Volterra – The mystery of the gate of the severed heads

Volterra Porta teste tagliate 2

There are an extraordinary number of fascinating places to visit and things to see in Volterra, including the world famous Shadow of the Evening in the Guarnacci Museum, the Little Pig on the Tower of the Podestà and the children’s windows in Palazzo dello Sbarba, as well as of course the reknowned “cliffs”; one place stands out in particular and this is the Gate all’Arco, built with blocks of limestone by the Etruscans in the II century B.C. and with three stone “protomé” – or large human heads – carved on the external arch and now consumed by time. Experts on the world of the Etruscans have been discussing the mysterious significance of these heads for some time now.

Many theories have been advanced to this date, some claim that the heads represent the portraits of three important citizens, others that they are the decapitated heads of enemies placed here on public view to deter further attackers, while others again are of the opinion that they portray divine protectors and either represent the Etruscan triad of Tinia (Jove), Uni (Juno) and Menrva (Minerva) or Jove and the Dioscuri. During the last World War – to be precise in 1944 – the Germans decided to mine this gate in order to block the road against the Allied advance; the entire population of Volterra, people of all ages and from every walk in life, began taking up the paving of the road, thus building up a great pile of stones that blocked all access to the city, making it pointless to destroy the gate and saving one of the most suggestive, mysterious and precious monuments of ancient Volterra.

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