What to see around Volterra
Outdoor activities for nature and landscape lovers. The area of Volterra offers several itineraries that will lead you to the discovery of the beauty of the surrounding area.
This protected area, established in 1995 by the Tuscan Region, covers approximately 2170 hectares in the Val di Cecina, bordered by the village of Mazzolla to the west and by the river Sellate to the south.
Since ancient times, the forest has been exploited as a timber reserve, fuel for the power supply of steam boilers, but also for the extraction of the salt. From the so-called “moie”, brackish water holes, was extracted the salt in the form of brine, which was evaporated in special boilers fed with wood from Berignone.
The Berignone hills are composed of sedimentary rocks, conglomerates, marls, clays, legacy of a vast lake deposit site from the Upper Miocene (between 7 and 9 million years ago). The Forest is crossed by many rivers such as the River Cecina, the streams Fosci, Sellate, Botro del Rio and others that create distinctive and particularly suggestive environments.
The forest is the absolute protagonist, majestically and intricately extended, rich of great plant varieties: holm oak, arbutus, phillyrea, juniper, mastic, myrtle, erica, viburnum, are the most common species to which are added other deciduous trees such as durmast . On the higher slopes there are field maple, flowering ash, hornbeam. The herbaceous vegetation of Berignone Forest is no exception: there are snowdrops, buttercups, violets, primroses, cysts, hellebores, wild roses and many orchids.
There are many mammals that inhabit the forest: wild boars, deers, fallow deers, mouflon sheep, hedgehogs, badgers, martens, weasels and squirrels. Also is remarkable, although sightings are rare, the presence of the wolf. There is a great number of resident and migratory birds, as well as nocturnal and diurnal raptors. In this regard, the forest was surveyed among the habitats of Tuscany and is protected to safeguard the local fauna.
In the Middle Ages they were well inside the Berignone 3 castles owned by the powerful Bishops of Volterra. The best known is the Castle of Bishops, whose imposing ruins still towering over the valley carved by the Botro al Rio and the Sellate stream.
The second important castle was demolished around 1218 by citizens of Volterra, and today we only know the location, as no ruins remained to testify his glory: in its place we find today the old structure of the housing estate Caprareccia, surrounded by olive trees hemmed by special stone walls.
The third castle was also destroyed by the city of Volterra in 1200: it was said ‘Frassineta’, which suggests that it was built in a place where the frassino (ash) plants were in abundance, it is assumed on a hillock of Monte Soldano. In a 1936 report there is a description of “a 2-storey building, a total of 11 rooms, that was a barrack” called “Tatti’s pantry”. The building, dating back to the late 1800s was initially used as a house of the guards in charge of the ordinary supervision of the forest and was equipped with stalls for horses and mules, used during the tree felling. Renovated in the ’40s, it became a small storehouse of food reserves for the numerous woodcutters and charcoal burners who carried out their fervent activity in this beautiful forest.
Masso delle fanciulle
On the road between Pomarance and Saline di Volterra, about halfway, you will find signs for the Boulder of the Maidens. You need just to cover about 6 km country road and then, leaving the car, you can reach this place with a pleasant walk on a place of pristine beauty, where real natural pools will allow refreshing baths.
The name of the Boulder of the Maidens comes from a sad and fascinating legend: once upon a time there were two girls, cousins, good-looking and mild-mannered, who used to spend their days at a large boulder near the river. The two girls looked after their sheep and their chants mingled with those of the other shepherds, singing joyful ditties of love.
The enchanted forest animals gathered at the large boulder, and even the birds stopped to listen to the harmonious voices that echoed in the valley. Among these was an old werewolf, who was enamored of the two girls. One day, no longer content to listen to their songs and to look at them sideways, he jumped on the two girls and tried to bite them. Scared to death the two girls tried to escape, climbing on top of the big rock, but the wolf reached them in a moment. Feel trapped, the two girls held their hands and thrown themselves into the deep waters of the river. The river Cecina felt compassion and turned the two girls in small waves and brought them downstream by the current, so they escaped the greed of the hungry monster and moved away forever.
Other stories, this time real, are well closer to our times: in the long years of the Second World War this stretch of river has seen the exploits of the protagonists of the resistance against the Nazi troops. Right near the Boulder took place some of the bloodiest battles: Masso, in fact, was a strategic lookout point from which the partisans build the guard, and that’s why the Germans were trying to take control of this location.
Volterra dominates the valley from the top of a hill with its imposing wall that protects it counts. As evidence of its Etruscan origins have come to us numerous archaeological finds.
Volterra, or rather Velathri in her Etruscan name, was one of the most important cities of the Etruscan civilization. The walls were build at the end of the IV century BC and were 7300 meters long, designed to protect not only the town and the city center, but also the sources, the cultivated lands and the pastures, often subject to incursions by enemies.
After the supremacy of the Franks and then the Lombards, Volterra became a Roman domain, changing its name in Volaterrae. It was then subjected to the domination of Florence, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and then voted, almost unanimously, for the Unification of Italy in 1860. Today a large part of the walls can still be visited, with its two gates of the town, Porta Diana and Porta dell’Arco, as well as the old Acropolis which houses various buildings and the foundations of two ancient temples.
As evidence of the Roman “transition” remains the fascinating Roman theater, built on a hillside that naturally resembles the shape of an amphitheater. Another monument that is worth visiting is certainly the Medici Fortress: his Rocca Nuova, built by order of Lorenzo the Magnificent, now is a maximum security prison, whose inmates participating in an interesting project of rehabilitation and social reintegration, which involved them in the management of a restaurant, where are successfully organized several initiatives. Worthy of note is also the Romanesque Cathedral, as so is the front of San Giovanni Baptistery, where there are works of art of great value, created by artists such as Andrea della Robbia, Mino da Fiesole and Benozzo Gozzoli, the latter author of a most valuable fresco of the Three Wise Men.
Fascinating for the visitor is then the Piazza and the Palazzo dei Priori built in the thirteenth century and the Pinacoteca, housed in the Palazzo Minucci Solaini. Inside the Pinacoteca, or Civic Museum of Volterra, there are important works of art, including the Deposition of Rosso Fiorentino. Not far from the Pinacoteca it is another museum that is worth a visit: the Alabaster Museum which houses over 300 works of art in alabaster, built between the 18th and the 19th century. Finally, it really worth to take a walk through the streets of downtown, drifting from the timeless magic that surrounds the city and, why not, taste the typical products and snoop inside the characteristic workshops. Larderello and the geothermal The Larderello area is less than ten minutes from our farmhouse and is particularly attractive for the exploitation of geothermal resources, a renewable and environmentally friendly source of energy, which satisfies a quarter of the energy needs of the region of Tuscany.
Thus, in addition to natural events such as putizze and lagoni, the territory is characterized by the intertwining of the pipelines that harness the steam given off by the soffioni and convey it to the geothermal power plants. The sight is impressive: white columns of steam are emanated from cracks in the ground, from old soffioni and towers of geothermal power plants, and the landscape looks like hell, so for that reason the area is called “Valley of the Devil.”
Do not miss a visit to the two Geothermal Museums: the Geothermal Museum of Larderello illustrating the birth of a unique experience in the world and the new Museum of the Territory and Energy of Radicondoli, emblem of the subsequent development of geothermal energy.
The “Soffioni of Larderello”
The “Soffioni boraciferi” of Larderello are high pressure fluid which escape violently from natural or artificial perforations splits on the ground. The fluids are made up for 95% of water vapor and the remaining 5% of carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, methane and other substances, including boron salts. The emissions can reach a temperature of 130°-160°C and a pressure ranging between 4 and 14 atmospheres.
For example, on 27th March, 1931, a survey (siete sicuri che sia un sondaggio?) reached the geothermal reservoir delivering about 220 tons/hour of steam: the fumarole, called Soffionissimo, represented such a grandiose phenomenon and leaded to think that it was not possible to harness it. In the meantime, the citizens of Larderello were forced to put the mattresses on the windows to muffle the unbearable hissing.