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Historie of Villa Palagione and the Monte Voltraio


Villa Palagione is located seven kilometres east of the 3000
year-old cultural centre of Volterra
and is situated in
the midst of centuries of history and culture.

Located on the southern flank of Monte Voltraio,
Villa Palagione is deeply connected to the history of
its house-mountain "Monte Voltraio".

Because of his curious form it stands out of the extensive
hilly landscape and can be recognized from afar.
Also noticeable is its geological formation:
various petrified fossils of marine creatures and
plants can be found in the sand and stones
exposed by soil-erosions.

The Legend of the Mysterious Treasure on Monte Voltraio

Especially known is the legend of the "Hen with the Golden Chicks", which is supposed to be hidden on Monte Voltraio. Volterranians like to re-member a childhood lullaby which tells of this treasure. Whether it is a sculpture from Etruscan times or the famous Hen with the Seven Chicks from the cathedral treasury of Monza, which pope Gregory I. (590-604) gave to the Langobardian queen Theodolind as thanks for leading her people to Christianity remain open to imagination.
The cathedral treasury of Monza



Castle Monte Voltraio - an Historically Important Village- Faced with Ruin

Ancient cult sites at all times originated at especially conspicuous geographical sites. Already more than 2500 years ago the Etruscans apparently were drawn to this mystical mountain as can be seen by archaeological findings.

High on top of the difficult to access mountain top (458m)
a powerful, almost impregnable fortress was situated.
From there one had a wide panoramic view on the
surrounding valleys and mountains, was able monitor the road networks and had intervisibility and communication contact with the neighboring fortresses.

The history of Monte Voltraio today is hidden below undergrowth and the dusts of time. Only when looking closer one discovers the architectural remains of walls, broken fragments, workedon stones, stubs of pillars and capitals spread out all around the mountain. These findings lead to suspect the impressive size of this fortified and important town in Mediaeval times.


The history of Monte Voltraio becomes actually determinable
for the first time by a document about an imperial
court trial (Placitum) of July 967 in which the presence of
the emperor Otto the Great (913-973) is documented.
This document is of particular importance to the historians,
as due to the signatures of the attendees, for the first time
details of their official functions are distinguishable,
and for the first time the "County Volterra" and
its count Rodolfo are mentioned to secure the territorial
and legal order. He comes from the Century under known
family "Gherardesca", which since the middle of the
11th century the Counts in Volterra.

The territory includes the "Colline Metalifere" (Iron Hills),
which had always been a sought-after and high-fought area,
rich in raw material deposits such as salt, silver, iron
and copper: the base for power and wealth.

Placitum of 967

Up to the mid 13th century "Castle Monte Voltraio" developed into a prosperous community with a densely settled center and over a thousand inhabitants.
It obtained municipal law as independent rural city republic (commune), which included numerous surrounding villages and castles.
After the death of the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederic II. (1250) and the so arising political riots "Castle Monte Voltraio" got involved into the power struggles of the rivaling neighboring town of Volterra and its bishops.

The strategically important fortress and its village were forcibly captured by the Volterranian army and subjected to the town of Volterra (1252/1262).


Castle Monte Voltraio was a fortified and important town in
Mediaeval times, whose possible appearance is displayed
on a fresco of Villa Palagione.

The subjection of Volterra is commemorated by a tablet of 1252 situated on the outer façade of the Baptistery of Volterra.

During the following two centuries "Castle Monte Voltraio"
again and again became the sought-after subject of dispute
as well as the venue of numerous military conflicts between
Volterra, San Gimignano, Siena and Florence until it finally
was razed to the ground.

Attracted by the mystical and mysterious aura of Monte Voltraio and
its history the well-known film director Ermanno Olmi chose
the mountain in 1962 as a backdrop for his film "Camina, camina".

In former times Villa Palagione was called “Villa Borgo Montevoltraio”


Villa Palagione built 400 years ago for
feudale living in exquisite surroundings

The recorded history of Villa Palagione starts 400 years ago, in 1598, at the height of the Florentine dynasty of the Medici family. A plaque names the original owner as Girolamo Minucci. He was a knight and cupbearer of various Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany.
The noble family is strongly linked to the history of Volterra. In your palazzo and towerhouse from the 11th / 12th is located today the Pinathotek-Museum.
Over the centuries the Minucci family represented the interests of the Medici in this region. Volterra was the gateway to the mineral resources were the source of great wealth and power, but also the cause of numerous power struggles.




Trends and fashions of past generations repeatedly changed the image of the villa
and got its current look in the 17th and 18th. Centuries

Since the time when Girolamo Minucci built today's Villa palagione the appearance of the estate has
changed several times over the centuries, bowing to the tastes
of past generations and the
dictates of fashion trends.

The villa has numerous large rooms and halls. The "Lords and Ladies" lived on the central floor, or "Bel-Etage", where today you can still find the most beautiful murals and frescoes.
Villa Palagione served the noble and wealthy families of Volterra
as a summer and hunting residence, but also as a profitable
agricultural manor.

At the beginning of the 17th century,
the Sermolli family took over the country estate through marriage. Through them, the villa was
extensively rebuilt and enlarged:
The wooden beam ceilings were replaced by more resilient vaulted ceilings, new room dimensions
were created; still understandable today in the shifted symmetries between the facade and the interior.
The fresco paintings on the walls
and ceilings were also renewed.

In 1862 the villa passed to the Ricciarelli family. She expanded the east wing into a residential building
and enlarged the house chapel.
It also contains grave slabs of
members of the Ricciarelli family.



Villa Palagione
Saved from destruction and
filled with a new cultural life

  The Villa began to decline in the 20th century. The estate had stood empty for many years and by 1986 was in a distressing state. The buildings were in a highly dilapidated condition. Almost all of the roofs had come down, walls and vaulting had collapsed. Many of the century-old frescoes had been destroyed by water. The shape and original structure of many of the rooms at times could only be guessed. Even the church had been ransacked and an enormous thicket of thorns covered facades and gardens.  
  Was it chance, luck or fate that we -
a circle of friends from Germany and Italy - discovered Villa Palagione during the spring
of 1986? The villa was in a frightful state
and when - just after we had signed the contract - the complete staircase in the eastern wing came down with an infernal noise, almost nobody still believed it could
be done. An almost unbelievable task lay before us, but we kept our faith and got down to work. Everybody teamed in and
step by step - with the help of craftsmen and friends - we started to restore
Villa Palagione.

During the restoration work we took great care to preserve the historical structures along with introducing the necessary modernizations, as well as using traditional techniques to reconstruct the vaultings, frescoes and gates.
we designed amenities and technical infrastructures so they would be environmentally-friendly and accessible for persons with disabilities.

Our first years weren't easy but we never lost our courage or our energy.
The costly restoration works were done withoIn addition
and one thing we know for sure: there were many kind spirits on our side to help and support us along the way.

The Arcades building, which was the easiest to reconstruct, already by September of 1988 served as the venue in which we started to realize our vision of an intercultural centre. We began with offering Italian language courses and educational programmes. The rooms we had already finished renovating were used as venues for seminaries and conferences. In addition we kept renovating the villa room by room.
  The refurbishing works took more than 10 years and were finalized 1996 with the inauguration of the new dining room.
Without our immediate intervention and careful restructuring Villa Palagione would have been doomed for sure.
Today the 400 years old medician Villa is filled with a new life of culture and encounter.
  After the years we are happy about the things achieved, all the past and present successes, which would have been unthinkable without our enthusiastic and faithful friends, guests, sympathizing organizations and institutions, which in many different ways assisted to save Villa Palagione and turn it into a center of culture and education available to the public.
We would like to give our heartfelt thanks to all of you who helped and are still helping.