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There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the ancient culture that preceded the Romans as the dominant culture in central Italy.

For those interested in finding out more about the Etruscans, Volterra is a good place to start. Its Museo Etrusco Guarnacci is considered one of the top museums focusing on the Etruscans in Italy.

Much — but not all — of the material on display was unearthed in or around Volterra. Mario Guarnacci donated his extensive collection to the city in the 18th century, and occasionally newer finds are added to the collection.

Ornate urns, carved from alabaster or terra cotta, were used by the Etruscans to store the ashes of the dead. There are dozens and dozens of them to check out on the museum’s ground floor. And there are still believed to be others that haven’t been discovered in tombs around the city or in the nearby hills.

Rent an audioguide at the entrance and a self- guided tour of the museum’s three stories will take about 90 minutes. Children might find it a little dull — and they might find the nearby Museo Della Tortura (Torture Museum) too scary.

Admission to the Etruscan museum also allows visitors to enter the Pinacoteca e Museo Civico a few blocks away. The city art gallery and museum starts off a bit slowly. But paintings by Luca Signorelli and Nicolo Cercignani, Renaissance artists who spent part of their lives in Volterra, and other works on the second floor make the visit worthwhile.

Souvenir hunters can’t help but notice a plethora of shops selling all kinds of things made of alabaster, which is mined and crafted locally. One good option is Opus Artis, a shop next to the art museum. Items are both practical and otherwise (an alabaster guitar, anyone?).

Remains of the city’s Roman theater, the Teatro Romano, is close to the art museum as well. Stroll past the alabaster shop through the tunnel and turn right. Keep walking and the theater is sprawled out below you. On a clear day, it’s one of several spots around the city where people can see for miles, with the landscape’s colors changing dramatically with the seasons.

The city’s cathedral isn’t much to look at on the outside. But reddish marble columns help hold up a gilded ceiling on the interior.

The back of the cathedral helps form the city’s largest square, Piazza dei Priori. The tourist office is there and signs point out directions to the various destinations around the city.

Directions:Volterra is in the region of Tuscany, about an hour’s drive southeast of Camp Darby. Exit the A-12 autostrada at Cecina Nord (a 4.70-euro toll from Darby), and take the winding SR-68 to Volterra. There’s currently a lot of roadwork, so if you get behind slow traffic, be patient; there aren’t many places to pass. Parking in the city is difficult, especially during the tourist season; take a left off SR-68 as it passes through town onto Viale dei Ponti and park in the underground lot. It’s close to most of the sights.

Times:The Museo Etrusco Guarnacci (Guarnacci Etruscan Museum) and Pinacoteca e Museo Civico (City Art Gallery and Museum) are open 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily, November through March, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. during warmer months. The cathedral is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3-6:30 p.m. daily, but is off-limits to tourists during religious services. The Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends November through March. The Museo Della Tortura (Torture Museum) is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Costs:An 8-euro ticket for adults (3 euros for children, 18 euros for families) is good for admission to both the Museo Etrusco Guarnacci and Pinacoteca e Museo Civico. The 3-euro cost of the audioguide for the Etruscan Museum is worth it if you want to understand anything you’re seeing. Admission is 2 euros for the Teatro Romano, and 8 euros for the torture museum. Admission to the cathedral (and the nearby baptistery) is free. Parking in the underground lot near the city bus terminal is 1.50 euros an hour or 11 euros for 24 hours.

Food:Just ask a Tuscan: Everything’s good. Some think there’s no reason to eat anything that’s not produced, cooked and served in Italy’s most famous region. Cinghiale (wild boar) is a specialty in Volterra. The Mediterranean is not far away either, so seafood dishes are common. Ask your waiter to recommend a local wine — there’s a lot to choose from.

Information:The city’s tourist office is in Piazza dei Priori, the city’s main square, and is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. daily; English is spoken. Telephone is 0588-86099; e-mail is info@volterratur.it; and its Web site (which includes an English-language option) is

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