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Volterra, wind and alabaster


Volterra is called “the windy town” since it is perched on the top of the hill between the Cecina and the Era valleys. From a distance, it comes out from the cliffs and it offers an amazing sight: the precipice is dizzying, it is a view that reminds the time when the chasm had swallowed the churches, the buildings, the abbeys and the Etruscan necropolis.

 And the Etruscans, who loved the tuff, the stones, the canyons conceived a town on the top of the hills. Volterra is a mix of light and shade that culminate with the colours of the alabaster, the precious brittle local stone that has made the town’s fortune: compact and bright, lighter than the marble and semi-transparent, it makes any object mysterious. It is a calcareous substance mined in the surrounding area that has been widely used for millennia by the Etruscans who carved it to obtain cinerary urns to keep the ashes of their dead very often decorated with gold layers. That used to happen in the IVth century B.C. and the type they preferred was the ivory colored one although with the coming of the Christian religion the use of the ashes urns was ended and in the Middle Ages the use of Alabaster was not allowed anymore since it was too delicate and it was in opposition to the early Christian austerity.

In the XVIIth century the alabaster handicraft restarted to be produced although it was widely spread in the XVIIIth century. In the XIXth century the merchants from Volterra used to travel all around the world and sell their works and in the XXth century they were considered about the best artists in the world. Thousands of years have gone since the Etruscan people had started to work the alabaster and nowadays it is still worked in the workshops of this town by skilled hands who have been passing this art on to future generations.

Volterra and its surrounding area hosts a number of unique museums in Italy, the Ecomuseum of Alabaster was born from the project that was spread in the area of the province of Pisa, it involves a number of different local villages that are strictly connected with the traditional art tradition of alabaster: Volterra, Castellina Marittima and Santa Luce. One name and two separate routes to be discovered through their museums: the excavation route, exhibited at the museum of Castellina Marittima and the route of the working of alabaster that is on stage at the museum of Volterra. A town of art and stone to be visited slowly, getting along its streets where some shells of rare beauty often emerge.


Luciana Francesca Rebonato

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