SOVANA and the area of the “Città del Tufo” Archaeology Park
Sovana is a gorgeous tiny medieval town in the west of Grosseto province, bordering the Lazio region. Sovana is located between the villages of Pitigliano, the biggest one, and the smaller Sorano. Like them Sovana is standing on the top of a tuff ridge surrounded by a wild wide panorama. The three villages form a triangle ordering the protected area of the “Città del Tufo” Archaeology Park” of the Maremma territory, which shapes one of the richest and most interesting areas of Etruscan archaeology and prehistoric settlements in Italy.
The small ancient town of Sovana ideally preserves its ancient architectonical features. It is a little more than a quiet long street flanked by medieval mansions, which runs from the imposing Rocca Aldobrandesca (a fortress from the 12th century) and the remains of the Etruscan walls, passing by the wide and charming Piazza Pretorio -where stands the beautiful Romanesque Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (14th century), which houses an exclusive white marble canopy from the 9th century, covering the High Altar, and several fine 15th frescoes - to the western- end of the village where is located the superb Romanesque Cathedral of Santi Pietro e Paolo, rebuilt in the 12th century on the ruins of a former 7th century church.
In spite of its minute dimension, Sovana is considered one of the most singular and fascinating spots in southern Tuscany.
The village, former an important Etruscan settlement, became a municipium when the Romans conquered it.
In the 5th century the tiny town turns into a Bishopric. In the 10th century was designated seat of the county ruled until the end of the 13th by the Lords of Soana, a branch of the Aldobrandeschi family. Ildebrando di Soana was born there around 1020. He became Pope in April 1073 with the name of Gregory VII, being one of the most cultured and reforming popes of the Middle Ages Church. He died in Salerno (Campania), on May 25th, 1085, being buried in its Cathedral. Pope Gregory VII was canonized in 1606.
In 1293 Sovana passed into the power of the Count Romano di Gentile Orsini. That ancient Roman dynasty administrated the county until 1410, when it was occupied by the Republic of Siena. In 1608 Sovana was integrated in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
The main sites in the area of the Archaeology Park of the “Città del Tufo”:
- The Necropoli of Sovana. It is located in a dense wood, at 1, 5 kilometres south from the village. It was discovered by S.J. Ainsley - friend of the prestigious archaeologist George Dennis- during his visit to the Maremma territory in 1843.
Among the superb rock graves dug by the Etruscans in the neighbourhood of the vie cave (long paths with high walls excavated in the tuff rock) make stand out: the “Tomba della Sirena” (between the 3rd and the 2nd century BC), the “Tomba del Sileno” (2nd century BC, ca) “Tomba Pisa” (3rd century BC, ca) and the two monumental tombs respectively called “Tomba Pola” (3rd century BC ca,) and “Tomba Ildebranda” (2nd century BC, ca).
“Tomba Ildebranda” is the greatest Etruscan mausoleum ever found. It was discovered in 1924 by the Rosi brothers. Not knowing to whom the impressive temple had been originally devoted, it received the Christian name of Pope Gregory VII. The façade of the temple originally had 12 columns with a double staircase conducting to the indoors of the temple, which is disposed by an ample entrance and a subterranean floor, hosting the large funerary chamber.
- The Rupestrian Settlement of Vitozza. It is situated to the east of Sovana, next to the hamlet of San Quirico. The settlement is composed of more than two hundred dwellings excavated in the rock. The Prehistoric caves are scattered on a big tuff promontory located nearby the remains of the Fortress of Vitozza, a medieval village now deserted.
The base of the tuff rock is practically hidden by the bush vegetation. The site represents the main troglodyte cliff settlement at present discovered in Central Italy.
- The Rupestrian Complex of San Rocco. The Cliffside complex is located at two kilometres from the village of Sorano, the last one of the triangle composing the “Città del Tufo”, which stands at nine kilometres from Pitigliano.
The significant complex is composed as of dwellings as of small funerary chambers. All of them are excavated in the western side of the high tuff outcrop. It is believed that the complex comes back from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
As may readily be deduced, the Complex was joined to Sorano by the ravine situated between the beautiful Church of San Rocco (reconstructed in the 18th century), located at the entrance of the village, and the Lente River. Following an amazing via cava, the complex is easily reachable from Sorano, a very good preserved small medieval village, which fine buildings are almost eclipsed by the splendour of the Orsini Castle.
Nearby the church there is a big panoramic terrace, lined by ancient trees, which overlooks the village, the valley of the Lente River and the impressive surrounding countryside.
- The Orsini Castle Museum. It is hosted in a part of the Orsini Castle, located in Piazza Cairoli. The imposing Renaissance military construction comes from the 16th century. Its model features are worthy of an exhaustive visit.
The Museum, included in the Archaeology Park of the “Città del Tufo”, displays a good collection of ancient objects and a singular ceramic collection typical of the area, running from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Particularly interesting is also the small chamber located at the top of the tower, which walls were frescoed in the 16th century with mythological motifs and grotesques. In one of the walls there is an astonishing fresco, which is a replica of the score of a madrigal of the age.
There is a combined ticket (7 €) which allows the entrance to the most part of the sites included in the “Città del Tufo” Archaeology Park.
Where to eat:
Bearing in mind that the specialities of the inner Maremma comprise the acquacotta (an exquisite soup dressed with olive oil and made with onion, tomato, vegetables, eggs and toasted bread), white and red bovine meats, lamb, game and, particularly, the wild boar prepared in several succulent forms, meat cuts and a tasty sheep’s cheese, all them washed down with its excellent local wines as the Morellino di Scansano(red) or the Bianco di Pitigliano (white), we suggest you:
- “ La Taverna Etrusca” (Piazza Pretrio, 16 , Sovana). It is a well-known restaurant with a romantic atmosphere hosted in a refined and large ancient building. It offers a select traditional cuisine. Local wines are really good. A full meal is around 30/35 € per person.
- “Talismano” (Via San Marco, 29, Sorano). A popular cavernous restaurant decorated with a traditional Maremma style. Local dishes, including a variety of homemade pasta and pizzas, are great. Ask for its genuine red home wine. A full meal is around 25/30 € per person.
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