An ancient settlement, Sovana is originally of Etruscan origin and developed in the seventh century BC. It is now listed as one of the 'most beautiful villages of Italy' and is a very picturesque village - certainly among the loveliest in southern Tuscany - with an attractive medieval centre and several ancient and medieval monuments of interest to discover.
The village is very simple to explore being essentially one main paved street, the Via di Mezzo which starts at the castle, and a few small side streets. You visit to Sovana can start from the ancient Aldobrandeschi’s Fortress. This castle has very ancient origins, certainly dating from Ancient Roman times and probably from the Etruscan period, although the castle we see today dates from a restoration in 1572 by Cosimo I de Medici.
The curent castle dates from the 11th century when the Aldobrandeschi lords were very powerful here, and it was here in Sovana that the future Pope Gregory was born in the 11th century.The family lost their importance from the 14th century onwards and the castle fell into decline.
The castle suffered severe damage in the 17th century so today there only remains one tower, an entrance and a section of walls. In the highest part of the walls you can still see some decorative and elegant small-arms dating from the 13th century.
After exploring the fortress continue along the Via di Mezzo to reach the Piazza del Pretorio, where you can admire the Bourbon del Monte Palace, built in the mid-16th century by Jacopo Barozzi (known as the 'Vignola', 1507-1573), with a Renaissance door, a porch and a large interior garden.
Near the palace there are the remains of the 5th century Church of Saint Mamiliano, dedicated to the patron saint of Sovana and built on the ruins of an existing building of Etruscan and Roman origin. Recently restored, it has the typical plan of a Christian church with a nave but without an apse.
Continuing on through Sovana you reach the Piazza del Pretoria, a very attractive medieval square and the 14th century Church of Santa Maria.The interior of this church has three naves separated by pilasters supporting large arcs and with a fine ciborium (altar covering) dating from the 8th century.
You can also see two frescoes, probably of the school of Andrea Niccolò, a Sienese painter of the first half of the 16th century. The oldest painting shows the 'Madonna and Child Enthroned between Santa Barbara and Saint Lucia' (1508), the other the 'Crucifix of San Antonio and San Lorenzo' (1517 ca).
Back in the square outside the church it is the 12th century Praetorian Palace that stands out. With a rectangular plan, it has been altered several times and has a façade decorated with the emblems of the Captains of Justice and the Medici family.
Continuing along the Via di Mezzo in Sovana you come to the house which, according to tradition, was the house where Hildebrand of Soana was born (see history of Sovana), and, a little further, stands the Cathedral.
The cathedral has kept its original plan dating back to the second half of the 12th century and consisting of three naves separated by arches resting on strong pillars, some featuring interesting carved capital stones. In the sanctuary the apse and a dome covered outside by an octagonal lantern are particularly noteworthy. The roof, with a cross vault, was built in the 13th century.
You can also visit the small but very atmospheric crypt in the cathedral church.
The Sovana region also offer visitors a fascinating spectacle in the shape of the Etruscan necropolis. Among the highlights is the so-called Tomb of Silenus, which is located near Aldobrandeschi’s Fortress and dates from the 3rd-2nd century BC. It consists of a burial chamber with the funerary monument carved into the stone above.
The name of the tomb comes from the discovery of an 'Antefissa' (an ornament of the cornice) depicting Silenus, who in Greek mythology was the companion to the wine god Dionysus.
Also well worth a visit is the Tomba della Sirena ('Tomb of the Siren'), so called because the entry is decorated with sculptures in high relief that depict a mermaid holding two people.
While the other tombs in the necropolis are all interesting, your itinerary must include a visit to the most famous tomb of Sovana, the 'Ildebranda Tomb', dating from the 3rd-2nd century BC. The tomb, which has the form of a temple, is dug in the tufa and, as we can see from the remains of stucco, it was finely decorated with some floral and zoo-morphic motifs.
Finally no visit to Sovana and this region of Tuscany would be complete without sampling its famous wines, that were already known and appreciated by the Etruscans more than 2000 years ago. These include the Red Sovana, a typical wine of Maremma and perhaps best enjoyed accompanied by a local speciality such as the 'Buglione of Lamb'.
The village of Sovana is very close to Pitigliano and Sovana in the Maremma region, towards the southern tip of Tuscany. The three villages and the etruscan tombs and countryside together make a very pleasant destination.
See the Tuscany guide for more travel ideas...