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A trip to Pitigliano

Come with us to the "little Jerusalem" in the heart of Maremma

Pitigliano is located in Tuscany halfway from Florence and Rome, perched atop a volcanic tufa ridge. Its unmistakable skyline makes it stand out from kilometres away and gives Pitigliano a surreal charm. It is also known as Little Jerusalem (Piccola Gerusalemme) due to the long-standing presence of a Jewish community. Prior to this particular part of history, Pitigliano has an ancient past, with centuries of changes in civilizations and cultures.

A view of Pitigliano [Photo Credits: Thomas Mues]
A view of Pitigliano [Photo Credits: Thomas Mues]
A bit of history

Pitigliano and its surrounding area were inhabited since Etruscan times (7th-6th century BC), then there were the Romans, the Aldobrandeschi family (the first lords of the Maremma), the Orsini, Medici (with their Grand Duchy) and the Lorraine families. The town is still home to treasures from all these former rulers: Etruscan tombs, the Roman origins of the antique Gens Petilia (hence the name Pitigliano) and the Lorraine family, who initiated urban development and modernization. From 1500 onwards, Pitigliano greeted a growing Jewish community, who found refuge under the rule of the Orsini family until 1600, when the Lorraine family re-opened the gates of the ghetto. During Fascism, the Jews left the city and went into hiding in the countryside, helped by the other inhabitants of Pitigliano. After the Second World War, the Jewish community slowly dissolved.

Main sights

The town itself is small enough to walk around easily. If you need a map, ask at the tourist information office, in Via Roma, just off the main square.

Palazzo and Fortress Orsini: A 14th-century fortress near the town’s entrance, but prior to this it was an ancient religious convent. It consists of a bridge house, two towers and a great tower, with 15th-century external walls; it is now a museum housing Etruscan finds and artworks.

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul: Built during the Middle Ages, it has been remodelled several times, once in the 16th century to give it a Baroque style. Have a look at the façade, gabled with a truly breath-taking Carrara marble bas-relief of the Assumption of Mary with St. Rocco and St. Francis. Inside there are some masterpieces of artwork.

The Cathedral of Pitigliano [Photo Credits: Riccardo Cuppini]
The Cathedral of Pitigliano [Photo Credits: Riccardo Cuppini]

The Jewish Quarter of Pitigliano: The synagogue, the Hebrew cemetery, the kosher oven where unleavened bread was baked, the cellar carved in the rock where kosher wine was produced, the kosher butcher shop, the baths for the purification of women and the cleaners are all proof of its history and are now open to the public. The Jewish quarter became settled in the 16th century, known as the liveliest Jewish ghetto in Italy.

The Church of Saint Mary (today called San Rocco): The oldest church in town, dating to the 12th century. The façade is a product of sober late-Renaissance architecture.

The Church of Saint Mary (today called San Rocco) [Photo Credits: Riccardo Cuppini]
The Church of Saint Mary (today called San Rocco) [Photo Credits: Riccardo Cuppini]

The Town's Walls and Gates: The town’s defensive system. The first town wall system was built by the Etruscans during the 7th century BC, currently visible in the north-west part of the historical centre, near Porta di Sovana, the best preserved in town where the Vie Cave begin.

The 16th-century Aqueduct: Built under the rule of the Medici family, the aqueduct runs along the side of the town and across Via Cavour. In the 18th century, the Lorraine family set renovation work in motion, with the implementation of the succession of small arches, still visible today.

The 16th-century Aqueduct [Photo Credits:<br />Città del Tufo Maremma Toscana]
The 16th-century Aqueduct [Photo Credits: Città del Tufo Maremma Toscana]

Piazza Becherini: The perfect place to take a photo of the surrounding valleys.

Underground Tunnels and Caves: The main characteristic of Pitigliano, each house has a cellar dug into the tufa. These caves have been in use since Etruscan times, first as tombs, then as cellars where wine can be kept at a constant temperature. This underground area with tunnels and caves is open to the public on walking tours.

Vie Cave: Ideal for lovers of history and light trekking. It’s like walking back in time: the “vie cave” are charming, unique and mysterious, almost certainly related to viability but also for worship. 

Events in Pitigliano
Pitigliano view
Pitigliano view - Credit: Enrico Bottino
  • March 19: “Torciata” of St. Joseph, when a group of men dressed in habits carry bundles of lighted reeds on their shoulders from Via Cava to the town square, where the reeds and a puppet representing the “Harsh Winter” are burned in a spellbinding way
  • June: Celebrations in honour of St. Paul of the Cross
  • August: Festa della Contea: three days with an historic Renaissance banquet, drummers and minstrels.
  • August 16: Celebrations in honour of San Roque, the town's patron saint
  • September 29: Annual fair
  • First weekend of September: Opening of the wineries (or "cantinelle"), usually on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to celebrate the new wine
  • December: International Documentary Film Festival

This article was originally written by Kinzica Sorrenti