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Volterra and Colline Metallifere

(the 'metal hills')

The zone of the Colline Metallifere (the 'metal hills') is delimited to the north by the river Cecina, to the south by the river Pecora, and stretches from the west coast at Piombino into the province of Siena in the east.
The mine diggings sometimes give the landscape a rather harsh appearance, but not far from the silver, copper, lead, and pyrites mines are beautiful woods and cultivated valleys, and as you travel towards the sea, you come across hills covered with Mediterranean macchia vegetation.

The area around Volterra offers a unique panorama: the terrain consists of strata of sand and clay that in the past caused landslides, and now that they have stabilised, have produced an extraordinary landscape of cliffs and ledges that recalls Dante's Inferno. Despite its instability, it has always been inhabited because of its valuable mineral deposits. Indeed, these hills have been exploited for their copper, silver, lead, and zinc since Etruscan times, though the principal resource in that period were the salt deposits.
Volterra also used to be a market city because of its geographical position and the many local products it had to offer. The city is also famous for the quarrying and working of alabaster, which is similar to marble. Its value was already recognized by the Etruscans and is still a significant element in the economy of the area.
Modern-day Volterra is a small city whose historic and artistic treasures and original alabaster craftsmanship attract tourists from all over the world.


Fortress of Volterra

South of the city is the Valle del Diavolo ('Valley of the Devil'), which owes its name to the vapour fumes rising from the lagoni (small basins where boric waters collect), which give the area a sinister and infernal appearance. The boric waters are a natural resource that today are exploited industrially, thanks to the foresight of a Frenchman named Larderel around about the beginning of the 19th century, who adopted a device to harness the geothermal power of the land; the village of Larderello, which developed as a result of industry's need for boric acid, is named after him.

Pictures by Sandro Santioli
Illustration by Olga Bruno


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