The medieval Volterraio Castle on the Isola d’Elba, reopened to the public in 2016, is found at the top of a high plain on the border between the towns of Portoferraio and Rio nell’Elba, and dates to the 12th century. It is believed that its name comes from the Latin Vultur (vulture), but it could also derive from the architect Vanni Gherardo Rau who came from Volterra and was hired by the Pisans in 1231 to fortify the castle built nearly 200 years prior.
Beginning at the end of the 4th century CE, the top of the hill where the building is located was used as a “high plain fortress,” necessary for the strategic importance Elba had acquired in the Tyrrhenian Sea and for the presence of mineral resources. Volterraio was later made part of the Island’s defense system devised by the Republic of Pisa. Thanks to impressive reinforcements carried out around 1440, the castle was able to resist an attack by the Turks in 1544. Centuries later, in 1798, French troops based in Portoferraio further strengthened the stronghold, but a civic uprising half-destroyed the complex, and from that moment it was definitively abandoned.
The castle has a hexagonal plan, while the quadrangular tower stands in the best point for watch duty and, together with the defensive wall, is the oldest part of the fortress – making it a precious testimony of Elba’s defences. The entrance to the tower is connected to the chemin de ronde (a patrol path atop the castle’s battlement) by a wooden drawbridge. A signalling system covered the island’s entire territory and partly allowed for communication with the watch towers on the Tuscan coast.