Tag: culture

The Red Night and the Prison

The Red Night and the Prison

Not a bad title for a novel!   Anyway – this post is a little media-rich – so beware.

It was more of an eventful night than day… I sat in and wrote a bit (maybe 600 words), and Niamh went out to mooch around town with our guests.  They went to the market, bought goodies and then went to lunch in I Ponti.  I’d never eaten there before.  They had a selection of panini and antipasti, and the reports were good!  Niamh also saw a waiter there who used to work in Da Beppino – he always recognised us.  A lot of waiters seem to circulate in Volterra from season to season.

I had a veg soup in a carton by Knorr.  This may sound blech, but as far as packaged soups go, don’t compare to what we get at home… it wasn’t bad at all!


We crashed and screen-watched in the afternoon, and had the last of the beef ragu that I made, with added oompf by Niamh.  It was nice and tasty!

A little after 21:00, a few of us ventured out to sample what the Red Night (La Notte Rossa) had to offer.

If the Medieval Festival appealed to the child in me, the Red Night appeals to the creative adult.  Throughout the town, there were art installations, gentle jazz/world bands and many of the museums were open free of charge until midnight.  As well as that, some of the town’s more well-to-do families opened their palazzi to the public – which is something they’d never do, except on nights like this. 

Firstly, we entered the main square (Piazza dei Priori), to a little bit of magic!

The walls of the buildings were lit up red and indigo, and a video of local hilltowns was being projected onto Palazzo dei Priori.  A band played soft jazz, while a young man used aerosol paints to create a stylised profile.  Just wonderful.  If I’d been here before on such a night, I might have stayed here and chilled with some wine or cocktails.

We instead moved on to have a look at the first palazzo, which was somewhere definitely lived in.  It was beautifully decorated and furnished, and a couple of ladies with a piano and melodica were performing some Italian jazz numbers in one of the rooms.

Another couple of places had also opened, revealing lovely, intimate gardens.

After exploring there and listening to a little music, we went to the Porta San Felice – where the crossroads of steps was all lit up with lamps, the oils of which were gently perfurmed.  It looked so gorgeous.

We had another final little explore together, before we broke company in Volterra’s sweet little theatre.

The other two went home, while I walked the town myself, taking snaps.  I went past Palazzo Viti, but it was only open to organised, pre-booked tours – as were a couple of other places, and I didn’t want to blow the whole night in Volterra’s wonderful pinacoteca (art gallery), where tons of renaissance and pre-renaissance goodies are on display – I will go back there another time and pay.

After a quick stop at a small exhibition by the astronimical observatory near Volterra, I walked to the prison, to see if there was anything else happening on the other side of town.  About three-quarters of the way there, I remembered they’d opened part of the prison – but they were closing up by the time I got there.  Fortunately, the lady told me that they were opening tomorrow (Sunday) from midday to six o’clock.  My Italian comprehension is improving all the time!

Fortunately, another building was open for the night – it seemed to be a dance school.  Behind it, though, was one of the creepiest gardens you’ll ever walk in at night.  I loved it!

On the way home, I stopped off at a cute little model railway.  I skipped the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum (I’ll document that some other day), and the Sacred Arts Museum – I already blogged a visit to that place here.  A nice band of aul’ fellahs was playing on Gramsci – so I stayed to listen to one number and then headed for home.

The crossroads of Gramsci/Matteotti (the latter being the road our apartment is on) was the busiest I’ve seen it.  Being on your own, though, is not so much fun, so I headed off and my head hit the pillow around 11:25… 

…only to be woken up about an hour later by the most tremendous salvo of fireworks I’ve ever heard.  It sounded like they let them off in the square or the park, and had them explode right over our apartment.  Our windows where humming with the noise, and flashes of colour burst through every few seconds.  The last time they let off fireworks here, they lasted about 30 seconds, so I didn’t bother getting dressed this time.  I missed a 10-minute display.  Typical.  Maybe next year!

This morning, we had to drop one of our guests off at Pisa Airport.  We had a now obligatory stop at the bell tower (nope – I refuse to post photos this time!).  On the way to lunch at La Pace, we had a lovely encounter with local artists who painted one of the pieces of art on display in our living room.  They are very enthusiastic, and our guest bought themselves a nice piece to take home.  We then had a wonderful lunch in La Pace – boar and pasta – quelle surprise!


As the restaurant is right next to the prison (housed in a fortress enhanced by the Medici in the 16th century), I took the opportunity to take the open prison walk.  It turns out, you only walk one of the walls, into a small garden area, where you can buy a ticket for a guided tour (Italian only) of one of the main towers of the medieval fortress.  YASSS!

I only understood about 25% of what was being said e.g. one of the 5m diameter rooms housed 12 guards… fun times!  You could take photographs freely, except through two windows, which looked out onto the recreation area for the prisoners.  A bundle of them were there kicking a ball around, or playing bowls.  I’m not sure I like the idea of us spying on them like that, but if some of the entrance fee (€5) goes towards their benefit, then it lessens the guilt a little.

Then I went home, and typed up this blog!  You are fully up-to-date.  There will most likely be no blog tomorrow, as there will be flip-all to report!

I’ll see you in the next one… A presto!

Lari and the Pasta Factory

Lari and the Pasta Factory

We have two guests with us for a short while, so we decided to take them to Lari. We had been there before, but the Martelli pasta factory tours were closed in August (when many Italians go on holiday). We wandered up to the carpark, only to see that they’d strung some brollies over Gramsci. Tonight is Volterra’s culture night (La Notte Rossa), where there are a ton of acts playing around the city, and many of the major attractions are open for free from 21:00 to 24:00. Why do they call it The Red Night? They light up the city with red lamps – like they do near Christmas. It will be a late night, but I’m looking forward to it. Below is a pic of one of our favourite restaurateurs, from La Terre di Mezzo – getting ready for the festivities.


We went to Lari by way of La Sterza, and Terriciola.  Why Google Maps changed our route to take is through Terriciola, rather than go around it is a mystery.  We were rewarded with a different set of sights this time around, as we were driven through village after village, past vineyards and olive groves.  It was pretty cool… except maybe for the driver, who insisted we travel a different route going home!  The roads were quite narrow in parts and can’t have been fun to navigate.

We parked near the old town, with about a 250m walk uphill to the archway which leads into the main area.  It was a warm day, and the climb was understandably a little draining.  There was an organised tour group ahead of us, but we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the next opening.  This afforded us a mooch around the town for a bit, including a trip to a jewellers who could only give us a price for an 18-carat bracelet after he’d weighed it.  I’d never seen that before!  When the price was given, we excused ourselves and left.

A large group of people had gathered from Ireland (including a pair of people other than ourselves), Germany, the US, the Netherlands and Switzerland to go in.  The tour was only about 15 minutes long, but you got to go into the areas where pasta (specifically spaghetti here – the rest of the pastas are made in the castle in the middle of the town) is dried and cut – and you were given a small sample of pre-cut pasta.  Martelli pasta is cut with bronze dies, which give it a very rough texture.  As the pasta is only made from durum wheat and water, there isn’t a flavour difference, but the sauce sticks beautifully to the pasta in the pan during the final stages of cooking.

The dude that came out to deliver the tour (in English) was dressed in video-game racial stereotype overalls, but he knew his stuff and was friendly.  The main area was really warm… maybe 35-36 celsius, and I wondered how hot it could get in August-heat!

Afterwards, we had a lunch with Martelli pasta.  We had done so before in the same restaurant, but the only new dish was the one I got – maccheroni with a tuscan ragu.

Our guests were a little tired, so we forewent trips to other towns, and headed home – capturing some lovely scenery on the way.  We had an obligatory stop at the ‘O’ on the road just past Volterra, on the way to Siena.

Apologies… you can see reflections in some of the photos.  On the way back to apartment, we grabbed some gelati, because we could!  We pretty much stayed in for the rest of the day, except when I nipped out to grab a little shopping, and Niamh went out to get takeaway pizza for herself and the other ladies.  

I’ve ceased being a fan of pizza at night (acid stomach), and instead got something even more trashy, but strangely nice for a change – a fishburger.  The fish was flaky inside the rough crumb, so it wasn’t the worst thing at all – I might try the burger in the same place (Attutapizza) some other time.


Afterwards, we watched Wine Country on Netflix, which was mis-labelled as a comedy.  Ah, I’m being unfair – it wasn’t a bad flick (although I left about 10 mins before the end).  The Napa Valley looks a bit like Tuscany, so that was a plus – and the characters in it were amiable enough.

Anyhoo, this morning I got up earlier than usual, and compounded by the fact that it is later in the year, the town was a little darker than usual.  I found a new part of the route (well… Niamh had gone that way before me), which made the walk a little more interesting.  I also captured a wide shot of Volterra’s buildings I’d never been able to capture before.  It almost looks like another town from that angle.

The guests are having a mooch about town today, so I will use some of this day to put a hole in my writing project.  I hope to stay out much of the night to capture as much as I can on La Notte Rossa too, so I’m really looking forward to that!

We are bringing one of the guests to the airport tomorrow mid-morning, but I hope to have a blog up before we go tomorrow.


Volterran Facts and Myth

Much like Ireland has been doing recently, Volterra has, over its millenia, been hitting above its weight, in terms relative to the size of its population. Here are some of the stories it has accumulated, which have add to Volterra’s cultural history and notoriety.

I have to admit that I haven’t read all of the criteria for being announced as being protected as a UNESCO Heritage site, but it just seems very odd to me that Volterra’s application has been waiting for so long.

etruscansVolterra (Velathri, in the Etruscan language) was one of the twelve principal cities of the Etruscan League. It was a cultural cradle while Rome was still an upstart village on the banks of the Tiber. (I still have mad love for you, Rome!).  In fact, it is Tuscany’s oldest continuously inhabited town.

alabasterIt is one of the principal centres for production of alabaster works in Europe, if not the principal centre. It was for centuries, and then trade fell off.  It picked back up again in the eighteenth century, from which time Volterra has ruled the roost!  Check out alab’Arte, from where I pilfered this photo.

linusThe second Pope, St. Linus, was born in Volterra.  His cathederal is one of the few places we haven’t visited yet, as it was being renovated.  It may have reopened by now, so hopefully we’ll take a look when we get over there.

palazzo_dei_prioriThe main building of office in Volterra is still the 13th century Palazzo dei Priori, in the main square.  It is the oldest town hall in Tuscany.  So enamoured were the Medici by its design, that it was ‘culturally appropriated’, in that they based their Palazzo Vecchio in Florence on it.  It’s still used for officialdom, but you can also visit a museum and the bell-tower there.

view_from_pdpIf you were to stand beside the bell in the Palazzo dei Priori, you would be about 560 meters above sea-level, making Volterra Tuscany’s highest hilltown.  I can see our house from here!

fortezzaThere is a Medicean fortress that dominates the south of the town.  There are only three ways you can visit it, however: (1) go to dinner there; (2) visit someone housed there; or (3) be a very naughty boy and earn a prison sentence.  Yes, it is, in fact, a medium-security prison.  However, it is a very progressive one.  Eight or so times a year, you can book yourself in to attend the so-called Cene Galeotte, where prisoners, aided by volunteering expert chefs help prepare food and provide waiting service, to help them get back on their feet by learning a trade.  More improbably, one of Italy’s finest theatrical troupes is made up of inhabitants of the Fortezza.

aradiaThe progenitor of your typical medieval witches was also reputed for have been born in Volterra, supposedly on August the 13th, 1313.  Her name was Aradia.  Read more about her here.  I haven’t yet visited the rock or caves, but that might change during my sabbatical.  

manicomioVolterra was home to a another town of sorts, on its outskirts.  During its dismal apex, it housed as many people as the walled town itself did – about 6,000.  It was a psychiatric hospital.  It began life as an institution which genuinely sought to help the mentally infirm, but became something much more insidious.  You can read more about it here and here.

It still remains, for all intents and purposes, abandoned, but I have now heard you can buy a ticket to visit.  Chalk something else up for our upcoming visit!

Another interesting story, is that patients helped dig up the trash heap that lay outside the town’s walls, and exposed the Roman Amphitheatre, which had lain there for centuries, forgotten.  Those that volunteered got clean bills of health.

rosso_depositionOne of the most famous and progressive scenes depicting the Deposition of Christ was painted by Rosso Fiorentino, and originally housed in the cathedral of Volterra.  It is now in the town’s art museum (pinacoteca), along with many other amazing pre-Renaissance pieces.  It features, unusually, a red-headed Judas (bottom right).

porta_allarcoOne of Volterra’s greatest treasures is on public display, and acts as one of the entrances to the walled town: the Porta all’Arco.  Part of it dates back to centuries BC.  During WWII, the German’s threatened to destroy the gate, to impede the approaching allies.  The remaining townsfolk (many of whom where women and children by then) begged the Germans to give them time instead to stop it up with rocks.  They were given 24 hours.  Incredibly they did it in time (it’s a big gate, with added depth) by forming a human conveyor belt, and so the gate remains intact today.

twilightMost recently, Volterra has seen movie and TV sets come and go, and been associated with modern young-adult urban fantasy.  Some scenes from the live-action version of Full Metal Alchemist were shot here, as well as much of Season 3 of The Medicis (still awaiting broadcast in Ireland, I think).  Most famously, Volterra has been associated with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Trilogy, with some of the second book being set here.  Sadly, only a few scenes of the film where shot in Volterra, with the majority of the outdoor stuff shot instead in Montepulciano, 70 miles away.