After our visit to Pitigliano we drove the 6km to explore the villages of Sorano and Sovano. We spent the night in the Hotel della Fortezza, (Hotel of the Fortress). I have stayed in some pretty cool places around the world but never have I stayed in a Medieval fortress. This opportunity sold J. immediately-as a true 6 year old at heart- the mere mention of a stay in a medieval fortress excited him. He was not disappointed as we made our way from the parking lot to the entrance of the fortress.
Still standing after 8oo years the fortress is more welcoming than it must have been to the soldiers approaching to attack the village. As we crossed the stone bridge (what used to be the drawbridge) we walked into the fortress. We walked under the death hole into the second area of attack. We continued under the fortress walls and into the courtyard to the hotel entrance. There is also the museum entrance and a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains. The three come together removing one from reality.
Now, we were pretty blown away already. I mean there are bits of the ancient frescoes still on the walls. Also well maintained artilleries and evidence of the medieval genius we see throughout Italy. But, these were nothing compared to what awaited us in our room. As I stated before we have stayed in a lot of incredible places around the world. Honestly, the view out of our hotel room was completely breath stopping. Positioned in the oldest part of the medieval fortress it offered some of the most spectacular views we have experienced in Tuscany.
Despite the cold, rainy day we opened the windows, and stood in awe. Below us the village of Sorano unfolded. Brown stone buildings carved from the Tufo (volcanic rock) collected together. It was as if each was holding the other on top of the hill. At the tip of the village is a large structure with a clock tower and terra-cotta viewing platform. This large structure is a solid piece of rock left to help fortify the city. Behind the city the green hills of Tuscany reveal evidence of the terraced farms that once supplied the local villages with food. There are also rocky caves that once served the Etruscans who inhabited the region.
The Fortress Tour
Luckily we bought tickets to the fortress tour. As luck would have it was done by a Brit-yay English and Italian!! No questionable Sheri translations.) The Orsini family built the fortress in the 14th century to fortify their position in the region. The death hole-a funnel shaped hole in the ceiling- was used to drop boiling liquids on any soldiers who made it to the opening of the fortress. The entrance is narrow, forcing armies into a small space where the boiling liquid could have the most impact. The soldiers who made it past the death hole then found themselves in a large room. Here holes in the walls allowed the defenders to shot at them with arrows. These pretty much guaranteed no one made it into the internal structure.
Underneath the walls of the fortress floor after floor, lead deeper into the earth. Holes were carved in the wall for ventilation, and for artillery. There were shoots where the garbage would be dropped and buried. Can you imagine making so little garbage that it could be buried in little holes? A self-sustaining organization survived in these halls for centuries, protecting the Orsini land. On one of the turrets a family crest is embedded and above it a cannonball is buried in the wall. Since most people didn’t read at the time it was a visual message (exaggeration) to show that the walls were so strong even cannonballs could not make it through. Ahh 14th century propoganda and marketing…
Dinner & Exploring
The warm fire burning in the dining room was too much to resist in the cold rain. So, for dinner we decided to eat the tasting menu at the Hotel della Fortezza. We sat in comfortable lounge chairs. Then spent the evening eating food sourced within 15 kilometers of Sorano. The wine we drank was produced just as close. It was fantastic. As the owner talked to us, we started on our second glasses of wine. We soaked in the atmosphere in the 800 year old laundry room. He pointed out the old sink left in the corner. Here they would have washed and the fireplace would have been used to heat the room. For us Americans this is a pretty big deal-an 800 year old laundry room! The food, atmosphere, wine and service made for an impeccable and romantic evening.
Sunday morning we woke to the sun shining on the medieval village- inviting us to explore-which we happily did. It is a small village-two main streets-but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm and views. Surprisingly the monotone brown color of the stone buildings is spectacular set against the vibrant green landscape. We wound our way through the completely empty village. It was only 9:00 am Sunday morning-not a busy time on Italian streets in any town. For the hour we toured the village of Sorano it was as if we were walking through a piece of living history that belonged only to us.
Curious to see more of the region we headed over to Sovano. A small village about 20 minutes drive. As I drove J. would demand I stop the car so he could try to take photos. We were winding through narrow roads bordered on either side by large cliffs of volcanic stone, and trees. We had entered an entirely different world. The beams of light allowed in by small gaps in the trees highlighted the red and brown tones in the dramatic stone cliffs. It created an aura of fall I have never experienced before.
When we arrived at the small town of Sovano I was seriously stunned by the weekend we had. As you know by now I love this country I now call home. Sometimes that love is so big it almost overflows. I feel as if I am floating. J. and I spend times like this walking around commenting about how lucky we are. We are blessed in this lifetime to experience such beauty, history, and incredible moments.
The even smaller village of Sovano was an extension of that. We walked into Piazza del Pretorio. Again brown stones created a small village, this one much closer to its Etruscan roots. After enjoying a coffee in the sun we took a moment to examine this two street village and the rolling hills surrounding it. Different from Sorano, Sovano has more restaurants, even though it is about a quarter the size of Sorano.
The Architecture of Sovano
At one end of the village is the duomo, Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore (Church of Saint Mary Maggiore). The simplicity of the cathedral proved that ornate is not always the best option. The small pieces of remaining frescoes elegantly decorate the beige stones. Ornate white capitals, each with a different design, grace the tops of the pillars. The cattle, etruscan figures and other carvings on the capitals each tell stories of the time. Pictures were used for the villagers who more than likely couldn’t read. The canopy over the altar is very precious. It is the one of the oldest, still intact, examples of this pre-romanic architecture.
When the church was remodeled in 2004 498 gold coins were found inside. They are now on display in the towns museum. It was the first town to become Christian due to S. Mamiliano who is attributed to the legend of The Count of Montecristo.
At the other end of the town is the ruin Rocca Aldobrandesco. Once used as a bakery, grain storage and provided water until it was dismantled in the 17th century.
This little town was one of the few towns able to hold on to its roots and culture after being occupied by the Romans. This makes it a very special example of the history of the region. Most buildings have beautiful blooming flower boxes, vines growing around the doors and are meticulously cared for. All of this creates an enchanting atmosphere.
I know that everyone coming to Italy wants to see the big cities, and famous landmarks. But to find the true Italy, to feel its soul it is worth getting off of the beaten path. Sit in the quiet streets engulfed in the generous and joyous culture of towns like Sorano and Sovano in Italy.