The Gates of Volterra

The Elegance of Getting In

I became enamored with the gates of Volterra one day in early November when an approaching storm brought dark clouds; sunlight slashing through them with the furry of a war in the heavens. This eruption of nature’s powers etched the beauty of these ancient gates in my mind and viewfinder.

I snapped away. In the corner I was standing in, Volterra had several gates, and the sky was changing as I snapped. Each frame was different.

Take the Arco gate, Porta all’arco. It’s Etruscan, built in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. It has three heads commonly referred to as lion heads. They are badly worn.

These figures are what have always made the gate fascinating, and there are many legends surrounding them: for some, there‚Äôs no doubt they depict Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, while others think they are Castor and Pollux; others still believe they are not human heads, but rather lions watching guard over Volterra. Since the literary saga Twilight was released, additional theories have been suggested, ranging from ones that are historically reliable to those that are more fanciful, like the heads depicting the three vampires from the book that hide in the city. — Porta all’Arco in Volterra

Whatever they are, the gate is impressive.

porta all'arco
Porta all'Arco with 3 "lion heads"

But if you wait a bit for the clouds to form.

porta all'arco
Porta all'Arco and approaching storm

Much of medieval Europe’s architecture and infrastructure, it seems to me, are made to be mobile. A half-timbered house could be taken apart and brought to a new location. Paving stones like the Sampietrini of Rome can be pulled up and replaced or moved. Why am I telling you this? Well, there’s a story about the Porta all’arco and its preservation that is based on this concept.

[Local Volterra guide] Annie explained how, in 1944, the Volterrans learned of a planned Nazi attack on the gate to keep the Allied troops from advancing through Volterra. So they pulled up the cobblestone road leading to the arch. and passed the stones in a line to build a barrier in the archway. With the arch barricaded, the attack was canceled. They saved the ancient gate arch! — Discover the Walled Tuscan Town of Volterra

The Porta San Felice was built in the 1500s, with a little chapel and bell tower to the right of it as you look out from the city to the rolling hills of the countryside.

porta san felice
Porta San Felice, Volterra

Come for the gate, stay for the views.

san felice gate volterra detail
San Felice Gate Detail

Enamored as I was with the beauty in this perfect light, I didn’t manage to document it well, so there are stragglers here, like this gate and its magnificent view of the open countryside and those painterly clouds.

volterra gate
Volterra Gate

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Why go to this destination?: Volterra is a fantastic, well preserved Tuscan town many tourists miss.
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The Gates of Volterra originally appeared on , updated: May 28, 2023 © .

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