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29km (18 miles) SW of San Gimignano; 50km (31 miles) W of Siena; 72km (45 miles) SW of Florence; 300km (186 miles) NW of Rome

In the words of the writer D. H. Lawrence, Volterra is “on a towering great bluff that gets all the winds and sees all the world.” Volterra seems to rear higher than any other Tuscan town, rising a precipitous 540m (1,772 ft.) above the valley below and drawn out thinly along a narrow ridge with a warren of medieval alleys falling steeply off the main piazza. You’ll see the town long before you arrive, pointing a grimace at the world from way above the pastures of the Valdera.

 

Lawrence came here to study the Etruscans, who took the 9th-century-b.c. town established by the Villanovan culture and by the 4th century b.c. had turned it into Velathri, one of the largest centers in Etruria’s 12-city confederation. Seeing their haunting bronzes and alabaster funerary urns is a compelling reason to venture over here, though fans of Stephanie Meyer’s teen vampire trilogy, “Twilight,” might come to see the town that is the home of the Volturi.