landscape enhances the mystery, isolation and romantic melancholy that pervades this
unique, artistic haven, set in the heart of Tuscany.
Volterra is a city of stone.Its narrow streets,looming towers,and majestic palaces and
fortifications are made of stone.
A yellow-grey stone, a sandstone effused with fossils of rare beauty.
Alabaster is also a stone and so is the craft.
The name alabaster is undoubtedly Egyptian and probably derives from the city
of Alabastron which was famous for the manufacture of vases and amphorae made as perfume
There are two varieties of alabaster: the oriental alabaster ( calcium carbonate) and the
chalky alabaster ( hydrated calcium sulphate).
This chalky alabaster, carved in Volterra and mostly mined in Castellina Marittima was
formed during the Miocene period as the sediments of calcium sulphate contained in the sea
water underwent a process of concentration. A soft white stone, alabaster is more easily
carved than marble and thus ideal for intricate decoration and classical sculpture work.
Once the stone of the gods, the Etruscans were the first to carve alabaster for their
cinerary urns.These beautifully sculptured urns portraying the recumbant deceased and
scenes of everyday life , fantasic journeys to the world beyond and well-known episodes
from Greek mythology are housed in the Guarnacci Museum in Volterra, the Archeological
Museum in Florence, in the Vatican Museum, the Louvre and the British Museum.
The Etruscans chose the highest quality pure alabaster which they painted with minerals
and sometimes decorated with a very thin layer of gold.
Very few artefacts from the Medieval and Renaissance periods have been found which
suggests that alabaster was seldom carved during that era.
The alabaster craft was reestablished in the 17th century and flourished at the beginning
of the 18th century as skilled artisans and sculptors launched the reproduction of
classical art and high quality artefacts renowned throughout the world.
In 1780 the Grand duchy of Tuscany registered 8 or 9 artisan workshops in Volterra. In
1830 the number had risen to more than 60 thanks to the innovative spirit of the
travelling crafstsmen who travelled the world selling their wares, opening
shops, taking part in fairs and auctions.
A noble Volterran, Marcello Inghirami Fei, a talented artist and craftsman was the first
to extract alabaster from the mine in Castellina. He created new machinery, exclusively
produced high quality artefacts and created a prestigious school-workshop where more than
a hundred students under the guidance of skilled masters had the privelage of learning the
art of the alabaster craft.
Hence until 1870 the alabaster craft flourished and harvested an excellent repute in Italy
Yet despite long intervals of regression, the alabaster industry has continued to conserve
the age-old tradition of the craft. Alabaster may no longer be the main source of the
economy but it is still a distinctive feature of the culture and history.
Today,there are but a few alabaster workshops in the historical centre but those which
remain have been entrusted with the preservation of this ancient tradition and the
creative evolution of the craft.