Sorano is a picturesque hill village near to Sovana and Pitigliano in the southern part of Tuscany, Italy.
It is from the east that Sorano shows itself best as a medieval village literally dug into the tufa, the village often almost indistinguishable from the hillside, topped by the Orsini Fortress, built in the 14th century and then rebuilt in the 16th century.
Tourists who visit Sorano should not expect to see individual monuments of great importance (except, of course, for the Fortress of Orsini) but to be immersed in an village that owes its fascination to the fact that it has retained its original structure
A tour of Sorano village
The visit falls into two distinct highlights: the large monument in the village - the Orsini Fotress, and the old village itself. Inside the village there is a labyrinth of alleys and staircases staircases that ascend and descend in meandering streets that give the village a medieval tone not often found in other sites.
Your visit to Sorano should start from its most prestigious building, the Orsini Fortress. This imposing 14th century fortress was restored and reinforced by Niccolò Orsini IV in 1552.
Start by looking at the building from the central tower where you find the powerful doorway - before entering, to the right and left of the entrance you can see a low wall leading to the finely worked entrance arch, while on the arch itself are the monumental emblems of Aldobrandeschi (rampant lions) and Orsini (a bear).
Pass through the portal and after crossing a drawbridge you come to the Fortress. Here you enter a vast square surrounded by walls, and a round tower which is the remains of the oldest tower still in existence from before the work performed by Niccolo Orsini IV.
On the memorial tablet, on which Nicholas IV engraved all his titles, we read that Nicholas was the Count of Pitigliano, Sovana of Nola, and that he restructured the building into a barracks. Entering a second courtyard surrounded by porticos you see the new residence of the Lord of the castle, which rises high above the village below, down a very steep hill and defended by two polygonal towers.
On raising the drawbridge the Nicholas’ Castle was completely isolated both from the village and from external enemies. If you carefully observe the structure of the castle you will appreciate the imposing defensive abilities it once held.
In some places there now remain only remnants of walls but they are walls that still inspire awe, and on seeing the ramparts to the east and west, over which dense vegetation now climbs, and the central tower of the fortress, or indeed just by looking at the castle from the village below, you can still appreciate the impregnable structure that Orsini Fortress once was.
Descending from the castle, we can now follow the winding streets of the medieval village. Pass through the Porta di Sopra to enter the square with the Cathedral. Built in the 14th century, the cathedral façade was extensively altered in the following centuries using baroque and neoclassical motifs.
Next to the cathedral is the Palazzo Comunale, residence of the Orsini before they moved in to the castle. The palace portal in particular is very impressive.
Continuing along Via Santa Monaca you reach the so-called 'Sasso Leopoldino', a fortress built in the 18th century which rises massively above the Old Town.
Descending from the village passed houses clinging to the hillside we enter an evocative landscape - east from Sorano there still exist the ruins of an ancient castle (near the village of San Quirico), and according to tradition it was in this castle that Nicholas IV Orsini took refuge when his son Alexander turned against him with the help of the Medici.
North of Sorano the ancient Abbey of Calvello once stood, although now lost, where it is said that Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand of Soana) [1020-1085] became a Benedictine monk.
Having taken in the great history of the Middle Ages as you explore Sorano, traditions have also been kept alive in the local produce which features high quality products such as those of the renowned dairies, which produce sheep's milk ricotta and caciotta (cheese).
You will also find tasty meats, especially the ham - this prized local product is celebrated in Sorano in the first half of August each year at the 'Feast of Ham', with the opportunity to taste a wide variety of local products.
History of Sorano
Sorano, originally 'Soranus', is of medieval origin, although the area was also inhabited in Etruscan and Roman times. The lords of Sorano were the Aldobrandeschi, followed by the Counts Orsini, the Republic of Siena and, finally, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with the Medici.
The importance of Sorano in the Middle Ages was clearly due to military reasons, since the village is located in the province of Grosseto, on a steep hill of tufa beneath which flows the meandering river Lente. Here, guarding the village, the mighty fortress of the Orsini was constructed, with the village of Sorano developing around the castle.
The village was originally larger but landslides, such as one in 1801 that took away a part of the village and the Church of Santa Caterina which stood on top of the hill, have demolished part of it.
Even today the area of the landslide is called "The Old Fortress" by the inhabitants of Sorano because here, in ancient times, there was apparently a fortified "castrum", preceding the fortress built by the Orsini and which stood in defence of the "unsheltered" part of Sorano, i.e. opposite the road leading from Pitigliano to the village.
Selected places to visit near Sorano
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...