ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK CITTà DEL TUFO

The Città del Tufo Archaeological Park is the museum network of the Municipality of Sorano which includes various points of interest located throughout the municipal area. The Etruscan necropolis of Sovana and the Museum of San Mamiliano (Sovana), the Rock Settlement of San Rocco and the Archaeological Civic Museum Fortezza Orsini (Sorano), the Rock Settlement of Vitozza (San Quirico) are part of this network.
In Sovana, the part of interest is located a few kilometers beyond the hamlet along the road that connects the village to San Martino sul Fiora. Here is the whole area of the Necropolis, a historical heritage of inestimable value consisting of tombs and vie cave.
The first part of the necropolis extends for about a kilometer and a half and has an almost uninterrupted row of cube and semidado tombs.

Among these stand out some monumental tombs with a colonnade and aedicule front with decorated pediment: in Poggio Prisca (Pola tomb and tomb of the winged Demons); at Poggio Felceto (Ildebranda tomb); at Poggio Stanziale (tomb of Typhon). The second part of the Necropolis can be reached by going back and proceeding on foot along the pedestrian path that flanks the SP22 towards Sovana. This part includes the Church of San Sebastiano, the Tomb of the Siren (the most important), the Tombs in Semidado and the Via Cava di San Sebastiano.
The rupestrian settlement of San Rocco is located on a huge panoramic terrace surrounded by greenery overlooking the medieval village of Sorano and the valley of the Lente river. From an archaeological point of view, this area is almost completely unexplored. Along the ridges of the plateau there are numerous rooms dug into the tuff. Some of these, in particular those facing south west, were used during the Etruscan period as burial places; others in the Middle Ages had an almost exclusively residential function. At the entrance to the settlement is the church dedicated to the saint which has an altar with a late seventeenth-century fresco representing the Madonna and child inside. Behind the building a road leads to Via Cava di San Rocco.
The Vitozza rock settlement is located near the hamlet of San Quirico. It is one of the largest and most important rock settlements in Italy. The town is located about 2 km from the center of San Quirico (the most populous hamlet of the Municipality of Sorano) and can be reached on foot through a path of great charm and great environmental value. The first evidence dates back to the 11th century, when numerous castles were being built throughout the area. At that time Vitozza must have been part of a large fiefdom that included 15 castles, including Sorano, Pitigliano, Farnese, Mezzano, etc. (Guiniccesca land). The fief must have had a considerable strategic importance since thanks to the fortifications it was possible to control the natural access routes to the sea.
In addition to being characterized by the remains of numerous fortifications and churches, Vitozza is made up of over 200 caves dug into the tuff since the most remote times and used as homes, stables and outbuildings. The environments, now abandoned, still retain traces of their use; there are cisterns for collecting rainwater, throwing wells, niches, holes and curbs for the positioning of beds and pestarole. On the basis of their use, the caves have been divided into three types: caves for mixed use (as a dwelling and stable); stables (recognizable by the presence of mangers, troughs and fences); caves for residential use (mainly present on the south-west side, more sheltered and better exposed to the sun). The latter are characterized by ziri for wheat, wells for collecting water and flues.
Particularly suggestive are some environments characterized by the presence of numerous and small niches dug into the walls, the so-called colombari. These environments have long been considered funerary monuments of the Roman era but recently, thanks to the detailed descriptions of ancient scholars, the hypothesis has prevailed that these are environments excavated in medieval times for the breeding of doves and pigeons. For those who are animated by a spirit of adventure, after passing the area called San Angiolino, it is possible to enter the forest and through a rather steep path (not equipped) to reach the sources of the Lente river. The natural environment of exceptional beauty, the bridges and galleries of the old nineteenth-century aqueduct, the waterfall, the glass bridge with the small pond (where the boys once used to bathe), the cave with the spring, make the truly exciting and unforgettable visit.
The Archaeological Civic Museum of the Orsini Fortress occupies some rooms of the fourteenth-century fortress and exhibits archaeological materials from the area. Inside the museum, a small room located in the octagonal tower full of sixteenth-century (grotesque) frescoes is of particular interest. On the side walls you can also admire two mythological scenes. It is said that this was the private room of Count Niccolò IV Orsini in which he used to welcome young girls. Guided tours depart from the museum ticket office to discover the fortress, an important example of military architecture of the Renaissance. The sixteenth-century part consists of a central keep and two corner bastions San Pietro and San Marco. These buildings were connected to each other through external and internal walkways, which can now be visited, equipped with firing points placed in a strategic position. Along the way there are many aeration shafts used to ventilate the underground environments and suck up the toxic gases originating from the combustion of gunpowder. When visiting the underground rooms, we recommend the use of a jacket.
The Museum of San Mamiliano is instead located in the heart of the village of Sovana, in Piazza del Pretorio. The Museum is located inside the church of the same name, the oldest in Sovana, dating back to the sixth century and was the first bishopric of the diocese. The construction of the church dates back to the early Christian period, built on a pre-existing building from the Etruscan-Roman period.
Following the transfer of the bishop’s seat to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the church of San Mamiliano was gradually abandoned.
The church had a single nave and had three altars (one dedicated to San Mamiliano). The perimeter wall located to the north, on the lower part, has large stone blocks and a colonnaded crypt with reused capitals.
Since 2004, thanks to the Superintendence for Architectural and Landscape Heritage (the church was now a private building used by a local family as a chicken coop / warehouse), a series of restoration and recovery works have been started on the Church which since 2012 has become a museum. .
In this museum there is a section dedicated to Lombard ceramics from the tombs of Villa Biagiola in Sovana and a series of interesting finds from the Museum of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in the Orsini Fortress of Sorano, as well as the famous “Treasure of Sovana”.
Also in 2004, during some excavations carried out in the subsoil of the Church of San Mamiliano, an exceptional discovery was made. Under the floor some burials of the Renaissance period were recognized and, more deeply, some remains of a thermal building from the Roman era.
But the most beautiful thing was found even further down where a container containing 498 gold coins came to light. It was a question of fifth century gold coins, minted under Leo I and Anthemio, almost entirely coming from the mint of Constantinople.
Some scholars argue that this treasure is the one mentioned by Alexandre Dumas in the novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”, or the famous “Treasure of Monte Cristo”. In fact, legends narrate that on the island of Montecristo, right in the dedicated monastery of San Mamiliano, there was a hidden treasure never found, this is because (we are in the field of legend) it was located in the Church of Sovana and not on the island of the Tuscan archipelago.
Today part of the treasure is found in this museum, part in the National Archaeological Museum of Florence. Leaving aside the legends in 2019, unfortunately some pieces of the treasure were stolen from the museum of San Mamiliano (65 coins), the rest are always divided between Sovana and Florence.

NECROPOLIS OF SOVANA

The Sovana Necropolis is part of the Città del Tufo Archaeological Park in the municipality of Sorano.

It is located a few kilometers from the village of Sovana along the road that connects the village to San Martino sul Fiora. It is about a historical heritage of inestimable value consisting of numerous tombs and vie cave.

The first part of the necropolis extends for about a kilometer and a half and has an almost uninterrupted row of cube and semidado tombs.

Among these stand out some monumental tombs with a colonnade and aedicule front with decorated pediment: in Poggio Prisca(Pola tomb and the winged Demons tomb); at Poggio Felceto (Ildebranda tomb); at Poggio Stanziale (tomb of Typhon).

The Ildebranda tomb (III-II century BC) is probably the most famous of the whole Necropolis. Completely excavated in the tuff, it looks like a monumental temple with a six-column portico. The burial chamber, in which a single depository platform has been carved for the deceased, can be reached through a long central corridor downhill. The room was found completely empty, a consequence of an ancient looting or the action of grave robbers. The name was given in honor of Ildebrando di Soana, better known as Pope Gregory VII. The tomb was made known by Gino Rosi in 1925, who published a first report.

Going past the tomb of Tifone and following the signs, you come to a large Via Cava called “Il Cavone”. If the history of the vie cave in the area is shrouded in mystery, that of Cavone, given its size, is even more so. About one kilometer long and two to four meters wide, the Cavone can be considered a highway compared to the other cave roads in the Sorano and Pitigliano area which are much shorter and above all narrower.

The Vie Cave are works of Etruscan origin unique in the world, a heritage of enormous historical and cultural importance and arouse an irresistible attraction. Between the territory of Sorano and Pitigliano there are a few dozen and they vary in size (the Cavone in Sovana is certainly the largest). You can go on foot or on horseback and strolling along these paths offers great suggestions. Why the Etruscans built these streets carved into the tuff is still a mystery today, some hypothesize a sacred and funerary use (almost always they are close to the necropolis), other theses argue that they were simple connecting roads or even works for the outflow of water. The only certainty is that they must have been of considerable importance, (it is estimated that 40 thousand tons of volcanic rock were removed to build the Cavone alone).

After visiting the first sector of the necropolis (Tomba Ildebranda) you can proceed on foot on the pedestrian path that runs alongside the SP22 towards Sovana.

After about two hundred meters you arrive at the second sector of the Necropolis which includes the Church of San Sebastiano, the Tomb of the Siren (the most important), the Tombs in Semidado and the Via Cava di San Sebastiano.

The tomb of the Siren (III-II BC), is located on top of a rise and is a shrine tomb entirely dug into the tuff. The façade reproduces a false door, inside which the image of the deceased represented as a symposia is carved, the door is guarded on the sides by two demons, probably Charun and Vanth. The name derives from the frieze in which a mermaid is not represented, as is commonly known, but the sea monster Scylla caught in the act of sinking a ship. Above the image of the deceased is clearly legible the inscription “Vel Nulina”, “Son of Vel”. A particularly narrow dromos leads to the burial chamber, which is offset from the shrine. The small size of the chamber suggests a burial for a single individual. The tomb was first described by the English painter Samuel Aisnley who was addressed there by the locals.

Continuing on this path, you reach the necropolis of San Sebastiano, where you can cross the Vie Cave of the same name which cuts some chamber tombs from the Archaic period to finally reach a rock oratory with two rooms.

Hours

Open all day every day 10: 00-19: 00 (last admission allowed at 18:00)

Tickets

  • Full ticket € 5.00;
  • Reduced ticket € 3.50
  • Cumulative ticket: € 10.00 includes admissions to the “Città del tufo” Archaeological Park, the Museum of the Middle Ages with the Orsini Fortress and the Sovana Museum Complex with the San Mamiliano Museum