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Volterra (Tuscany), Italy

Piazza dei Priori

 

This Tuscan town is said to be one of the prettiest in Italy with its narrow streets, alleys, and arches and the warm, honey-colored stone of its buildings. At its heart is the Piazza dei Priori, considered to be an almost perfect example of an Italian medieval square and an excellent stopping point for coffee and a spot of people watching. The square is lined with beautiful medieval buildings that give visitors a sense of the town's history.

This Piazza has always been at the center of town life and was originally known as the Bishop's Prato or civic area from which the bishop ruled the citizens. As the town gathered its own identity a commune of townspeople gradually took over the bishop's role and the first of the grand houses and palaces that line the square began to be erected. The focus of the square was always an elm tree in the center around which the consuls and elders held meetings and formulated new laws.

Several of these grand palaces are still standing and in use around the Piazza dei Priori.

The Palazzo Vescovile was originally built as a grain store, later becoming the bishop's residence in the late XV century when the Florentines destroyed the Palazzo Vescovi to make way for the city's fort. The imposing arches of this palazzo are thought to be the work of Antonio da San Gallo the Elder.

The town's local bank, Cassa di Risparmio, is housed in the old Palazzo Incontri, once belonging to the notable family of the same name. Recent renovation work has revealed that the building combines elements from both the medieval and Renaissance periods. Following the Council of Trent that saw the cathedral's reformation, the Palazzo Incontri became a seminary, remaining so until the end of the XVIII century.

The XIII century Palazzo del Monte Pio has recently been given a XXI century makeover allowing it to blend more seamlessly into the prevailing style of the Piazzo dei Priori. From Vicolo Mazzoni at the back of this palazzo, visitors can still see parts of the building's original construction.

The most important building on the Piazza dei Priori and the one from which the square takes its name is the Palazzo dei Priori, dating from the early XIII century.