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Walking in Tuscany
             
 
Sorano, Sasso Leopoldino


album Surroundings
       
   

Sorano


   
   

Sorano dates back to the Etruscan era and its surroundings are rich in historical and artistic memories of this glorious past. The various remains visible near Sorano date back to different historical periods. Some fortifications, such as the Castle of Montorio, the Fortress of Castell'Ottieri and the castle of Montebuono hail from the Middle Ages. However, the most interesting place to visit is the Archaeological Park of this Tuff Town, where the most interesting Etruscan remains are preserved along with some caves which were once used as houses by pre-Etruscan civilizations. This is really an archaeological area which must not be missed.
Sorano is constructed from dark tufa and is one piece with the rock on which it rises, dominated by a high fortress that time has made to resemble a natural peak. Of Etruscan, and later Roman, origin, it was a possession of the Aldobrandeschi and then, from 1312 on, of the Orsini, who gave it its current appearance and build the walls and mighty fortress that made it one of the strongest defenses of the Earldom of Pitigliano.
The Medieval portion has remained intact. The houses are typically Medieval and tall, and inside they are quite singular. The various floors are not all on the same level: they are staggered and connected by wood or stone steps. Many of these houses were built into the natural hollows in the tufa.
The best thing is to walk along its narrow lanes observing the structure of the houses until you come to the Fortezza Orsini an impregnable fortification that, by following its underground walkways, also provides an understanding of many aspects of renaissance military life. In town, you can also visit the Church of San Nicola and il Cortilone, a huge granary built by the Orsini in 1554.
We can enter the village via the two gates, one in the northern section – that is not in use is known as Porta dei Merli and is decorated with the coats of arms of Cosimo II de’ Medici and Niccolò IV. On either side of the gate, there are two openings that probably held the drawbridge chains. The southern gate, also known as Porta di Sopra leads from the town hall to the village’s historic center.

Sasso Leopoldino As its name clearly indicates, this castle was built in the XVIII century when the Lorraine grand dukes ruled the area. It is located north of the tufaceous spur on which the village stands and, together with the fortress, dominates the entire surrounding settlement below.
The reason that the Lorraine rulers fortified it with a scarp wall, transforming this enormous mass of tufa in the center of the village into a fortress is unclear. Perhaps they felt it necessary to improve the defenses of Sorano by building a compound complete with a crenellated tower that held the town bell. Whatever, the reason, it proved useless if the outer defenses had fallen and in fact it created a hazard for the houses below due to the frequent landslides that plagued the old village. Later it was flattened and transformed into the vast piazza from which we can enjoy a splendid view.

 

Fortezza Orsini rises on a tufaceous spur to defend the village below on the only side from which it is easily accessible. Sorano’s Orsini Castle is one of the most impressive pieces of military architecture in all of Tuscany and one of the region’s most important strongholds. For a long time the Sorano Fortress defended the borders of Southern Tuscany as well as the entire country. Its position was reinforced by its ancient wall and the drawbridge which could be closed to keep invaders out.
The legend of the Fortezza Inespugnabile (Impregnable Fortress) can be read in the chronicles of the centuries and in 1608 Niccolo dell’Antella writes: “…High above like a falcon…and when you are on the ground…looking on with wonder at such height…it almost seems that the eye will lose…”
Giovanni Francesco Orsini ordered the construction of the Renaissance fortress as we can see on the coats of arms and the inscriptions of the ramparts of S. Marco and S. Pietro. The portico facing the upper Piazza Cairoli, was closed and transformed into a chapel and the adjacent chaplain’s residence. A staircase from the piazza led to a terrace that dominates the village and overlooks the palace.

 


Fortezza Orsini di Sorano

The church of San Niccolò The old collegiate and archipresbyterate church stands in the middle of the Medieval village of Sorano. It was built by Sienese craftsmen between 1290 and 1300, under orders from Countess Margherita di Monfort. The original structure is no longer recognizable: many nineteenth century modifications completely altered its original Romanesque appearance. Inside the church we can see a beautiful, XVII century wooden crucifix that Cosimo III de’ Medici gave to the collegiate of Sorano, an interesting ciborium of dark stone and a Renaissance canvas by Raffaello Vanni. Heavy Baroque stuccowork has transformed the original surfaces which probably consisted of rows of tufa alternating with travertine. It is believed that Margherita’s hasty departure for the Maremma is the reason that the church has no frescoes and not even a holy water stoup that date from its construction. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the miracle worker, Bishop of Myra who died in 326.

 

In the territory of Sorano, there are two interesting, although different, examples of fortified constructions: the Montorio Castle and the fortress of the Castell’Ottieri.

   

Montorio stands in the middle of the Stridolone river valley. We can admire the remains of a small Medieval castle which in 1356 became a protectorate of the Republic of Siena. Once its strategic function was no longer necessary, it was transformed in the modern era into a large agricultural estate and underwent various renovations.
Main sights in Montorio are the Cappella di Santa Maria and the fortress Castello di Montorio.

Castell'Ottieri What remains of the ancient strengthened suburb of Castell'Ottieri rises along the road that brings to Sorano from the Mount Amiata. From the Cassia road it can be reached following the indications for Proceno, then S.Giovanni and finally for Sorano. The castle, whose name is derived from the Latin castellum Lotharii, rose from a small relief on this volcanic rock that dominates the underlying valley and its origin is clearly medieval.
The Rocca or fortress was built at the southwest end of the village to defend the only access. It is a fifteenth century tufa structure completed with a circular tower with a scarp based topped by a stepped ramp. Although it is now in ruins, it is still grandiose in relation to the size of the small village.
Castell'Ottieri
is situated in the valley of the Stridolone stream. The large and beautiful chiesa di San Bartolomeo has some fine frescoes from the Sienese school. The church of San Bartolomeo is located in the main square of the village. It was built by Sinolfo degli Ottieri, treasurer to Pope Sixtus IV, in 1490. It is built in the form of a Latin cross with three chapels on each side. The fine frescoes dedicated to the Virgin Mary have been attributed to the Sienese school.

Parco degli Etruschi - Sorano, Castello di Montorio e Castell’Ottieri | multimedia

San Giovanni delle Contee is situated in the valley of the Stridolone stream. It is the northernmost portion of the area of the municipality of Sorano with its houses perched on the southeastern slope of Monte Amiata. The hamlet, or frazione, gets its name from the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist and the designation delle Contee from the fact that it stands midway between the former jurisdiction of the counties of Sovana an Pitigliano-Sorano. In the XVII century it was part of the Castell’Ottieri county and followed its destiny to the end.

In olden times this village San Quirico was known as San Quirichino to distinguish it from San Quirico d’Orcia. It stands at an altitude of 507 meters a.s.l. and is the most densely populated fraction of the municipality of Sorano.
A 2 kilometer long mule track leads to the impressive ruins of the Medieval castle of Vitozza. Over the centuries it was controlled by Orvieto, the Baschi, and after the lords of Vitozza departed for France, it was ruled by the Orsini.

Vitozza,
with around two hundred caves, was one of the largest cave settlements in Italy. Vitozza is situated in a rocky, isolated position in the valley of the River Fiora lush with vegetation and springs these caves were inhabited from prehistoric times up until fairly recently. Vitozza isreachable by an exceptionally fascinating street: you leave your car near a source of the Lente River and cross a long hollow road until emerging in the archeological area. Located above a spur and surrounded by thick vegetation, it is entirely scattered with Etruscan caves, and here you can catch sight of Roman columbarium and medieval fortification remains.

Elmo was a sub-fief that the Grand Duke Cosimo III erected in the county with the title Ermo al vivo, and granted to the nephews of the bishop of Montepulciano. Elmo is the home of the Abbey of Montecavallo that hosted the future Pope Gregory VII. Just a few kilometers from Elmo is the hamlet, or fraction of Montebuono and the castle that dates from the early XIV century when it came under the rule of Siena.

Cerreto is famous for a sanctuary that was built after the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to a local shepherdess. The cornerstone for the Sanctuary was laid on 8 May 1857 and the church was opened for worship seven years later. In more recent times the church was on the verge of abandonment until a contemplative convent was attached to it, so in 1992 the Cloistered Carmelite nuns took over the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary was remodeled inside and out and was decorated with a bronze entrance door, with seven panels by the sculptor Egidio Ambrosetti da Agnani, that all center on the Biblical theme of the word “door.”

Market day in Sorano is Tuesday.

Pro Loco Ufficio Informazioni Turistiche |Piazza del Popolo 15


Comune Sorano


 

Montorio Castle


Located on the outskirts of Castiglioncello Bandini, in a hilly and unspoilt land, Podere Santa Pia is an artistic property, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the splendor of the Maremma hills of southern Tuscany. Watch the thermal baths in Saturnia and marvel at settlements that date back to Etruscan times, explore the medieval hillside villages of Sorano, Sovana, Montemerano and Pitigliano, cities where the refined beauty of the squares and churches blends perfectly with the ancient traditions of its wines and food.

Podere Santa Pia is situated in a hilly and unspoilt land, about one hour drive from Sorano.


Hidden secrets in Tuscany | Holiday home Podere Santa Pia

 

Tuscan Maremma
 
Sovana

 
   
   
Sovana, main square with Palazzetto dell' Archivio and the Chiesa di S.Maria


 
   
Sovana was once an important Etruscan city, but enjoyed its period of greatest splendor under the Aldobrandeschi. The prosperity the city achieved in the XII-XIII centuries under the Aldobrandeschi counts is carved into the Medieval remains of the town center. Here we can see the ruins of the Aldobrandeschi Rocca that predate the inhabited portion of the town: it is a XIII century structure that was restored in 1573 and then demolished in the XVII century. The principal buildings flank the main street: Casa Busatti, the church of Santa Maria and the cathedral. Just a short distance from the village we can tour an important Etruscan necropolis that was discovered by Ainsley in 1843.
The Church of Santa Maria is a fourteenth century edifice built on an almost square plan. It is divided into three naves by broad arches supported by four octagonal pilasters, and has a trussed roof. The entrance is on the right side of the building and it was created when the main entrance was closed off due to the construction of the Palazzo Bourbon del Monte (XVI century). The original bell tower, that was destroyed some time after the XVII century, was replaced by a bell gable. The church houses one of the oldest and most complete pre-Romanesque ciboria in Tuscany. It is made of travertine and can be dated between the VIII and IX centuries. The Corinthian capitals support a baldachin that is entirely decorated with typically High Medieval motifs: bunches of grapes, doves, peacocks, leaves, etc. The church also contains some very fine fifteenth century frescoes that have been attributed to a follower of Andrea di Niccolò.

Now isolated from the rest of the town, the cathedral rises on the western strip of the block of tuff dominating the valley of the necropolis. It exhibits various styles - Lombard, Romanesque, Gothic - in correspondence with the different periods in which it was constructed.
The Duomo was built on the foundations of a pre-existing building at the end of the 11th century under the watchful eye of Pope Gregorio VII. Today the cathedral is one of the most artistically significant buildings in the territory with its tenth century octagonal dome and rich decorations created with tiles taken from the original church. Under the cathedral’s apse is a 7th century crypt.
There are exquisite sculptures dating to this epoch on cornices and capitals, especially those of the portal and of the lunette over the main entranceway.
When the bishop’s seat was moved to Pitigliano, many of the artworks were moved to the new cathedral. Currently the Sovana cathedral houses the tomb of St Massimiliano and his burial urn, as well as a baptismal font, which dates back to 1434 and was shaped from traventine rock and decorated with sacred symbols and precious jewel figurines.

The area of Sorano and Pitigliano is located at the center of a defensive line which connects the Grosseto coast to Orvieto and forms the boundary between Tuscany and Lazio. This leads to the belief that the fortresses in the area were the product of the Medici Grand Duchy’s defense strategies.





Sovana, Archeological Sites, enlarge map

 

Sovana, Castell'Ottieri, Montorio and San Giovanni delle Contee belong to the comune Sorano.
 
There are several tracks, the ancient Vie Cave, that lead to the near archaeological sites, like San Rocco (an Etruscan necropolis), with its beautiful view of Sorano. The ruins of Vitozza, a rare and amazing town carved out of rock, constituted by about 200 caves, inhabited until 1700, with a beautiful roman columbarium and the remains of the walls of the castle and the church.
Vitozza, with around two hundred caves, it was one of the largest cave settlements in Italy.
Parco Archeologico Città del Tufo | The Archaeological Park of Tufo between Sorano, Pitigliano, Sovana, was inaugurated in 1998 and it spreads across a vast area, heavily marked by the erosive action of the rivers and, hence, by a striking, delightful landscape, displaying a wealth of deep canyons, opening out onto the tableland.
The Archaeological Park proposes an itinerary that fully achieves a combination of nature, landscape and monuments from the Etruscan and Medieval civilisation.
The park encompasses the city of Sovana, with its most relevant monuments, the hollowed out roads and necropolises that developed around them, and the celebrated Tomba Ildebranda, Tomba della Sirena, Tomba Pola, Tomba Pisa and Tomba del Sileno. The Rupestrian settlement of San Rocco, with its historic proof of the Middle Ages, stands in the immediate vicinity of Sorano and is panoramically situated above the Lente River. From San Rocco, one can reach Sorano and tour the Orsini Fortress that houses the Museum of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The visit to the park is concluded with a visit to the Rupestrian village of Vitozza. This village is set in immediate proximity to the district of San Quirico of Sorano, with its two hundred grottos.

Address
Parco Archeologico "Città del Tufo", Palazzo Pretorio, Piazza Pretorio, 12/a - Sovana - Sorano (GR)

Opening hours
From two weeks before Easter to 2 November 10.00-13.00;
16.00-19.00
26 December - 6 January 10.00-13.00; 14.00-17.00
During the rest of the year 10.00-13.00
Opening of Etruscan Necropolis of Sovana
weeks before Easter to 2 November 10.00-19.00
26 December - 6 January 10.00-17.00
Winter visits by prior arrangement

Tickets: Free


From Pitigliano to Sovana along the vie cave

 

This attractive itinerary, starting from the village of Pitigliano and winding along a track through Etruscan vie cave and hilly sections, brings us to the centre of Sovana.
[Read more]



 

Sorano and the rock settlement of Vitozza

  Walking through the Etruscan necropolis of Sorano | From Sorano to Vitozza, along the vie cave and the Necropolis of Poggio Felceto (download pdf)

This attractive itinerary, starting from the village of Sorano, and winding along a track through Etruscan vie cave and hilly sections, brings us to the Rupestrian settlement of Vitozza and the town of San Quirico.
This brief itinerary begins on an asphalted road and continues towards the Valley of the Lente River and the rocky settlement of Vitozza, then turns north towards the modern residential centre of San Quirico. It is possible to deviate from the itinerary towards the Selava del Lamone and Ischia di Castro in the province of Viterbo.


Coming from the direction of Sovana, two kilometres from the village of Sorano, we meet the well-marked sign to the necropolis of San Rocco and its church. We cross the bridge that brings us to the indicated area, where we can admire the necropolis and the splendid balcony that looks over the village and, right behind the church, we descend the via cava di San Rocco, that leads to the bottom of the valley below Sorano.

From Sorano to Vitozza and San Quirico, through the "via cava" | www.outdooractive.com



 
VitozzaCastelloVitozza La Chiesaccia
On the road from Sovana to Sorano, the Via Cava di San Rocco (and Parking) is on the left, two km before entering Sorano


There is indeed a broad range of dwellings and rooms carved into the tufa rock in the area around Sorano. Often a single underground room served several different purposes over the centuries, like the columbaria. During some periods, such as the High Middle Ages, they were used mainly as housing and in others the underground spaces were used as annexes - stables and the “famous” cellars (that provided excellent storage for the local wines), and as necropolis.


The colombari

The columbaria are one of the typical features of the Sorano area. They are to be found in the lowest part of the village and
in the surrounding crags (Columbarie, Rocchette, Castelvecchio and San Rocco). Some consist of rough, uneven niches, but others (at Colombarie) are quite elegant and refined and contemporaries of those built outside Rome during the Augustan age.The collapsing of the tufa makes it impossible to enter many of them, but even in ancient times some could only be accessed via temporary ladders.

The tufa ridge near Sorano, which until today has been impossible to reach because of the provincial road built in the nineteen thirties, features an exceptional number of colombari or dovecotes. They were studied by Ranuccio Bianchi-Bandinelli in 1929, who compared their construction characteristics to those of the dovecotes built in Rome during the Augustan age (1st century A.D.) and were re-used from the early Middle Ages onwards to breed doves. Their highly developed architecture (in some cases access to the quadrangular rooms, the walls of which are completely occupied by the small cells, is through a small vestibule) and state of preservation make them unique, even when they are compared to the numerous specimens that can be found throughout the area of Sorano.
In 1929, Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli dedicated a monographic study to the Necropolis of Poggio Felceto and the Ildebranda Tomb, also carrying out the graphic reconstruction of the alzato (raised part), which corresponded to the characteristics of the Etrusco-Italic temple of the Hellenistic Age as described by Vitruvio.[1]
 

 

   
 

Columbari. the characteristic caves in the cliffs

The debate over the use of these columbaria is still open. There are those who maintain that they were used to raise and shelter pigeons, and others who view them as an example of the “Roman burial columbaria”. One very interesting hypothesis takes their location into account. The columbaria are located in tufaceous walls overlooking the River Lente. This river is full of fish, and nearby are woods and pastures so it seems to have been the ideal location for establishing a village that predated the advent of the Etruscans. The village was linked to the land below via a rope ladder that was pulled in every night to protect the inhabitants from enemy raids. The natural position offered the people safety and tranquility. The Etruscans probably used these early cave dwellings for burial purposes because there would have been no reason or advantage in building them in such a difficult position. In fact, the Etruscans generally built their necropolis in easily accessible locations (such at the site at San Rocco).
After the Etruscans it is possible that the Romans used them to shelter thousands of carrier pigeons – a business that flourished during their era – but this is only one of many hypotheses.




[1] Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli (February 19, 1900 – January 17, 1975) was an Italian archaeologist and art historian.
As an anti-fascist, he was appointed to a number of important art-historical positions immediately after the war. He was director of the new government's fine arts and antiquities ministry (Antichità e Belle Arti, 1945-48). From his chairs at the universities of Florence and Rome, he directed the new breed of Italian archaeologists sensitive to classical history based upon dialectical materialism. He also taught at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. In the 1950s and 1960s he undertook the writing of comprehensive texts on classical art intended to reach a wide and literate audience. He founded the Enciclopedia dell'arte antica in 1958. In the mid 1960s, Bianchi Bandinelli was commissioned to write the two volumes on Roman art for the French Arts of Mankind series. These works brought his writing to a larger audience and helped usher in social criteria for art into a larger and English-speaking audience. In 1967 he founded the Dialoghi di archeologia with his students, one of the most innovative, if controversial, periodicals on classical archaeology.
His interpretation of art was frequently maverick and, if not always compelling, forcefully grounded. One such case is his interpretation of the famous Belvedere Apollo, a Roman copy of a Greek work now thought to date to the fourth century B.C. Although hailed by most art historians as a copy of the original Leochares, Bianchi Bandinelli characterized the piece as a frigid copy of a Hellenistic work without relation to Leochares.
One of his interests was the interrelation between Hellenistic, Etruscan and Roman art.

Art in Tuscany | Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli 


[From the wikipedia article Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.]