Guide book in hand at Pitigliano, Citta del Tufa, Tuscany, Italy
Triangle of ancient Etruscan towns
Settling into our vacation in Southern Tuscany was a pleasure and a delight. Staying at the beautiful hilltop town of Monticello, we ventured south of Monte Amiata towards the border with Umbria and the triangle of ancient towns in an area called the Citta del Tufa (interchanged with Tufo). The Etruscans have left their mark on the landscape with a particularly rich repository of their heritage. Picturesque Pitigliano and neighbouring settlements of Sorano and Sovana house the Etruscan necropolises where you can visit archaeological museums and explore a network of the mysterious Vie Cave (sunken roads).
Amazing hand cut Vie Cave (sunken roads) Sovana, Citta del Tufa, Italy
Where did the Etruscan’s come from?
It is not known for definite where the Etruscans originated from; however, they formed communities on these rocky volcanic outcrops from around 5-9th BC onwards. They also lived in other parts of Italy, and reports from DNA testing suggest they may have come from Egypt or the Anatolia area of Turkey. It is also believed they may just be ancient Italians who came under Roman Rule. But one thing is for sure, they built amazing cities and communities!
Back street Pitigliano, Citta del Tufa, Italy
Detours and first sightings
A detour took us through Radicofani where the view over the valley to Monte Amiata and the surrounding countryside was nothing short of breathtaking. Driving on, we sighted Sorano with expressions of ‘wow’ and passed below this deep sand coloured ancient town nestled between the high cliffs. We continued on towards Sovana where vineyards caught our attention as we drove via deep carved out canyons on the road that snaked down towards the valley below.
Sorano, from below the town, Citta del Tufa, Southern Tuscany, Italy
Vineyards near Sovana, Citta del Tufa, Italy
First stop: Pitigliano
Narrow steps to the balcony over the cliff, Pitigliano
We arrived at Pitigliano about 9km south-west of Sovana where we wandered the cobbled twisting streets following the contour of the rocky landscape. We passed beneath arches and traversed narrow steep steps to the parapets where we viewed the jaw-dropping precipices that give rise to views of the valley floor and the forested areas far below.
On the balcony, Jewish Quarter, Pitigliano
This original and very old part of Pitigliano was, for a very long time, a Jewish quarter housing about 400 people; however, the number of residents diminished due to World War II.
Narrow street in Pitigliano
The area contains shops, bars, and restaurants which were once the houses of the locals and are built into the Tufa (porous volcanic rock). We enjoyed a satisfying lunch of nettle stuffed ravioli with shaved truffle in a shaded outdoor area before returning to Sovana.
Restaurant sign in Pitigliano
Nettle Ravioli with shaved Truffle, Pitigliano restaurant.
The restaurant for lunch in Pitigliano
Tourists in a square, restaurant at the end where we had lunch, Pitigliano
Ornate alter in a church in Pitigliano near the lunch restaurant
Workhorse and man statue, Pitigliano (showing the past times)
Statue of horse and workman Pitigliano
Sovana’s Archaeological sites
We visited the archaeological sites at Sovana where we climbed above and walked within the 3mt wide Vie Cave sunken roads with 20mt high rock sides, which it is said the Etruscans dug out.
Vie Cave (sunken roads) Sovana
We explored tombs with names like ‘the tomb of the mermaid’ (Tomba Della Sirena) and sat where bodies were laid to rest 2500+ years ago. Set over two main sites, on either side of the river, these tombs were first discovered in the mid-1800s and continue to be excavated and repaired today.
The Sopraripa Necropolis – Tomba della Sirena c250BC – one of the first Etruscan monuments
Looking out from inside one of the larger tombs, Sovana
Etruscan tomb entrance, Sovana archeological park
Entrances to some tombs, Sovana
An ancient Etruscan tomb, (3rd-6th BC) Sovana
One of the highlights was ‘the winged demon’ sitting in pieces as excavations and repairs took place.
Excavated rock carvings at the archaeological dig site, Sovana (the winged demon)
Here, too, was the Hildbranda tomb (also named Tomba Ildebranda) and we walked the Via cava di San Sebastiano (sunken road) to a cave where Saints and others were said to take worship and meditate.
Hildbranda tomb (also named Tomba Ildebranda) archaeological site, Sovana
Inside a side tomb at Hildbranda tomb complex, Sovana
Ancient Hildbranda tomb column’s, Sovana
Via cava di San Sebastiano
It’s a long way down, from a cave lookout on the top of one of the Vie Cave (sunken roads)
Walking the Vie Cave (sunken roads) in Sovano’s archaeological park
Dining in Sorano
Back in Sorano, we found the cosy Cantina L’Ottava Rima tucked down in a cave in the lower quarter of this town in a cradle of Tufo rock.
Outside the bar in Sorano pointing the way
Wine barrels in the entrance to the bar and restaurant. Sorano
Hand-painted tiles (by the owner) on the bar, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
The wine cellar is set deep in a chamber of this cave and with the small bar near the entrance decorated with the owner’s hand painted tiles the aroma of tasty food wafting from behind the bar was very inviting.
Tables in the cave restaurant on the way to the wine cellar, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
Art and wine in the wine cellar, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
We chatted to the owner and his wife who offered us some very nice local red wine and Vin Santo before eating a tasty dinner.
Vin Santo, tiles and all local wines, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
The menu, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
The food, (Caponata with all local ingredients) Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
Broad Beans, ham and Tarragon, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
Later, they offered us digestive drinks as we discussed recipes and cooking.
Manfred and the owner of Cantina L’Ottava Rima, swapping recipes, Sorano
Digestives before we leave Cantina L’Ottava Rima, with hand painted tiles on the bar, Sorano
As we chatted we found out it was the owner’s mother who does the cooking and the food was superb.
Something for everyone, Cantina L’Ottava Rima, Sorano
So much more than just the food!
Sorano is much more than just food, and there are many amazing sights within the ancient city walls.
A relaxing setting in Sorano
A tiny tiny church in Sorano – only one row of seats
Looking into the tiny church, Sorano
Very old buildings on the Cliffs above Sorano township – a township carved out of the rocks
Farewell! Cantina L’Ottava Rima, night is falling!!
We headed back to Montichiello tired but happy with our day’s explorations.