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Photo © Claudia D'Aliasi
Photo © Claudia D'Aliasi


Where resilience was the watchword for the Etruscans

The small and fascinating town of Sovana, a hamlet in the municipality of Sorano, dates to the 7th century BCE, when the first inhabitants, most of whom were farmers and shepherds, settled in the high plains on the banks of what is today the River Fiora. They built the bases of the ancient “Suana” atop a tuff cliff protected by the Folonia and Calesine streams.

Its importance in the 6th century can be seen in its rapport with Vulci, and in the Roman period it became a Municipium, earning rights and conserving its autonomy. Over the years, the town developed near the pre-existing Etruscan tombs, under the control of the powerful Aldobrandeschi family. In the Middle Ages, Ildebrando di Soana was born here, who later became Pope Gregory VII. Important families like the Orsini, Medici and Lorraine all held power in this area, though it was almost entirely abandoned because of a plague. In the 20th century, thanks to its stunning archeological heritage, Sovana took on renewed importance, welcoming many tourists and becoming part of the prestigious list of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.

The Rocca Aldobrandesca is one of the town’s main attractions: sitting atop the foundations of a castle built by the family in the 11th century, it vaunts a fortified tower and is part of the defense walls on the most accessible side. It underwent important renovations thanks to the Medici, but in the years that followed, the fortress was stripped of its defense role and fell into disuse.

On the opposite side of the city, down a cypress-shaded avenue, is the Cathedral of San Pietro, considered to be Sovana’s main monument and one of the historic example of transition from the Romanesque to Gothic eras. Built atop the ruins of an older church, probably dating to around the 11th/12th century, the church vaunts a stone façade that extends onto one of the sides. The interior, restored in 1999, is divided into three naves by cruciform pillars that support a rib-vaulted ceiling over the central nave. The historiated capitals depicting biblical scenes and the priceless holy water font from 1615 are characteristic of the church. Before leaving, don’t forget to visit the crypt, which conserves the remains of St. Mamilian, who evangelized Sovana.

Jumping back in time, the necropolis in Sovana is a veritable treasure thanks to the variety of tombs and examples of Etruscan architecture. No visit to the Tomb of the Winged Demons, the Ildebranda Tomb and the Etruscan “streets” – the so-called Vie Cave – is complete without also admiring the objects found at the entrance to the “Cavone,” now conserved in the San Mamiliano Museum in the evocative piazza del Pretorio. Some of the most important discoveries included a small vase containing 498 gold coins, the legendary treasure of Sovana, recently stolen.

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