We arrived at golden hour, just before sunset. As we negotiated steep roads, I craned my neck to gaze up at the formidable rock face, the pedestal for Pitigliano’s dramatic silhouette, and mentally calculated the best position for a sunset performance. Later, standing on the higher road leading out of the town, I was rewarded.
Pitigliano above ground is everything a poetic painter could wish for. Somehow it felt anachronistic snapping photos, I should be sketching or writing to keep in pace with the town. Off the flower-filled main street we dipped beneath arches and followed dusty alleys leading to the plainer streets on the edge of the rock outcrop. A remarkable number of houses for sale professed casual extras like cave cellars or roof terraces with panoramic vistas. As one shrewd sign read, ‘go on, fall for it’. Too easy. But this was only one Pitigliano, as for centuries residents excavated a hidden city into the tufo rock itself. All around the base of the outcrop were caves used for storage, and higher up wine cellars and shops have been hollowed out from the rock.
Inside the town itself the most notable underground caves were in the Jewish Ghetto, yet another hidden world within the town, and the reason for Pitigliano’s epithet of ‘Little Jerusalem’. With an audio guide from an elderly Jewish lady, we learnt about when to take a ritual bath, how animals were brought beneath ground to the slaughter-house, the process of making kosher wine and the traditional bread made in the bakery. This underground life poignantly reinforced the true meaning of ‘Ghetto’. Although there are no longer any Jews living in the Ghetto, a little shop sold traditional kosher products and the synagogue was open to visitors.
In the valley beneath Pitigliano lay the final, secret town concealed in the woods. Along the overgrown Vie Cave, we walked the Etruscan roads and peered into gloomy caves marked with medieval cross carvings. Sometimes the paths petered out (walking shoes would have been useful here) but frequent black cave openings in the rock faces signalled the route. We could have spent a full afternoon exploring these paths with childish delight.
That night we slept in our own cave, a little more luxurious, and woke the next morning to Pitigliano’s distinct skyline outside our door. As I showered beneath a rocky ceiling I watched the ravens circling around the rock.
We drank coffee in the bar beside the Medici fountain, it’s five arches framing the landscape. We ambled round its churches deciphering faded frescoes, and drank local Bianco di Pitigliano wine with crostini con lardo, melted and dripping with oil, beside the 16th century aqueduct. Later we shopped inside the cave cellars, taking home some more of the wine, pici, a kind of thick spaghetti, and special kosher sweets.
To view the sunset – Strada Regionale 74
Jewish Ghetto – Vicolo Marghera off Via Zuccarelli
Main square and Medici fountain – Piazza della Repubblica
Restaurant – Pancaciua, Via Cavour 32
Shop for local products with cave wine cellar – Narcisi & Bussi,Via Santa Chiara 70
Above are photographs of our accommodation and the view from the door. If you’d like details on the property please contact me here.