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Alabaster workshop
Photo © Eleonora Lopiano
Photo © Eleonora Lopiano

Craftmanship in Volterra: alabaster in 5 steps

A stone that made history for an entire community

Gabriele D'Annunzio called Volterra "city of wind and stone", telling in a few words its dual soul: ethereal, impalpable and impregnable on the one hand, extremely corporeal and concrete on the other. These two aspects coexist harmoniously in a single material, which has been guarded by the Volterra soil since time immemorial: alabaster. This stone, a mirror of the dual aspect of the Etruscan city, is indeed in appearance as mighty as marble, but its chalky nature makes it extremely fragile. Those who know how to handle such delicacy with care are the alabaster craftsmen, who still shape the rock and transform it into the most varied objects.
Here are 5 useful steps to approach the world of these modern demiurges.

Contents
  • 1.
    The Ecomuseum of Alabaster
  • 2.
    Guarnacci Museum and Viti Palace
  • 3.
    The workshops
  • 4.
    The Feast of St. Luke
  • 5.
    May 1
1.

The Ecomuseum of Alabaster

Alabaster
Alabaster - Credit: Consorzio Turistico Volterra

Before you touch what, because of its transparency, is called the stone of light, you can begin to breathe in its magic in the Alabaster Ecomuseum. With a path that runs along the timeline, you can start from the beginnings of the craft (of which the Etruscans are the undisputed protagonists), to contemplate the never-quenched mastery of today's artisans, who distinguish themselves with grand works, such as the reproduction of the 2.5-meter Tower of Pisa that has toured the world.

1.

Guarnacci Museum and Viti Palace

Viti Palace, Volterra
Viti Palace, Volterra - Credit: Point and Shoot Kinda Gal

Having leafed through the history of alabaster as if in a book at the Ecomuseum, here comes the time to actually see some considerable pieces of this almost sacred stone. The Etruscans, in fact, linked this material to the world of the afterlife and used it to make richly decorated cinerary urns that today are preserved precisely at the Guarnacci Museum in Volterra.

Interesting objects are also found in Viti Palace, home of the 19th-century merchant who made Volterra's activity known as far as Asia. In particular, the historic mansion contains two large candelabras commissioned by Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and a rare hardened alabaster table.

1.

The workshops

Alabaster workshop
Alabaster workshop - Credit: Gabriele Cantini

At one time, Volterra was a carpet of white footprints that artisans left in the streets as they moved around the city. Today, there are few authentic workshops, but you can still find passionate workers who devote their days to carving, ornamenting and turning imaginative works of art. The suggestion is to open your eyes and observe them as they create: it is the only real way to understand the toil, skill and value of this craft.

1.

The Feast of St. Luke

St. Luke of alabaster craftsmen
St. Luke of alabaster craftsmen - Credit: Collettivo Distillerie

Being alabaster craftsmen is a way of life: artisans have given rise to a community based on this work, operating with very strong common values, made up of mutual support, antifascist and often anarchist ideals, but also a good propensity for fun and pranks. For the past few years, the Feast of San Luca (St. Luke), patron saint of the alabaster craftsmen, has been recovered, a pleasant pretext for offering initiatives such as exhibitions, performances, readings and tasty lunches.

1.

May 1

The character of the alabaster craftsman, good-tempered and a lover of good food, could not fail to create an occasion for fun and conviviality even on Labor Day. Early in the morning, even today, the people of Volterra carry on the tripe tradition of May 1, eaten strictly in clubs and trattorias, with pods, pecorino cheese and anchovies to accompany it. With a flask of red wine, the perfect "breakfast" is sealed.

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