Hopping hilltop towns in Tuscany

View of rooftops as we approach Volterra on foot.

View of rooftops as we approach Volterra on foot. The antennas were a surprise.

The second day of our trip we visited two small hill towns, Volterra and Monteriggioni, in the morning and Siena in the afternoon. Many of the Tuscan hill towns can be traced to Etruscan times. Others originated with the fall of Rome when lowland people fled to the hills and built walled communities, fortified against barbarian invasions.

Roman theatre ruins in Volterra, Italy
Roman theatre ruins in Volterra, Italy

Volterra was one of the most important Etruscan cities. It was eventually absorbed by Rome and then fell to the Florentines. We were excited to see our first Roman ruins here. The ruins of the Roman Theatre in Volterra are among the best preserved Roman ruins in Italy.

A close-up view from a walled walkway of the Volterra Roman theatre ruins.

A close-up view from a walled walkway of the Volterra Roman theatre ruins.

The stage wall of the theatre was standard Roman design with three levels from which the actors appeared—the bottom for the human characters, the middle for heroes, and the top for the gods. Only parts from two levels remain.

Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra's City Hall.

Palazzo dei Priori, Volterra's City Hall.

Volterra’s City Hall, the Palazzo dei Priori, claims to be the oldest of any Tuscan city-state. Towns like Volterra were truly city-states, independent of the pope and emperor and relatively democratic. (Steves)

A partial view of the ornate columns and coffered ceiling inside Volterra's cathedral.

A partial view of the ornate columns and coffered ceiling inside Volterra's cathedral.

It took over two centuries to build Volterra’s cathedral begun in 1200. As you might expect, Catholic churches were prominent, elaborate, and in abundance throughout the region.


Candles for Dad Grote and Annie.

Candles for Dad Grote and Annie.

I lit two candles in every church we visited that allowed it—one for my father-in-law who died the previous year, and one for my disabled sister Annie, a year younger than me, who died the month before we left for Italy.

I couldn’t leave Volterra without purchasing a small decorative lidded box made from the alabaster for which they are famous.  We made a quick stop for pizza Margherita, and then on to Monteriggioni.

Part of the fortifications in the wall surrounding Monteriggioni.

Part of the fortifications in the wall surrounding Monteriggioni.

Monteriggioni was built in 1203 and soon became a garrison town guarding the northern borders of Siena’s territory from the Florentine armies.

Monteriggioni's piazza.

Monteriggioni's piazza.

It is a very small town consisting of a large piazza where we stopped for refreshments, a Romanesque church, a few houses, restaurants and shops. A small street there is named for Dante who referred to Monteriggioni in his Inferno.

The church in Monteriggioni.

The church in Monteriggioni.

Candles in Monteriggioni for Dad Grote and Annie.

Candles in Monteriggioni for Dad Grote and Annie.

On to Siena. . .

Photos by Christine M. Grote and Mark Joseph Grote
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote

See more links to posts about Italy on my “Places I’ve Been” page.

DK Eyewitness travel — Florence & Tuscany, DK Publishing, NY, 2007
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides, Top 10 Tuscany, DK Publishing, NY, 2005
Frommer’s Florence, Tuscany & Umbria, 6th ed., by John Moretti, Wiley Publishing,NJ, 2008
Rick Steves’ Florence & Tuscany 2009

58 Comments on “Hopping hilltop towns in Tuscany”

  1. Shelly says:

    A lot of Roman ruins still stand in Israel to this day. They were awsome builders.

    • CMSmith says:

      I would love to go to Israel, but am a little fearful about visiting that part of the world.

      • St. Joseph says:

        Thousands of tourists visit Israel yearly.

        I believe there is danger even staying in my home.

        Rome is one of 269 cities I’ve travelled to and lived in in N. America, Europe and Asia.

        As a very serious amateur classical photographer since 13 in 1957, I’d love to travel and photograph the Middle East with all its cultures and history. In fact the world!

        As a Canadian, I’d book my travels with a major N. American travel agency. I’m always cautious, and check with Canadian Foreign Ministry as part of my trip research research.

        There is no guarentee in life. Live extremely sheltered or live life to the fullest. It’s a choice for everyone.

        I choose somewhere in between. That’s just me!

        There is an OLD saying that goes like this: “Travelling 1,000 miles beats reading 10,000 books!” Oh, yes! I love to “Smell the roses”!

        St. Joseph (Name of my Sr. High)

      • Don’t ever be afraid to go the Israel, for Israel is God’s chosen city. He will protect you while your are in His favorite territory. Jesus loves you. You are awsome.

  2. pnwauthor says:

    Oh, lucky you! Tuscany is on my list of places I want to visit.

    One of my fav movies is “Under a Tuscan Sun”


    • St. Joseph says:

      Hello Patricia,

      Do go!

      I’d recommend visiting a few cities in one trip. Arrange with a trusted travel agency.

      I enjoy my early 90’s trip to France and Italy, I visited Cann and Paris in France; Capri, Florence, Napole, Pizza, Pompeii, Rome, and Venice.

      With my 3 professional grade Nikon cameras and 4 lenses + accesaries weighing over 33 pounds (15 kg).

      I came home with a few very good photographs. Bringing photo equipment on any travel is a must. Do breath the air, smell the roses, and spend a few minutes to capture the essence of the place in your photograph.

      I’d go again before a wink of my eye!

  3. Lisa says:

    Love the photos!

  4. carol says:

    Did you take all the photos yourself ?
    They are beautiful

  5. Eve says:

    I love Tuscany…did you see my post a week ago called Roman Rocks? Your blog is gorgeous!

  6. italyinfopro says:

    I always enjoy visiting Volterra and especially at this time of the year when there are few tourists around. Between Volterra and Monteriggioni there is a lovely town known as Casole d’Elsa that many tourists often overlook.




  7. What beautiful photos! Absolutely gorgeous. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  8. Lovely post. We’ve been to Tuscany several times and it never fails to charm. Monteriggioni was a favourite. Re: your Sienna blog – did you see the sculpture half way up a wall of a topless lady peeking through the curtains ? One of my fave bits of art :)

  9. These photos are just breath-taking…

  10. SO jealous!

    Beautiful pix, and equally beautiful sentiment in the candles. I wish you continued healing….

  11. bandsmoke says:

    Tuscany is gorgeous as are your pictures – congrats on FP :-)

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Freshly Pressed and Andy Android, cmsmith57. cmsmith57 said: Photos from Tuscany, Italy, 2009 — http://tinyurl.com/6hnubfu […]

  13. ElenaSC says:

    Always nice to see pictures of my country! And even better to see people who appreciate the beauty of it!

  14. Mike says:

    Several years ago my wife’s family rented a villa in Volterra for two weeks – we had a wonderful time there exploring the region. We love Tuscany, well I guess we love all of Italy! Beautiful photos!

  15. laavventura says:

    La vita e bella in italia.
    The life is beautiful in Italy.

    Amazing pics and what a fun adventure.
    Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  16. enjoibeing says:

    very cool photos. i feel like a free runner seeing all these views from atop different buildings and structures.

  17. albeindc says:

    wow, great photos! really captures the rustic charm of tuscany, one of my favorite italian regions.

  18. Addison says:

    Wow great shots! I am jealous of you, haha. Hope you are having a great time.

    Check out my blog: http://thelifelessonslearned.wordpress.com/

  19. The pictures posted are beautiful, Toscana is one of my favorite places in the world! I enjoyed this post with some history attached and will keep an eye out for more of your writing. Please take a look at my site (chezcestchic.wordpress.com) as I share some views of places I have been or would like to see as well. ~Ciao

  20. Mike says:

    this is an awesome post! i cant wait to visit italy and all of europe. It’s been a goal of mine for sometime now. I want to see everything!

  21. kitsatwork says:

    These are breathtaking photos! I’m definitely adding Tuscany to my dream travel spots. :)


  22. rtcrita says:

    Very nice. My favorite is the rooftops! I also love the angle in the church image. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Joe says:

    hey mom! i took that first one! i dont really mind i just really like that photo hahah, beautiful blog glad to see your keeping up nicely, way better than myself

  24. Beautiful photos! This is a dream of mine to visit Italy. Lucky you!

  25. Nate says:

    Great photos! Italia is beautiful. I’ve always wanted to visit Tuscany but have not been able to yet. Rome is quite amazing though!



  26. aileenturk says:

    i was in love with the Roman ruins pic because of the light, but that was before the precious feel of the Monterrigioni’s piazza captured my heart.

  27. ckassociates says:

    What you see in pictures is nothing compared to what you see when visiting Tuscany and seeing all the breath taking beauty. I loved every minute I spent in Italy, and if you have the opportunity to visit do so. I also loved watching the artists do their drawings right out on the streets. There’s a lot of talented artists in Italy, and probably more then people realize.

  28. ckassociates says:

    I took over 1500 pictures during my visit.

  29. Wonderful photos and descriptions. You are fortunate to have been able to see it firsthand.

  30. Ali says:

    Well written Write-up. Glad i am able yo locate a site with some knowledge plus a great writing style.
    You keep publishing and i will continue to Keep browsing

    Thanks Again

  31. Norma says:

    We were in Tuscany a few years ago (not these towns) and your wonderful photos bring back happy memories.

  32. Andrea Avena says:

    Hello, i’m part Italian and live in the UK, bu thave visited Itally a lot. Tuscany is by far my favourie region of Italy, even though i’m from further South. It has beautiful architecture, food and people, and there is always a real sense of history in Tuscany. However, everyone should visit Venice at one point in there life, it really is a magical place in Italy!

  33. mclj2011 says:

    Looks amazing.. I never get tired of looking at pictures of Italy, especially the ones of Roman ruins and the insides of the churches! Thanks for the post.

  34. Jodylynn says:

    Stunning photos, I enjoyed!

  35. 4lmasih says:

    Hmmm….very nice place

  36. vanimator says:

    Great and amazing photos !! Roman theatre is a treat (even if its in ruins).
    Thank you for these wonderful photos.


  37. keithg123 says:

    Wonderful photos – Tuscany has to be one of my favourite places which I have not been able to visit from South Africa for ages – so thank you for my vicaruious visit.
    Regards Keith Grenville

  38. Homes-Club says:

    I love this region of Italy! And I think these little hill-top towns are the gems of the area! I’ve only just discovered your blog through FP (congrats!) but will definitely read more!

  39. bagnidilucca says:

    We loved Volterra as well. It is not as popular, or busy, as Siena and San Gimignano, but it should be. Thanks for the reminder, we are in Bagni di Lucca, close enough for a visit.

  40. Brian says:

    I love this place. WhenI am sad in life, the memories help me so much. Thank you both. Brian

  41. TweeCo says:

    I like the “zebra” marble interior of the church. Really hope that I can be there

  42. Lovely post. We’ve been to Tuscany several times and it never fails to charm. Monteriggioni was a favourite. Re: your Sienna blog – did you see the sculpture half way up a wall of a topless lady peeking through the curtains ? One of my fave bits of art

  43. […] Pressed early in my blogging career. It was short-lived popularity, but nice while it lasted —  Hopping Hilltop Towns in Tuscany (February 21st) and The Soft Footprint of St. Francis in Assisi (March […]

  44. I can see why this attracted so much attention… Italy is a wonderul place to visit.. beautiful.

  45. Beautiful pictures of beautiful places. Thank you for leading me to this post, Christine. I have e-mailed the link to my partner, so perhaps we can add these to our motorbike route this summer.

  46. aFrankAngle says:

    Gotta love the small towns and villages. I haven’t been to these, so thanks for sharing. Love the fortification wall pic!

    • CMSmith says:

      This post was freshly pressed. It happened shortly after I started blogging. I was used to checking my stats to see if one more person had read the post. I got to my parents’ house about a half hour away and logged on to see if anyone had noticed my post. There were hundreds of visitors. I was stunned.

      I’m fine without that level of success, to be Frank, if I may.

      I think the editors just liked the title.


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