Pitigliano is a unique town in the Maremma region of Southern Tuscany, with a wonderful hilltop position soaring above the landscape. The town is intertwined with the volcanic rock it dominates, much like other towns in Southern Tuscany and in the Tuscia region of Lazio such as Sorano, Sovana, Soriano nel Cimino and even the world famous Civita di Bagnoregio. Different from the rest, however, Pitigliano is known for its special connection to Jewish community (more about that in a bit).
Since I have recently visited with my dad and my sister, I thought I’d share here its history, its best sights and some useful information that will help you plan your visit. Just continue reading.
Curious to explore more of the region? Check out my post A Local’s Guide To Tuscia.
The History Of Pitigliano, Italy
The area of Pitigliano has been inhabited since the Neolithic period, yet the first stable settlements emerged during the Etruscan era. Etruscans lived in the area – nowadays known as Tuscia and spanning across Northern Lazio, Southern Tuscany and parts of Umbria – until the 5th century BC. Testimonies of the presence of the Etruscans can be found throughout the city – for example, in Via Cave.
Pitigliano started transforming into the small town we see today during the Middle Ages, and that’s about when it was first mentioned in a papal letter (year 1061). At the time and for about three centuries, the village was kept a fortress from a certain family of counts. In 1293, the Orsini family took hold of ownership, and restructured both the fortress and other defensive structures of the city, in case of an imminent attack.
Pitigliano was then ceded to the Medici, in 1574. After being annexed in 1604 to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, a period of great decline was suffered, only to be stopped by the Lorraine government in the 18th century.
What To See And Do In Pitigliano, Italy
The quaint village can be easily visited in a couple of hours. There are a few specific sites that are worth seeing, scenes that feel like a faraway past, embedded and enmeshed within history.
Medici Aqueducts and the Fontana Delle Sette Cannelle
Much like Tuscania in Tuscia, Pitigliano has its own Fontana delle Sette Cannelle (Fountain of the Seven Spouts in English). From Piazza della Repubblica where the fountain was placed in 1545, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. As the name suggests, the fountain has seven pipes, each of them adorned with a sculptured head of an animal.
Over the fountain, you can see some arches – these are an aqueduct that actually leads to the fountain, and which was built by Antonio da San Gallo il Giovane in the 1600s within the walls of the town to follow a wish of the Medici family to supply water to the region. It’s the first of its kind in this part of the region. The rest of the aqueduct can be admired in Via Cavour.
Wander around the ‘Little Jerusalem’ Quarter
As I have said at the beginning of this post, the history of Pitigliano is strictly connected to that of the Jewish community who found refuge in the southern part of the town between 1555 and 1569, when forced to leave the Papal territories. In 1598, a synagogue was constructed, which gave rise to a Jewish quarter, hence the nickname “Little Jerusalem” that is often used to refer to Pitigliano.
You can visit the Little Jerusalem, as well as the Synagogue and the museum next to it. It’s a bit like an ethnographic museum, where you can get an idea of how the community would live and go about their daily life. Take care to spot the Mikveh – Jewish ritual baths; the butcher shop; and the bakery (known as the Forno delle Azzime)
Palazzo Orsini and its Museums
One place you should not miss when in Pitigliano is the the household of the Orsini family. The building has elegant vaults, painted wooden ceilings, with narrow winding hallways that are reachable by steep stairs.
The ex-Rocca Aldobrandesca, now known as the Palazzo Orsini, dominates the main square of Pitigliano. The building dates back from the 11th century, when it was used as a convent. Subsequently, the Aldobrandeschi turned it into a fortress. If you look carefully you will see that Pitigliano is surrounded by wall. These date back to the 15th century and were built when the convent was turned into a fortress. Today, Palazzo Orsini is home to the Diocesan Museum and the archaeological museum which houses historic Etruscan finds from the region.
Another museum in Palazzo Orsini is the Museum of Sacred Art, which hosts a collection of precious artworks from local churches, one of which is the Cathedral of Pitigliano. The 18 rooms of the museum are a treasure chest of incredible works of art, such as the wooden statue of Madonna and Child by Jacopo Della Quercia, among many others.
Duomo di Pitigliano
From Palazzo Orsini, walking along via Roma you can get to the Duomo of Pitigliano, the Cathedral of St. Peters and Paul. The church appears to be in clear Baroque style but don’t let that fool you: it actually dates back to the 13th century (and has been a parish church since then) and has seen many renovation works to get to the shape we see today.
The façade is indeed elegant and architecturally rich. Make sure to observe the two statues of St. Peter and St. Paul placed on the sides of the portal. Inside, the church has just one nave. There you will spot the Madonna of the Rosary with Saints by Francesco Vanni.
The Vie Cave are ancient roads built in the Etruscan era by arduous hand digging into the tufa rock. Some lanes pass in the middle of rocky walls up to 20 meters (that’s more than 65 feet) high, highlighting the impressive activity of carving into the natural environment. During Etruscan times, the roads were used to connect the various settlements and the necropolises in the area.
Underground Tunnels and Caves
Following on from Vie Cave to see even more underground Pitigliano, head to the secret tunnels and caves of the town. Historically, the cliff on which Pitigliano appears to be built was dotted with tombs. Sometimes open to the public (check their website for availability), the structure is also home to a Christian cave chapel, dating from 400 AD, the oldest in Italy.
Check out Le Delizie di Ale e Helga
Le Delizie di Ale e Helga is a small artisan workshop where Alessandro and Helga produce their jams, ragu sauces, vegetable creams, pickles and oils. It all began in August 2006, when they purchased an oven to prepare typical sweets of the region. To add to their repertoire, local dairy farms were contacted, to sell artisan produce of cheeses, cured meats and wines. It was a wonderful little establishment tucked away on a meandering side street.
In 2014, they introduced their own “Enoteca Vineria” where you can have taste their products accompanied by an excellent glass of wine or a fresh craft beer. This was our favorite place to eat in Pitigliano. Keep in mind they do not take reservations, so plan to be there by the restaurant’s opening hours to be seated promptly. They are located in the town’s historic center and they have indoor and outdoor tables.
Take in the impressive views of Pitigliano
We literally stumbled upon the viewpoint of Via San Michele as we were searching for a good spot to park our car. Along the road there is plenty of shade and benches where you can rest, but most importantly this is the best viewpoint in Pitigliano. I am sure that, looking at the photo above, you will agree. There is a small restaurant with tables on the terrace too, if you want. The food is nothing to write home about, but the service is friendly and quick.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Pitigliano, Tuscany
How to get there
There is no train station in Pitigliano, but you can get there by bus from other cities and towns in Tuscany, including Siena, Florence and Grosseto, as well as from Rome and Viterbo in Lazio. To make the most of the region and explore other nearby sites such as Saturnia Hot Springs, however, I recommend renting a car for your trip. As you approach the town, you’ll find a belvedere – like a small terrace from where you can take stunning photos.
Here’s how to get there from the main cities nearby.
You should also read my post A Guide To Visiting Saturnia Hot Springs.
This is actually the best city to base yourself to explore the region of Tuscia and southern Tuscany, as long as you have a car. From there, it takes about one hour to get to Pitigliano, over a nice scenic road. Take roads SP7, SP8, then Strada Regionale (SR) 312 Castrense and SR74 to Pitigliano. The journey by public transport requires multiple changes and is very long.
Don’t forget to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Viterbo.
Pitigliano is two hours north of Rome by car – drive north along the A1 all the way to Orte, then take SS165 to Viterbo and from there SR2 and SR74 to Pitigliano. You can break the journey in Viterbo, Lake Bolsena and even at Saturnia Hot Springs to make a road trip out of it!
If you want to travel by public transport, you’ll have to get a train to Albinia, which is roughly a two-hour ride, and then a bus to Pitigliano, which takes another three hours.
Getting from Florence to Pitigliano by public transport isn’t exactly straightforward and it will take you a very long time, so you can’t really go there on a day trip if you want to rely on the train and the bus. You’ll have to first catch one of the many daily trains to Siena, and then hop on one of the fewer buses that go to Pitigliano. If you have a car, it’s easier – but it will take you no less than 2.5 hours.
Where to stay in Pitigliano
A day is enough time to explore Pitigliano, but that shouldn’t stop you from spending more time there and take in the quaint, relaxed atmosphere. There are a few good places where you can spend a night or two, should you wish to do so.
La Casa Degli Archi is a gorgeous guest house, what in Italy is known as Albergo Diffuso – a hotel that has several small, charming rooms scattered around (in this case) the heart of the old town. Rooms are spacious and incredibly cozy, furnished in a traditional style.
Agriturismo Eco-Bio Villa Vacasio is located a few minutes drive from the historic center. You’ll be staying in a wonderful place, immersed in a well kept garden where you’ll find a pool, where rooms are spacious and comfortable. There is an on-site restaurant too.
Km 0 Dal Centro is a small bed and breakfast with spacious, very modern rooms (they even have a family room). As the name suggests, it’s in the heart of Pitigliano.