat was really

  • just for the wealthy and not for the average folks, perhaps it was a symbol of wealth.

  • The most important building in the square and the second oldest is the building behind

  • me, which is called the Palazzo dei Priori, the Priors Palace.

  • It was constructed between 1209 and 1257, and it has a very important claim to fame,

  • and that is that it's the oldest and the first building constructed for a city-state in Europe.

  • The architect of the Florence town hall, Arnolfo di Camdio, actually stated in his preparatory

  • notes that he intended Florence' s town hall to be a larger and more grandiose version

  • of the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra.

  • The name, Priors Palace, tells us that the title given to the first rulers of the city-states,

  • they were called priors and they ruled with an oligarchy, and by no means was this pure

  • democracy, but the city-states really did represent an important first step towards

  • democracy in Europe..

  • Because it was no longer just the Holy Roman Empire or the Pope aand far off lands calling

  • the shots.

  • Now there was greater self and local rule.

  • The prior and his family actually would live inside the building you see.

  • It's where the town Council would meet.

  • It's where governance was was done, but also it was a private residence.

  • The prior actually would be sequestered inside the building for the entire duration of his

  • term.

  • The terms had to be short and because this was a term of suffering, suffering, and it

  • was usually 6 to 12 months.

  • During that period the prior was never allowed to leave the building.

  • Of course he had advisors to be his intermediaries with the outside world so he could actually

  • govern, but that the concern was corruption, bribery, conflict of interest.

  • Of course we surpassed all of this concerns today.

  • But they kept him inside the building and they would never leave him out, and would

  • never let him leave, and would never let anyone else in to try to avoid that corruption.

  • But of course this man is a Christian.

  • He may not be allied with the Pope, but he is still of course a Christian.

  • So how is he to continue his religious life jf he can't leave the building?

  • And they are not to leave, but the priests go up, either.

  • Well, the compromise was found by building the Palazzo dei Priori back-to-back with the

  • Cathedral.

  • So the black and white striping that you see is actually the backside of Volterra's Cathedral,

  • consecrated in 1120 by Pope Callistus II. and there's a wing of the Town Hall building

  • on the opposite side that actually goes on top of the Cathedral, so that from within

  • prior' s quarters he can open wooden shutters and have a clear view straight down onto the

  • altar of the Cathedral.

  • So from there he could kneel on a pew and attend mass, and many people would say, also

  • keep a very tight control on everything that was being said and done inside.

  • Here is the back entrance into the Cathedral.

  • You can see with the black and white striping that this is a holy building, and unlike the

  • other yellow stone buildings in the rest of the square, all of which are civic buildings.

  • If the door's open, you're welcome in.

  • Volterra' s Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Callistus II in 1120.

  • It's built in a very humble version of one of Europe's most magnificent architectural

  • styles, the Pisan Romanesque, which will be one of the most important foundation stones

  • to Renaissance architecture.

  • The Cathedral that we see today built at sometime before 1120, is not the first, but the third

  • version of the Cathedral here in Volterra.

  • Volterra was actually one of the first diocese in Christianity to ever be established, in

  • terms of its geographic limits.

  • Volterra is the birthplace of five popes, and the first of these five popes was quite

  • an influential figure.

  • He was Peter's successor; his name was Linus.

  • Not much is known about him, but it's widely believed that he gave Volterra such prominence

  • within the early Christian church.

  • And that would remain for many centuries.

  • On the façade of the Cathedral you can find some interesting details and including the

  • Carolingian floral motif along the cornices and also the wreath of pagan Roman stones

  • in the main portal, the main most important entrance into this most important Christian

  • building in town.

  • In fact, the white marble columns and capitals that you see on this main portal came from

  • Volterra's Roman theater, already in disuse for hundreds of years.

  • They thought why not take these beautiful white stones and use them for the Cathedral.

  • But it was also more than that.

  • It was almost as if they were we reclaiming their pagan past as something that Christianity

  • had conquered and was building upon.

  • We're here in Piazza San Giovanni, which is the religious square of Volterra.

  • It holds a Baptistery, which is the building behind me.

  • The Baptistery of Volterra was built in 1285.

  • It was built in the Pisan Romanesque style, which is the same style used for the Pisa

  • Baptistery as well, which was constructed 1153.

  • Other baptisteries in Tuscany will often have this bi-chrome striping and similar styles.

  • It's essential to have a Baptistery if you have a Cathedral because wherever you have

  • a seat of the diocese, one bishop, one Cathedral, one Baptistery.

  • Because in this period it was very important for their religious beliefs that you enter

  • the Cathedral as a Christian.

  • Thus the need for a separate building.

  • But also remember that Christianity hadn't really been establish throughout Europe as

  • the common religion for that many centuries, and so it was all the more important to give

  • something monumental for those who are entering into the Christian faith, to make it a ceremonious

  • occasion with such a magnificent building.

  • Now the Baptistery here in Volterra is octagonal.

  • Almost all baptisteries our octagonal, although some are circular.

  • This too has significance because both the circle and figure-8 are endless figures.

  • They have no beginning or end pointsymbols of the infinity and thus of the eternal life

  • gained through baptism in the Christian faith.

  • Now the fact that we have in this religious square four buildings that marked for important

  • moments in the life of a Christian was no coincidence.

  • Now in Volterra, like any other Italian town, where ever you have the seat of the diocese,

  • you have Cathedral, Baptistery, hospital and cemetery.

  • Now we know longer have a functioning hospital hereit moved out in the 1980s to larger

  • buildings outside of town.

  • And also, the cemetery is long gone, because they realized that the new Christian practice

  • of burying the dead inside the city walls was not the hottest idea, especially when

  • plagued with headings, contagion would spread like wildfire, but originally these four buildings

  • signified the cycle of life: birth, with a baptistery; life, in the Cathedral; difficulty

  • and need, in the hospital; and of course, death, the cemetery.

  • That's to remind man of his Vanitas, of his vanity.

  • Or more precisely what they mean is, what are you left with in the end, because there

  • is an end, because this is the natural cycle of life.

  • In the end you have bones, you have a soul, but you don't have your possessions, you don't

  • have your appearance, don't have the power you been trying to amass.

  • All of those will be in vain, vanitas.

  • And so the corollary is, of course, what they are after is, care for your soul during your

  • lifetime because that's what will be of importance in the and.

  • But the conundrum is, artistically, how do you represent the soul?

  • No one has ever come up with a commonly recognized way of representing the human soul.

  • And so, what they often will do is show us bones instead, because that's the other thing

  • you our left with.

  • So, an example this, you can actually see on the façade of the little Chapel of the

  • Misericordia, where you have a skull and V-shaped wings.

  • They show you the bones to remind you, man, care for your soul and the wings, there in

  • the shape of the V to represent the V of vanity of Vanitas.

  • The Misericordia is the volunteer ambulance association.

  • They are volunteers.

  • The full name is actuallyArciconfraternita della Misericordia”, so it's a fraternity

  • of compassion.

  • That's a very old-fashioned name, but understandable considering the Association first appeared

  • in Tuscany in 1348.

  • That's the year Tuscans will never forget, because that's when the Black Death, or the

  • bubonic plague, ravaged the area.

  • When between five months, May to October in one year, between 1/2 to 2/3 of the people

  • you knew died.

  • Well, the Misericordia are the courageous men, most of them the deliverymen of the towns

  • who volunteered to move the sick and dead outside the city walls, otherwise they feared

  • everyone might die.

  • Well it's been around ever since, and it's an association that actually still unique,

  • just to Tuscany.

  • Well Volterra is a town that has many important museums and monuments.