In Italy a long, long… long time ago, homes were carved into rocky hillsides. While the rebirth of Matera has drawn Instagrammers from around the world, Sorano lies in sleepy repose six hours north. Local cats act as tour guides. Beckoning visitors to explore a maze of medieval towers stacked above cave-like homes, alcoves, and cantinas. Streets too narrow for cars leave the old town silent. If not for smokestack puffing, one might think the Borgo abandoned.
Just as the thought “are we the only people here?” comes to mind, an elderly couple will appear around the corner, proving no street is too steep for the hearty.
A trip to southern Tuscany offers a chance to explore not just one, but three carved cities. Pitigliano, Sovana, and Sorano. Collectively known as Città del Tufo (Cities of Tufo) these medieval hillside towns are made of Tuff. Soft enough to carve, solid enough to construct, Tuff is a type of stone formed from volcanic ash that has cooled and compacted into solid rock.
Today’s photographic journey is through Sorano believed to be first inhabited by the Villanovan People as early as 800 BC. Unique among the Cities of Tufo, Sorano feels forgotten by time. With only 3,100 citizens left, in many ways, Sorano feels frozen in time. This is exactly why Sorano is fascinating. It’s unblemished by tourism.
Here are our Top 10 photos from our explorations of Sorano, Italy along with a tip for where to find free parking!
The photo below is looking through an arch from Sorano. If you look closely carved doorways to Etruscan remains can be seen across the hillside over the river Lente.
I found this view fascinating wondering what it must have been like to get home!
The following photo shows an abandoned barbershop, decorated for a Christmas Nativity Walk. At 5’8″ the carved ceiling arched just a few inches above my head at its highest point.
Thanks to steel construction, modern architecture is all about large windows, bright and airy spaces. Sorano offers a fascinating glimpse back into medieval times. When towns and homes were built for protection against invasion.
All across the Italian landscape, ancient walled cities are perched on hilltops. Although there are similarities like arched doorways, piazzas, and of course churches, each town has its own unique character. Historically towns in Italy changed hands many times.
In the mid 800’s Sorano was a feudal town controlled by the Aldobrandeschi family. By 1417 it was part of the Republic of Siena before becoming independent in 1556. It wasn’t until 1860 when the Duchy of Tuscany annexed Sorano that it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Sorano is a stoic medieval town. It’s a fair question to ask, is Sorano worth a visit? If you are interested in Medieval history, seeing the authentic side of Italy, or simply enjoying panoramic views yes, Sorano is definitely worth visiting.
If you have a car while visiting Tuscany, parking next to Orsini Fortress is free and offers elevated views of Sorano and Etruscan remains below. The walk from the fortress is all downhill. The further down you walk, the more fascinating the town becomes. Sorano is however a steep town. The hike back up is widely acknowledged as a challenge.
One thing I’ve learned moving to Italy is that Nonnas are surprisingly adept at walking uphill. It’s said to be one of the reasons Italians have a long life expectancy. Hiking steep hills every day!
Just remember to take a camera. The history, textures, and views make Sorano a photographic wonder. Plus, taking a photo is the perfect foil for stopping to catch one’s breath.