This is a true Italian adventure, not just another tourist destination.
The Vie Cave (meaning cave roads) are impressive roads excavated between two towering tufa walls. Roads were cut by Etruscan hand tools into the tufa stone of the Maremma area of southern Tuscany around Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano.
The Etruscans lived 200-800 years before the birth of Christ and are the ancient ancestors of most Tuscans. The Etruscan culture has a rich history but a mysterious beginning. Thought to either be an indigenous Italian tribe or migrants from Western Asia Minor, they inhabited Tuscany from B.C. 8th to 2nd Century, giving the region it’s name. Incredibly artistic, this mystical yet practical people excelled in trading, metalworking and engineering.
The paths are an unusual opportunity for hiking and nature photography.
In Pitigliano, these long, shadowy corridors sometimes reach heights of 30 meters and wind through rocky outcroppings of light, crumbly volcanic stone. Some paths are green and lush, while others are rocky havens of moss and lichen; some are fairly wide and could have handled small carts while others are very narrow and could only be used for human and animal transport, like donkey.
The character of this area has remained refreshingly genuine and its natural and historical treasures are still intact. The landscape in this part of Tuscany is beautiful but deceiving to the eye. At first glance the patchwork of wooded hillsides and broad cultivated plains creates an illusion of unbroken continuity. In reality, the hills are actually narrow plateaus with gorges nearly 100 meters deep, down below. The hillsides of porous volcanic tufa are very friable which made it easier for the Etruscans to carve out the hundreds of tombs and various “Vie Cave.” Fifteen of these megalithic corridors still weave through the surrounding woods, all but invisible to the unknowing eye. These ancient routes linked the Etruscan sacred places and made travel easier by reducing the uneven nature of the landscape.
Pitigliano is carved entirely into the tufo rock cliff it sits on and it’is known as “Little Jerusalem” after its resemblance to the original. Its historical heritage is intact and yours to discover on a walk around town. Pitigliano seems to have been taken out of a fairytale. It appears to have grown from the stone of this wildly beautiful promontory.
Pitigliano is so enchanting, that it’s surprising how little tourist attention it receives. It is without a doubt the Maremma’s greatest treasure and most breathtaking city.
It is dramatically beautiful, perched atop a one of the suggestive tuff spurs towering over the surrounding countryside. The town is surrounded by gorges on three sides, constituting a natural bastion completed to the east by a fort.
Within the town, twisting stairways disappear around corners while cobbled alleys bend tantalisingly out of sight beneath graceful arches.
During the day, the way in which the beautiful stone houses wrap themselves around the harsh rock below is breathtaking, but during the night, the effect is nothing less than enchanting.
The buildings are so intertwined with the cliff, that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. The sight will take your breath away.
Pitigliano is a place of considerable importance with a large Jewish community led to congregate here, starting in the early 1600s. Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, made it easier for this highly persecuted population to settle down in this area. The area has also distinguished itself for the role it played in helping the Jews escape from the racial laws and opposing forces during WWII.
Today you can still walk through the Jewish Ghetto, which is eerily empty and remains unchanged from the years when it was filled with life and colour.
located in what can only be described as a picturesque and completely unspoilt landscape. With its tufo rock, sharp red rooftops and impressive history, Sorano is the Siena of the Maremma. Only far older and imbued with the sort of country charm and authenticity that tourist-swamped Siena wishes it had.
Today, the city is one of the three Città del Tufo – a title it has earned thanks the building material that defines its walls, shapes its streets and adds character to its buildings. Sorano is also known as Matera of Tuscany as it’s oldest buildings are carved into Sasso Leopoldino, an impressive tufa rock.
The countryside is littered with necropolises, ancient cities, the Vie Cave roads and sites that were once used for religious rites. From the time when the Romans seized control to the days of the medieval Aldobrandeschi and the rein of Fernando II de’Medici, Sorano has always been a city of great prominence and even greater beauty. No ruler has been able to take that away.
but hidden in those two streets are some of the most incredible historical treasures. The second of the three Città del Tufo, Sovana can trace its origins back to between the 7th and 6th century BC. The Etruscans shaped Sovana into an artistic and cultural city. The Sovana we know today was built in the Middle Ages under the extremely powerful Aldobrandeschi. They left their mark by erecting an impressive stone wall that once encircled the entire town. Unaffected by the changes brought by population growth or modernity, Sovana remains as it was when the Aldobrandeschi Counts walked its streets.
I guess you could say it’s almost a ghost town, but, this isn’t really a problem for visitors. To be honest, it’s more of a bonus.
There are few towns in the Maremma that have maintained both their history and original splendour like Sovana. The sand-coloured streets, battleworn, but effortlessly characteristic buildings and unassuming old centre are honest and simply beautiful.