The medieval town of Sorano is also called “the Matera of Tuscany” due to its characteristic houses built on or carved into tufa rock, resembling the famous town of the Sassi in Basilicata (southern Italy).
A bit of history
The area where Sorano stands today used to be inhabited since Etruscan times, as proved by important archaeological findings of ancient towns and necropolis.
The town itself came to life under the Adobrandeschi family, and passed to the Orsini family in 1293 following the marriage between Anastasia (the last heir of the Aldrobrandeschi) and Romano Orsini.
Sorano was attacked different times by Siena during the XV century, but the efficient fortresses built by the Orsini’s allowed the town never to be occupied. At the end of the XVI century, the Orsini county fell apart and Sorano became part of Tuscany’s Grand Duchy under the Medici Family.
Perched on a tuffaceous spur, the historic center of Sorano maintains is medieval structure. You can access it through 2 ancient doors. The main piazza features the Clock Tower, the Church of S. Niccolò and the Palazzo Comitale.
The Church of San Niccolò was built between 1290 and 1300, and you can admire its original structure on the northern side of the building. Inside, in the irregular Latin-cross space, you will find a wooden crucifix donated by Cosimo de’ Medici.
Palazzo Comitale features a Renaissance-style elegance, and used to be the residence of the Orsini Family.
The majestic Orsini Fortress, instead, is located on the isthmus of the rock where Sorano stands. You enter the building by crossing a trench on what used to be a lift bridge. The large tufa rock located in front of the most ancient part of the Fortress is called Masso Leopoldino: its walls were smoothed by hand and the peak was levelled like a terrace.
Located at the entrance of Sorano, I Colombari are two enormous holes carved in tufa rock. They date back to the I° century B.C. and feature riddled walls with quadrangular niches. Probably, primitives used to inhabit them.
The characteristic Vie Cave are long and narrow alleys dug in the tufa rock: in some points, the walls reach 20 meters of height! They take you to different Etruscan tombs. Tip: watch out for the lush vegetation that hides part of the paths.
Speaking of tombs, the Necropolis of San Rocco is located on the road that connects Sorano and Sovana, following a path that borders the Romanic church of S. Rocco. Here you can observe tomb rooms and Roman colombari.
Near Sorano, in the village of Castell’Ottieri you can find the remains of the Rocca Ottieresca (1400s), and inside the local Church of S. Bartolomeo there are traces of lovely frescoes by the Sienese school. More ruins of castles and abbeys can be found in the fractions of Elmo, Montebuono, Montorio, Montevitozzo and San Quirico.
Credit for the large image above: View of Sorano by Sidvics