72729
Volterra (Tuscany), Italy

Palazzo Pretorio and Torre del Porcellino

The Palazzo Pretorio with its humorous additions forms one side of the Piazza dei Priori. The palazzo seen today is the result of XIX century changes after the earthquake when several buildings were joined together and further embellished. In the past these buildings housed the Mayor's seat as well as providing accommodation for the Captain of the people's guard, hence its name of Praetorian or Pretorio.

The palazzo's tower, the Torre del Procellino is thought to be one of the oldest in the city. Its name translates simply as the Tower of the Little Pig because perched high up at the top of the tower next to a window is a quirky carved statue of a stone pig sitting on a little shelf. A careful observer, however, will spot that the tower has more than one pig. Another one is roughly carved in relief at the tower's base.

There is some controversy over whether these carvings are actually pig's or rats! The Topi family, whose name translates as rat, had a house in the Piazza dei Priori so some writers have suggested that these carvings portray giant rats. A closer examination soon reveals that they resemble the wild boar of the region, with the carvings affectionately referred to as little pigs or porcellino. Whether they are rats, boars or pigs they bring a smile to visitors' faces as they zoom in their lenses for photographs.

Adding towers to houses in Tuscan towns and villages was a common practice. They were erected as fortifications to defend the noble families living in their palazzos from the frequent and bitter fights for territory and power that characterized the region over many centuries.

Although the tower isn't open to the public, visitors can enjoy a glass of wine and simple, tasty Etruscan food in the restaurant that now occupies the lower part of the Torre del Porcellino.