Sorano is a picturesque hill village in the southern part of Tuscany, Italy that is part of a group of ancient villages that also includes Sovana and Pitigliano. It is really quite astonishing how well preserved the village is and how unchanged over the last few hundred years..
Squeezed along the top of a rocky ridge it is when seen from the east that Sorano shows itself at its best giving the appearance of a medieval village that is literally dug into the tufa and almost indistinguishable from the hillside. Above the village is the Orsini Fortress, built in the 14th century and then rebuilt in the 16th century.
A tour of Sorano village
Your visit falls naturally into two distinct parts: the Orsini Fortress, and the old village itself. Inside the village there is a labyrinth of alleys and staircases staircases that ascend and descend in meandering streets and give the village a unique medieval feeling.
Start your visit to Sorano at the Orsini Fortress. This imposing 14th century fortress was restored and reinforced by Niccolò Orsini IV in 1552.
First admire the entrance to the fortress from the central tower and where you find the powerful doorway. Before entering take a look at the low wall leading to the finely worked entrance arch, to the right and left of the entrance. On the arch itself you can see the monumental emblems of the Aldobrandeschi lords (rampant lions) and the Orsini lords (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. This is the remains of the oldest tower that is 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. Looking at the structure of the castle it is easy to 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 you can 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, which was the 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 you enter an evocative landscape - east of Sorano the ruins of an ancient castle still exit (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.
The ancient Abbey of Calvello once stood to the north of Sorano, now lost, and 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, you will be pleased to learn that traditions have also been kept alive in the local produce which features high quality products such as those from the renowned local dairies, which produce sheep's milk ricotta and caciotta (cheese).
You will also find tasty meats, especially 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
The Sorano you see today, originally called 'Soranus' - see history of Sorano - is of medieval origin, although the area was also already 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.
You will certainly also want to visit the medieval villages of Sovana and Pitigliano while you are here. Another local place of interest is just a few kilometres east of Sorano at San Quirico where you can see a large number of etruscan tombs at Rupestre di Vitozza.
Selected places to visit near Sorano, Italy
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...