“Not only is it beautiful, Volterraio is also a fascinating, mysterious, powerful place; living a profound secret, above human misfortunes and events of which it was the protagonist. ”
G. Racheli, the Iron Islands, Murcia 1987
I have never found a better definition of the solitary fortress which overlooks oneof the most beautiful bays of the Mediterranean. Volterraio is firmly planted on topof a singular triangular hill, clearly visible at the entrance to the port of the town of Portoferraio.
It’s dominant and strategic position, not only on the Gulf of capital of the island, but also in respect of the island as a whole, suggests that it was one of the oldest man-made locations on Elba. Its name is derived from ful-tur, used bythe Etruscans to refer to the vultures, though the first historical notes date back to the period of domination of the Maritime Republic of Pisa,so, a thousand years ago. In successive centuries the fortress was enlarged and transformed until it assumed the severe, impregnable castle that we see today. Today, the vultures are no longer there and in their place are circling buzzards and kestrels hunting in between the sparse and low shrubs around the ancient ruins.
If you are going in person to visit the fortress, (which is considered a “must” as it is a symbol of the island) you only have to walk for forty minutes along an inaccessible and steep path that climbs through sparse vegetation which nearer the castle gives way to bare rock. I want to say a few words about the rock where the fortress is built: it is hard Jasper, a beautiful sedimentary rock formed by layers sometimes incredibly bent by subtle tectonic movements; the original colour is almost always covered with orange or grey coloured lichens, the only plants that are able to colonize this smooth compact rock, you will definitely feel that there is a relationship between the fortress and the rock on which it stands.
Going up to Volterraio you will encounter the remains of a former outpost, consisting of the remains of thick walls that were originally going to be the forward defence of the fort and next to the remains of the walls there is a solid shelter of the garrison guarding the city walls, built on the cliff overlooking a such breathtaking view that you will be hard pressed not to express wonder and surprise.
From this point on, if you manage to take your eyes off by the natural spectacle that unfolds around you, ascend the second and last part of the trail, almost free from vegetation, since it is right under the walls of Volterraio.
For many years it has been left in a state of neglect and you could even get inside the main door, that is if you go one along the dark military sortie on the north side. Today the Tuscan Archipelago National Park has closed the access to inside the castle, mainly to prevent vandalism and also for security reasons.
My opinion is that it is still worthwhile to get to the top, sit on the sides of the fortress, contemplate the vastness of the scenery around and the simple beauty of the manholes above the door, apparently protected by a drawbridge, in full medieval style.
Perhaps your imagination could be the best and most useful guide!