The Etruscan area: Pitigliano and the other tuff towns
Leaving the plains
The Hills of the Etruscan Maremma
The hills of the Maremma can be divided into three areas: the area del Tufo (literally, “the tuff area“), the Colline Metallifere (literally, “the hills that produce metals”) and the internal hills on the border with the region of Siena.
The Tuff Area is named after tufo, a volcanic, porous rock commonly used as a building material. The tuff has been carved over the centuries to build houses, cellars, tombs or used to make “tufi”, big square bricks which are typical of the villages and towns of this area of the hills of the Maremma.
The major centres of this area, which has still not experienced mass tourism, are Pitigliano, Sorano and Manciano. The unique feel of the Tuff Area derives from the mesh of Etruscan and Roman ruins, such as the tombs and the roads carved in tuff, and of medieval architecture, since it was in the Middle Ages that the Area del Tufo saw its second splendour after the glories of the Etruscan Empire. The perfectly preserved necropolises in Sovana and Poggio al Buco, the vie cave (amazing roads carved in tuff that pass through the woods), and medieval villages like Magliano in Toscana contribute to make this area one of the most beautiful in Tuscany. It also boasts naturalistic treasures such as the hot springs and spas of Saturnia, and the hills of the river Fiora, which supplies water to the vast majority of the Maremman villages and towns.
There are many historical buildings of great artistic and achitectural value, such as the Cassero Senese in Manciano, the Orsini Fortress in Sorano and the one in Pitigliano, the Aldobrandeschi castle and the Cathedral in Sovana, home city of Pope Gregory VII (1073). Another remarkable building is the Synagogue of Pitigliano from the 16th century: it has been recently restored and it stands as a reminder of the strong ties between the Maremma and the Jewish people.
Climbing from the plains of the Costa d’Argento towards the hills of the Maremma, the first town that one encounters is Manciano. The views over the countryside of Tuscany from the town are amazing: it spans 360 degrees, from the Mount Amiata to the Fiora valley, from Talamone and the coast to the Argentario peninsula and the islands of Giglio and Montecristo.
Manciano occupies an area which was once inhabited by prehistoric peoples and is often referred to as to the city of witches. This fame probably comes from the mysterious atmosphere created by the castle, the perfectly preserved medieval streets and by the many archaeological sites of the surrounding area such as that of Saturnia, Poggio Morella and the paleoetruscan necropolis of Marsiliana (which is also home to a lively Sagra della Fragola, a festival dedicated to strawberries which opens the season of the village festivals).
Near Manciano, the village of Montemerano is well worth a visit. It is a medieval hamlet built on the top of a hill which remains perfectly preserved. The surroundings of the village are also very interesting, and visitors can stop at the eneolithic necropolis of Le Calle and at the numerous sites around Saturnia which evidence the life of the local Italic tribes, as well as the Etruscan and Roman settlements in the area. A good time to visit Montemerano is during the celebrations for the Patron Saint, Saint George, which commemorates the fight of the saint against the dragon.
Pitigliano is probably the most beautiful town in the area, with its tower houses built on sheer cliffs overlooking the valley of the rivers Lente and Meleta, and the network of caves and tunnels carved in tuff. Pitigliano is also located in an area which has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The most interesting area of the town is probably the Jewish Ghetto, also known as “Piccola Gerusalemme“, literally “Little Jerusalem”, for the large Jewish population who settled here in the 15th century. The Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery can be visited: they are proof of the open-minded nature of the peoples of the Maremma, which has always been a place of cultural encounters and integration. The surroundings of Pitigliano are also very interesting for travellers interested in Etruscan antiquities and archaeology. We recommend a visit to the Tomb of the Queen in the necropolis of Poggio Buco.
Lovers of good wine must taste the excellent white wine Pitigliano D.O.C. which is aged and kept in cellars carved in the tuff. Many of the present day cellars were once Etruscan tombs or natural caves in the tuff soil. This area produces an excellent olive oil too, obtained with the traditional stone pressing.
A very good time to be in Pitigliano is on March 15th, day of the Torciata di San Giuseppe (the torch festival of Saint Joseph, patron Saint of the town), when a very old ritual is repeated. People carry burning sheaves of reeds on their backs through the Vie Cave, which are lit by torches. The celebrations end in the village main square, where the “Fire Ritual” takes place: a puppet representing the “l’invernaccio finito“, the bad Winter just passed, is burnt in a big fire and everybody greets the Spring which is just around the corner, in the hope that it will bring about health, wealth and prosperity.
Sorano too 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.
The Area of the Tuff Towns is also interesting from a naturalistic point of view. There are many itineraries in the woods, through old trails and ancient roads carved in tuff. Moreover, visitors to this area of the Maremma, should take the time to stop at the thermal baths of Saturnia, whose healing power has been known for centuries. Hence the Divine origin attributed to the hot springs. Saturnia is nowadays also home to a modern and well-known spa centre (Terme di Saturnia – Saturnia Spa Centre).
Food and wine lovers will appreciate the many excellent wines produced in this region of the Tuscan Maremma. Scansano and its Morellino, Pitigliano with its Bianco di Pitigliano, ad well as Sovana with its eponymous DOC wine are the three perfect destinations for lovers of good wine. Wine tasting is organised in many of the cellars and wineries which participate in the Wine Trail “Colli di Maremma” (literally, hills of the Maremma). We also recommend a stop in Pitigliano to taste the typical biscuits and desserts derived from the fortunate encounter of the local tradition and the Jewish cuisine which came here from Spain.
To learn more about itineraries, museums and archaeological areas in the Tuff area, you can download the brochure created by the Maremma Tourism Information Office or visit the following sites:
- The tuff towns
- Pitigliano Doc
- Tutto Pitigliano
- Tutto Manciano
- Terme di Saturnia
And now, go back to the introduction to the Maremma or keep on reading about our recommended itineraries in the Tuscan Maremma:
- The Heart of the Maremma: Grosseto and the Tyrrhenian Coast
- The Coast, the Beaches and the Sea of the Tuscan Maremma
- The Colline Metallifere: the North of the Maremma
- The Interior: The area of Civitella Marittima and Casina di Rosa
Click on the following link to see the Google Map of the Maremma!