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Porta all'Arco in Volterra

Historical Buildings

An imposing structure dating to the Etruscan era

Porta all’Arco was part of the ancient Etruscan city walls in Volterra. Built in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, it has survived to today in all its majesty. The uniqueness of the structure is in the use of stone, of which there are three different colours based on the type of rock used: yellow for the supporting structure, grey for the arch and darker hues for the three mysterious heads.

These figures are what have always made the gate fascinating, and there are many legends surrounding them: for some, there’s no doubt they depict Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, while others think they are Castor and Pollux; others still believe they are not human heads, but rather lions watching guard over Volterra. Since the literary saga Twilight was released, additional theories have been suggested, ranging from ones that are historically reliable to those that are more fanciful, like the heads depicting the three vampires from the book that hide in the city.

The three mysterious heads
The three mysterious heads - Credit: Sailko

The gate’s history has certainly contributed to bestowing it with this magical aura that’s lasted through the centuries, which has included a great many conflicts. A siege was portrayed on a 1st-century BCE urn that is today located it the Guarnacci Museum, but the gate’s survival was also risked during World War II. Knowing of the imminent arrival of the Allies, the German troops threatened to blow it up. The townsmen, though aware that their actions would have delayed the city’s liberation, completely walled in the gate in just one night using stones from the road; thanks to this courageous act, the gate was saved from destruction.

More attractions in Volterra