Citta del Tufa: Stunning ancient Etruscan heritage
June 27, 2019
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
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).
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!
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.
First stop: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the highlights was ‘the winged demon’ sitting in pieces as excavations and repairs took place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Later, they offered us digestive drinks as we discussed recipes and cooking.
As we chatted we found out it was the owner’s mother who does the cooking and the food was superb.
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.
We headed back to Montichiello tired but happy with our day’s explorations.