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I know we’re supposed to be in Volterra, but I couldn’t help looking back at Montegemoli and the lovely Gilda, who was so choked up at our departure that she couldn’t face the camera.

Since our arrival in Tuscany, we’ve been hoping to find Etruscan shards underfoot, but the place has been picked clean. No shards to speak of, especially of the highly valued Etruscan variety. But we’re here for another couple of weeks and will continue to look.

Meanwhile, we’re in the shadow of Volterra, an ancient walled city perched on a hill high above the old renovated farmhouse where we’re staying. At night, Volterra is lit up like an ocean liner sailing across the starry sky. Champagne flutes, men in black tie, ladies in gowns, and a small orchestra playing These Foolish Things.

That’s not my description but our second host’s, whose home is nestled in the hills below Volterra. On our first evening, he taught us to make Persian rice, accompanied by Persian salad and Persian tzatziki. I prepared the latter two dishes, under his direction, and although I was too polite to say so, I felt that Persian tzatziki and salad are suspiciously similar to Greek tzatziki and salad, except for a handful of chopped mint leaves.

A view of where we’re staying. It’s only about 3.2 km below Volterra, but I ran to the top this morning and was spitting out pieces of lung by the time I returned

Imprisoned in Volterra

We spent all of yesterday wandering through Volterra and got a good view of the Roman amphitheatre, the high walls and narrow alleys, the squares decked with colourful flags. One end of the city — the ocean liner’s prow, to borrow again from our host’s simile — is actually a federal prison, and when you wander in that general direction, signs remind you that it’s forbidden to take pictures.

I can’t imagine what goes on behind the high, windowless walls.

Bell tower
The bell tower of the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral.
A young couple diapering a baby, with the Palazzo dei Priori in the background.
Park path
A small park in Volterra: as in some parable, at the end of this pretty path, a prison awaits you.
The Medici Fortress, now a high security prison. I don’t know if it’s still possible, but you could at one time reserve a table and enjoy a fine Tuscan meal served up by the inmates.

For miles around, and for days, we’ve been seeing billboards beckoning us to Volterra, or more specifically to its Museo della Tortura. There is absolutely no mention of the Etruscan museum, right next door, which is crammed with certified Etruscan shards and dozens of fascinating stone sarcophagi, which are about the size and shape of a steamer trunk and, I must confess, all look the same to my untrained eye. Strong historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the Etruscans were originally Greek settlers, but they may also have been Persians — why not? — which could explain the confusion about tzatziki.

Just beside the Museo della Tortura, we ran into a gentleman from New Mexico, with whom we chatted for a while on a bench, overlooking the Tuscan hills. He was waiting for his wife, a palliative care nurse, who was in the museum. She eventually appeared and said that her chief impression is that so much of humanity’s creative energy has been devoted to finding ever more ingenious ways to inflict pain and death. We told her of a friend who had visited Volterra a couple of years ago with her kids. Her twelve-year-old — a boy, of course — insisted on visiting the museum. When he re-emerged, he threw up in the street.

wall with flowers
I quite like it here and have no desire to leave.

Sounds just like Michael Caine

Last night, ten of us drove to the tiny village of Mazzolla, a fifteen-minute further ascent from Volterra. We dined at Trattoria Albana, where some of us enjoyed a pasta smothered in pistachio pesto, salty pecorino and boar sausage. Albana is featured in the movie Trip to Italy, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and there are framed stills from the movie in the lobby. The best part of the movie is Coogan’s and Brydon’s dueling imitations of Michael Caine. They repeat this schtick in all their movies, and Rob Brydon always wins. I never get tired of watching them. None of this has anything to do with Tuscany.

This morning we awoke to distant pops echoing through the surrounding hills. It’s hunting season, and the local chefs, Elmer Fudds in striped trousers and snowy toques, are chasing the wascally boars — the cinghiale — that appear on every Tuscan menu.

Dante's mother
Montegemoli claims to be the birthplace of Dante’s mother. To forestall any argument about this highly dubious fact, they’ve built a tiny garden, where this fountain appears, and named it after Bella, who was a member of the Abati family. Bela died when Dante was ten years old.


Not a lunch
Tourists are strictly monitored in Volterra. You could wind up in the slammer, just next door.

6 thoughts on “Volterra”

    1. Thanks, Gerry. They only shoot off their pop guns early in the morning. It’s love-hate around here with the boars. Trouble is, one of the boar’s favourite foods is grapes, especially when they’re sweet and ripe, right around now. Nothing more fun than rampaging through the vineyards — until you’re turned into sausage.


  1. Great read as always and your photos are beautiful, bravo. Sounds like an amazing

    Thanks for making me trip a little too


    514 9944433


  2. Wow, the photos! What an eye.
    Yes, the cinagle – when we were in Tuscany we could hear them rummaging through the vineyards. The hunters like it when the boars can fatten up on the grapes, but the vintners don’t want their harvest reduced.
    Keep the wonderful travelogues coming. Always a delight.


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