Etruscans & Romans

Farelli left on a plane at 7 this morning, as long as she got a taxi to take her to Pisa airport at 5! I got up at 8:30, about the time she’d be landing at Gatwick. She, of course, is going to work today.

We set off at about 10:30 for Volterra, another Tuscan hill town, this one is 3000 years old. Well, bits of it are. First stop was the TIC for maps and info on where the best coffee resides. We settled into a lovely cafe with the most amazing display of chocolate tools I have ever seen. Everything from spanners to bolts, from stilsons to mallets, very accurately replicated in chocolate. They looked so real. And because they are made of chocolate, they also look very rusty. At 60 euros per kilogram I’m not sure who would actually buy any of them. We had some delicious little pastries and cafe lattes.

We then split up, Mirinda and I headed for the Duomo. Another beautiful black-and-white striped church awaited us. This one was consecrated in 1120 and along the walls are some of the loveliest art works I’ve ever seen. Very bright and very clear. In particular the Annunciation which was painted by Mariotto Albertinelli and Fra Bartolomeo in 1498 is a lovely picture. There is also a remarkable wooden statue of the Deposition (removal of Christ from the Cross) which looks like it was carved in the 1950s but was actually made in the 13th century. It’s, apparently, “…one of the most important and best preserved of the wooden sculptures of the 13th century.” Throughout this trip I have seen the best and most important so many times I’m writing that through salt granules. However it was quite remarkable.

The ceiling, like all of these churches, is painted beautifully with wads of heavenly depictions. And notably, this one has heads looking down in relief (bas relief, not “Phew, that was lucky” relief). These heads belong to the patron saints of Volterra, Mary and various angels. In the Chapel of a Lady of sorrows this is a nativity from the 15th century which looks very sombre and a huge statue of Mary with what appears to be arrows piercing her chest. No wonder she’s sorrowful.

Actually, I’ve often wondered why she’s sad. OK, when her boy was beaten up, being crucified and died I can understand it, but then he rose from the dead and went to heaven, surely she should be happy about that. And then she joined him there, I assume, which should also please her. Maybe she was just a misery. And come to think of it, what happened afterwards? Did Mary and Joseph live happily (miserably) ever after? I’d like to go into a chapel of Mary that shows her smiling, perhaps a joke whispered to her by 25 year-old Christ. It could be called Our Lady of the Warm Smile Chapel. I realise most Catholics think she should always be miserable and what I’m saying is wrong but I reckon she deserves just a bit of cheer. Actually in the painting of the Annunciation she looks like she’s saying to the Angel, “No, I don’t think so. Try next door. Beatrice is home. Ask her.

Talking about Mary’s impregnation by God in the guise of an angel can anyone tell me how this is any different to Jupiter turning into a swan and having his way with Leda? Ignoring the bird thing of course… though angels have wings.

Anyway, from the cathedral we stepped across the small Piazza to the baptistery.

Near the top of Volterra

Tradition claims this was built on the site of a pagan temple although no written record supports this. It was built in 989 and is dedicated to St John. It’s a big round building with a huge empty font in the middle, containing a large statue of St John the Baptist. Around the walls are sculptures and paintings and chairs facing inwards. Although it was originally built in 989, most of what is there today was constructed from the end of the fifteenth-century. There is a magnificent white marble baptismal font depicting Christ’s baptism and the virtues faith, hope, charity and justice. I felt rather sorry for the poor old man who had to sit on guard as the place is quite dim and chilly.

From here we set to wandering through the tiny medieval streets, avoiding the traffic which only narrowly avoided us. Actually Bob was hit by a wing mirror! These drivers have a lot more faith in their driving than is deserved. We made our way up to the archaeological park. To get there you have to walk up an almost vertical path which zigs and zags through all planes. The park is at the top of Volterra and at the back of the Medici Palace. In one corner is the Etruscan Acropolis.

Etruscan ruins in Volterra

These ruins date back to the third century BC and are still being excavated – though not while we were there. This is where I got excited! There are two temples, one over the other and it’s all pretty extensive. They have found evidence of rituals to honour underworld and infernal divinities. There’s also a cat which lives there but I’m not sure if it’s underworld or infernal. Mind you, it’s not very friendly.

Etruscan cat about to run off

The guide (piece of paper) has an e-mail address for more info. I wonder if they’re digging next year…

Sadly, we left the ruins as it was nearing our meeting time with Bob and Claire. We had lunch in a nice little ristorante (I had lasagne) then split up once more, us to the Roman theatre, Bob and Claire to see the cathedral and buy some alabaster.

The theatre is amazing. The public can’t roam over it like the one at Verona but there are a lot of vantage points. The entire site was excavated between 1950 and 1956. A lot of the central wall has been restored to give an idea of what it would have looked like but most of it is real. It was built into a natural depression in the side of the hill which would have given great acoustics.

Roman theatre

From the guide: The most important families of Volterra (the Persii, Aelii, Laelii and Caecinae families) would have sat in a space surrounding the orchestra on seats, the backs of which have been found with the names still inscribed.

Some things never change then.

During the second half of the third century AD the theatre was abandoned and a thermal baths complex constructed. Possibly for all the dirty actors. They are apparently some lovely preserved mosaics but they are not on show, hidden beneath protective canopies. A pity. There is no souvenir staff at the site so I have no idea what any of it actually looks like. Apart from this gripe, it was excellent.

We then walked down to the car and waited for Bob and Claire. They got lost. Bob walked down (then back-up) the worst staircase in Tuscany because he thought we were in car park 3. Claire, wisely, remained at street level awaiting his puffed return. They eventually found us in car park 5.

And the drive back was a bit wobbly as we negotiated the millions of S bends. This upset Mirinda’s tummy somewhat so when we got back to Rodilosso we all laid down for a rest.

Went to San G for dinner. Food was nice, restaurant busy, wine superb.

When we got back to Rodilosso we talked for a few hours about the staff at Stockwell’s and their families then crashed.

I’m going for a walk tomorrow, weather permitting.

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