Mistery Tuscany: Volaterrae

Everybody is familiar with the beautiful Tuscan landscape filled with poppies and sunflowers, but I want to take you on a journey with a new perspective on the region everyone wants to visit starting from Volterra .


Tuscany, is a land of mysterious legends as well as  hamlets or villages where a surreal atmosphere leaves you feeling “suspended in time”.  Volterra and its surrounding countryside is one of these locations. The magic in this area goes back to ancient times and is closely linked to the world of witches and evil.

Mistery Tuscany – Volaterrae

Volaterrae, the “suspended town” , “ la città sospesa, la città di vento e di macigno” as Gabriele D’Annunzio described it.

volterra panorama
volterra panorama

A mountain top town with a 360 degree view, it is constantly exposed to strong winds which add a “surreal” energy to its atmosphere. In Volterra the legend says were discovered the magic formulas used by the first witches. Keepers of ancient Etruscan rituals, their spells were able to induce love, hate or dig deep into the human soul. There is a centuries-old relationship between Volterra and witchcraft, as proven by some curious street names, such as Via delle Streghe.

Moreover, a rock just outside the walls it is said marked the meeting point for the so-called witches of Mandriga.  Under the  massive titanic rock one can still find one of the oldest and celebrated spring sources thanks to the excellent clear water. Throughout the centuries, in the daylight, the fount has been animated by women chatting while washing clothes or collecting water as well as children playing there. But…Saturday evenings are a different story. The legends say that on Saturday evenings the location was used as a place for witches to meet to celebrate secret rituals  Still today there are those who say that occasionally, on Saturday nights one can  hear distant voices and screams coming from the massif.

Elena di Travale

The magic around Volterra  is also linked to the legendary and gruesome trial of a woman called Elena di Travale who was accused of witchcraft and subjected to horrific torture in June 1423.

Mystery Tuscany
Mystery Tuscany

Elena came from the small medieval village of Travale in the Val di Cecina. The area, still today is rich in geothermal activity.  Driving through my beloved Volterrana Road, you can see all around you thick vapour gases rising in the air through cracks in the earth, due to volcanic activity beneath the tectonic plate. But back then, people feared all this was the work of witches who gathered in the area to practice dark magic. Poor Elena was singled out from the crowd and falsely accused of being involved in these supposed activities and was brought to the hilltop town of Volterra for inspection before a trial in which she was finally accused of practicing evil spells. She was sentenced to public ridicule, tortured, fined and banished from the Volterra diocese. Poor Elena (who I imagine, was also very beautiful) was, in a way, lucky. Many wise innocent women with great knowledge in herbal remedies and the power of plants, were considered witches and killed in those dark times.

Elena escaped the death penalty maybe because an influential nobleman was her secret lover…we won’t ever know but tourists visiting Volterra today may have a glimpse of the medieval hard times by visiting the Museum of Medieval Torture ( that I am not really suggesting but in case you are interested …)

Mysteries and legends fill Tuscany among its rolling hills and crumbled castles. If you are fascinated by it as I am, follow me in this out of the beaten track  journey and wait for my next “mystery location”

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Robin Mortarotti says:

    Hi Chiara,

    Stunning, wonderfully written, illustrated, and presented.

    Tuscany is such a beautiful place, I wish I could visit and stay a long time when I do. Perhaps it’s time to return to Italy to make new movies for Castello di Casole and capture the wider region in all its beauty and enduring mystery.

    If I do, I’d love to work with you. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work.

    1. Chiara says:

      Robin how fantastic would be to work with you! I have more “mystery Tuscany ” to share! Follow me, maybe you come up with an idea for a new film !?!

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