Sovana, a medieval gem in tuff rock

The inner and hilliest part of Maremma is characterized by tuff rock (tufo in Italian) of volcanic origins. It features three of the most particular and charming cities of southern Tuscany: Sovana, Pitigliano and Sorano. The tuff rock was used to shape the towns and to build the houses, which appear to be just another part of the impressive cliffs they stand on.

Today we will be exploring the beautiful medieval village of Sovana. Its town center was built during the Middle Ages next to a pre-existing Etruscan necropolis. During the 11th century it was ruled by the Aldobrandeschi Family, who built a magnificent castle in the town. Successively, Sovana was ruled by the Orsini Counts, the Republic of Siena and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with the Medici. Sovana was the birthplace of Ildebrando di Sovana, who later became Pope Gregorio VII.

Sovana’s Duomo – photo by Sidvics

Like the other Città del Tufo (tuff rock cities), Sovana features city walls and various buildings made of tuffaceous rock, and carved into the rock are small caves which were once inhabited by ancient civilisations and are still used today to store farm equipment. The pavements in its streets and piazze (squares) are made of herringbone brick. Local historic monuments include:

  • The Duomo: The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul was built at the end of the 11th century under Pope Gregorio VII, and is today one of the most artistically significant buildings in Maremma. It features a 10th century octagonal dome, rich decorations taken from the original church that stood there in the earlier centuries, and a 7th century crypt.
  • The Aldobrandesca Fortress: It was built in the 1000 and overlooks the gorges formed by the rivers of Calesina and Folonia. The reddish fortress was dismantled in the 17th century and slowly became a big ruin. Today you can still admire the master architecture used to build the castle, and the following which remain from the original fortress: the doors, the walls and one tower.
  • Santa Maria Church: The building has simple yet striking architectural features, such as the conical roof, three naves and a temple-shaped tabernacle from the 7-th century. Its ciborium is the only one of its kind in Tuscany and dates back to pre-Romanic times.
  • Palazzetto dell’Archivio: Built entirely in tuff rock, it dates back to the 13th century and features an elegant clock tower.
  • Vial del Duomo/Via di Mezzo: The last stretch of this alley is paved in terracotta and herringbone brick tiles with medieval style houses, most of which still have characteristic medieval stairs and the “Gate of the Dead”, a door used when someone in the house died.
Etruscan Necropolis – image by Sidvics

Sovana also features some important and beautiful archaeological sites, including:

  • The Etruscan Necropolis: The tombs in Sovana were first discovered in 1843 by English archaeologist S.J Ainsley, who said that he had never before seen so many rock-carved tombs in one place. This huge necropolis remains today one of the most important and evocative relics left behind by a civilisation that existed even before the might of the Roman Empire.
  • The Ildebranda Tomb: Discovered in 1924, it has a unique architecture that has earned it the title as the most important and magnificent necropolis monuments in the whole Etruscan territory. It is built like a temple with a burial chamber and a tomb, a true mausoleum carved into rock. Outdoors it has a porch with 12 columns painted in bright colors, making the monument appear even more extravagant.

Are you planning to visit the Tuff Rock Towns of Maremma Tuscany? Excellent restaurants offer delicious local cuisine, while wineries are open for guided visits and wine tasting. Complete your historic, artistic and gastronomic experience with a luxury, golf & spa stay at Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort, a short drive away on the coast.

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