Over the last decade Volterra has come into the tourist radar thanks to its being the setting for New Moon, the second vampire book in the Twilight series. And although the city has come up with some brilliant New Moon tours to appeal to vampire-fans, "normal people" shoud not fear. Your neck is not at risk in Volterra (it's the home of the Vulturi, but you can always wear garlic!) and your art-loving side will remain satisfied.
Volterra is a small town, and although one could stay there as a home base, it's a perfectly do-able day trip by car from Florence. So what follows is not a strict itinerary but a list of the highlights of Volterra - what to see if you're a "normal person" or if you're a "vampire". You can see everything in one day and still have ample time for a long lunch. Pick up a map at the tourist office in Piazza dei Priori (the main piazza, including Duomo and city hall - you can't miss it) to easily located all the points below which are in walking distance of one another.
Volterra is a walled hill town, in an area called the “Metal Hills” (Colline Metallifere), thus named because of the presence since Etruscan times of copper, lead, silver, and zinc nearby. The Etruscans also mined salt here. The district is particularly known for working alabaster, and there are also mineral springs and baths nearby. The Etruscan name of this town was Velathri, and it was where the Etruscan confederation held their most important meetings. So there's a goodly concentration of Etruscan art here (see below). Defeated by the Romans, it became a municipium. Throughout the middle ages, the city was a bishop's residence... until it fell into the hands of Florence and eventually of the Medici family and Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The Guarnacci Etruscan Museum contains important Etruscan testimonies. The Etruscan Gate from the 4th century BCE is part of the defensive wall (about 7km long).
Hike a bit to get to the Roman Ampitheatre (1st century BCE). The Civic Museum boasts the town's most important painting from the late Renaissance period - Rosso Fiorentino's Deposition from the Cross is a Mannerist masterpiece from 1521. The rest of the museum contains works that demonstrate the alternating dominations of the Sienese and Florentines. On Piazza dei Priori sit the city hall (Palazzo dei Priori), designed by Maestro Riccardo in 1239 as per an inscription; it has a three-storey façade with trilobed double arched windows in the Medieval style. Nearby is the Cathedral, unassuming from the outside and 16th century on the inside. The Alabaster Museum (Ecomuseo dell'Alabastro) is also nearby. And just outside the city the area around Volterra hosts a special exhibit of large scale-landscape art by Mauro Staccioli; a unique opportunity to consider the contrast between the age-old landscape and contemporary art.
As you know, Volterra is the location in the Twilight New Moon book to which Bella runs when she learns that Edward wants to end his "life" by handing himself over to the bad vampires who just happen to be here in Tuscany. Author Stephanie Meyer visited the town in 2006 and identified the locations mentioned in the book. When the film of New Moon was shot in Italy, producers chose the town on Montepulciano over Volterra, much to the joy of that wine-producing town. Volterra didn't let this cramp their style - they are the authentic town of the Volturi! So if you're a huge New Moon fan, you'll want to come to Volterra and see the spaces visited by the characters in the book, like the Piazza dei Priori at noon, or the memorable dark alley down which Bella runs to reach her love.