Towns of the Maremma and Saturnia areas
“Few ancient sites in Etruria have more natural beauties than Saturnia. Deep valleys and towering heights all around, yet variety in every quarter. Here the cliff-bound olive-spread hill of Monte Merano; there the elm-tuffed ridge of Scansano; and there the hoary crests of Monte Labbro and Santa Fiora. From the Northern ramparts you command the whole valley of the Albegna.”
George Dennis, author of Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.
Heading towards Manciano on road S.S.74, past on your right the medieval hamlet of Marsiliana, you first reach Manciano – a hilltop village clad with olive groves.
By following the Montemerano signpost you will reach this small walled medieval town where you must visit the Church of San Giorgio, decorated with 15th-century frescoes of the Sienese school. Finally, stroll to the Piazza del Castello for one of the best camera shots of your travels.
From here it's 6 km to Saturnia and its sulphur spring and thermal baths at Terme di Saturnia, just outside the village.
One may choose either to bathe in the exclusive private spa’s swimming pools with all the services of such establishments, or go for a free shower under the sulphurous thermal waterfall and a dip in its hot pools; the temperature 37.5°C all year round.
Going back to the village’s square, attention is drawn by the many charming cafés and “trattorie”: their attractiveness being based on the clever use made of local produce and authentic cuisine.
When continuing on S.S.74 (in the direction of Orvieto), you reach Pitigliano – a very attaching sight because of its natural position and historical heritage.
The gorges that surround the town on three sides constitute a natural bastion, completed to the east by the man-made fort.
Originally built by the Etruscans, the town remained beyond the orbit of the great Tuscan city states, such as Florence and Siena, until it was finally absorbed into the grand duchy under Cosimo I de' Medici.
Of particular interest is the Palazzo Orsini of the 13 th century and the fortress defending the access to the town on the East side. Imposing Aqueduct built in the 16 th century reaching the town on arcade and pouring out water in the fountain of the square.
The surrounding countryside is covered with vineyards. A visit to the Cantina Sociale di Pitigliano (cooperative winery) is most recommended to taste the EU certified Bianco di Pitigliano (dry white wine). Here one may also find Kosher wine: in fact Pitigliano, locally known as the “little Jerusalem”, hosted a Jewish community since the 15 th century. Monuments of interest are the Castello Orsini, the recently restored Synagogue and the urban plan of the town itself. You should not miss a walk through the medieval narrow lanes and a stop at a bakery that still prepares traditional pastries sweetened with honey (“sfratti”).
The Vie Cave
There are at least 15 rock-sculpted passages spreading out in every direction from the valleys below Pitigliano. These sunken roads (vie cave) are enormous, up to 20m deep and 3m wide, and believed to be sacred routes linking the necropoli and other sites associated with the Etruscan religious cult. A less popular, more mundane explanation is that these strange megalith less popular, more mundane explanation is that these strange megalithic corridors were used to move livestock or as some kind of defence, allowing people to move from village to village unseen. Whatever the reason, every spring on the night of the equinox (19 March) there is a torchlit procession down the Via Cava di Giuseppe which culminates in a huge bonfire in the Piazza Garibaldi (Pitigliano), as a symbol of purification and renewal marking the end of winter.
The countryside around Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano is riddled with vie cave and they make great excursions from any of the towns. Two particularly good examples, half a kilometre west of Pitigliano on the road to Sovana, are Via Cava di Fratenuti, with high vertical walls and Etruscan graffiti, and Via Cava di San Giuseppe, which passes the Fontana dell'Olmo. This fountain is carved out of solid rock with the sculpted head of Bacchus, the mythological god of fruitfulness, from whose mouth water flows. Via Cava San Rocco is another fine example, near Sorano. It winds its way through the hills for 2km between the town and the Necropoli di San Rocco.
About 5 kms away from the ravine of Pitigliano, Sovana “stands on a tongue of land, scarcely half a mile in length: at one end rises the square tower of the Duomo, and at the other the medieval castle – which, with its tall masses of yellow ruin and crumbling battlements – forms the most prominent and picturesque feature in the scenery of the spot ” (George Dennis’).
Medieval mansions and the remains of a fortress are at the eastern end of the town, where you enter. Proceeding to the west along the main street into the broad Piazza del Pretorio you find the Chiesa di Santa Maria, a starkly simple Romanesque church featuring a magnificent 9th century ciborium in white marble, one of the last remaining pre-Romanesque works left in Tuscany. The church also contains some frescoes from the early 16th-century.
At the far-western end of the town the imposing Gothic-Romanesque cathedral whose original construction dates back to the 9th century.
Out of town proceeding west along the road to Saturnia one should not miss a walk in the woods in search of some of the most extraordinary Etruscan tombs – e.g. Tomba Ildebranda, Tomba della Sirena or one of the “vie cave” .
The Tomba Ildebranda is the grandest of Etruscan tombs, and still preserving traces of the columns and stairs that made up this resting place. This is one of the largest rock dwellings in Italy, first inhabited in prehistoric times when wooden posts were embedded in holes cut in the rock for foundations.
From Sovana go back to Pitigliano and pass the turn of to Pitigliano and proceed to Sorano. Two kilometres before you arrive to the village are the Necropoli di San Rocco other Etruscan burial site; from here you can reach Sorano by foot following a via cava.
High on a rocky spur, the small medieval village of Sorano has retained its original form. The most important building of the town is the Fortezza Orsini, partly renovated with its museum devoted to the medieval era.