History27 April 2020

Volterra, the land of witches

Volterra’s past and present are shrouded in mysterious legends, thanks to the dark roads and some gloomy stories that have enveloped its walls.
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The first image of Volterra as soon as you can see it from the road is that of a charming village overlooking the hills, immersed in the idyllic peace of the hinterland. But as soon as you enter the ancient city, it’s not hard to see why they call it “the land of witches”. Its typical narrow alleys, with eerie names – such as Chiasso delle Zingare, Vicolo degli Abbandonati, or via Vecchi Ammazzatoi – crammed between the houses, where a cold wind blows, seem to evoke croacking specters from the dark. There are many legends about sorcerer and strange rituals, but one seems to be closer to historical reality more than others.

It seems that the first ever witch lived right here: according to the beliefs, she was called Aradia and was the daughter of the Goddess Diana, and was sent to earth by her mother to teach the arts of witchcraft to men. What makes it even more interesting is that the documents confirm there was indeed an Aradia, born in Volterra on 13 August 1313. The church condemned her to the stake and imprisoned her, but on the day of the execution her cell was mysteriously found empty. The most famous belief, however, revolves around the disturbing rumor that seems to be present to this day in the collective belief, during certain nights, around the Masso della Mandriga, a huge massif outside the walls, famous for the clear and pure water that flows from its deep rift. The stories tell that this heaven-like spring turns in the night hours into a ghostly place, where on Saturdays the witches gather for macabre dances and pagan rites. On the other hand, the stories in Volterra are certainly fueled by the mystery of the tangle of ancient houses, the sinister damp courtyards, the yellowish and soft light of street lamps and the sounds of nocturnal birds of prey, which give the surreal feeling of being at the gates of nowhere.

More recently, the village became famous because it was chosen by author Stephenie Meyer as setting of “New Moon”, the second instalment in the famous and beloved “Twilight” saga. The Volturi, the fights between vampires, and the secrets of the cramped underground crypts have helped to enhance Volterra’s fascination even more in the collective imagination, making it a place with an absolutely unique charm.


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