Day 2 - Volterra
Most people know Volterra from the wildly successful "Twilight" movies (actually filmed in Montepulciano), but besides the Volturi hiding out in the basement of the clock tower there are many other secrets hidden away in this tiny Tuscan hill town.
Volterra's origins are entrenched in the ancient history of the Etruscans, a little known or understood civilization that controlled much of central Italy for about 500 years beginning in 800 BC until approximately the 3rd century BC when Rome began to annex and conquer much of Etruria.
Volterra passed from the Romans to the Florentines, then on to the powerful Medici dynasties and eventually found its way into the modern world, trailing artifacts of all of these influences. Wandering the narrow streets of the old city will bring you to buildings, whose foundations are older than Rome itself.
You will find an ancient Roman theater as well as the famous Baptistery, an octagonal 13th century religious building in front of the Duomo of Volterra, in the center of the city. It was set up in the seventh century at the site of a Roman Temple to the Sun. The holy water receptacle inside of the building is actually an ancient Roman sarcophagus.
For us, one of the most fascinating hidden secrets in Volterra is the Church of San Francesco. Elke had read about this church, but we couldn't remember it's name or location, so we had to hunt for it. Leaving the main Piazza behind we wandered through the narrow, winding streets popping our head into every doorway that seemed to be a house of worship. And there are more than a few of those:) Eventually, just as we were wearing down from the heat of the day, we reached the edge of town, and a ramshackle old church rose up to our right.
Wandering in we were prepared to be disappointed again, and I was... The church interior, as opposed to the exterior, was just a modern looking church with 20th century paintings and a rather bland air about it.
Elke, however, started to get excited, the name of the church had rung a bell for her, and she began to wander down the aisles, poking her head into every doorway. I followed, hissing at her that this was another dead end. Boy was I wrong!!!
Beside the alter, off to the right, there stands a humble wooden door. Elke passed through the door and let it swing shut in my face. A moment later she poked her head out and, very excitedly, told me to look for a light switch. Now, I'm not sure about you, but I'm not into pushing buttons and turning on switches in places where I don't know what they will do, but, rather than risk the wrath of Elke, I did as instructed.
A weak light escaped from around Elke's head as she poked out of the portal once more. She stepped back and swung the door open. My eyes adjusted to the spectacular sight that awaited me. I stepped down 2 small steps and walked to the center of the small chapel. What we had "found", is what I later understood to be the Chapel of the Daily Cross, with frescoes by Cenni di Francesco and Jacopo da Firenze depicting scenes from the Legends of the True Cross. These frescoes date to the early 15th century and were lit by a lonely incandescent bulb crudely wired to the ceiling.
We spent nearly an hour in the small room, never interrupted. No other tourists made the search for this magnificent hidden chapel. We searched for the meanings and tried to understand the scenes played out in the magnificent frescos, some of which seemed as if the paint had yet to dry and others were damaged by years of water and neglect.
Reluctantly we took our leave and re-entered the modern church, that had been built around the chapel, and then out into the blazing Italian sun where we chatted about our "find" as if we were Indiana Jones himself.
Whenever we find ourselves in Volterra, we always make the trip to this little chapel and sit quietly to enjoy what God inspired and Man executed so wonderfully.