Sovana is so small, it’s made up of only two streets, but hidden in those two streets are some of the most incredible historical treasures.
The second of the three Città del Tufo, Sovana can trace its origins back to between the 7th and 6th century BC and its history could inspire even those who never thought they’d take an interest.
During the Bronze Age, the Etruscans shaped Suana (Sovana) into an artistic and cultural city so inspiring that it was quickly taken over by the Romans, who used it as one of their territorial capitals.
The Sovana we know today was built in the Middle Ages under the extremely powerful Aldobrandeschi. They left their mark by erecting an impressive stone wall that once encircled the entire town.
While these walls remain standing in few places, the isolation Sovana felt during the Middle Ages hasn’t left it and few residents live in the town today.
Unaffected by the changes brought by population growth or modernity, Sovana remains as it was when the Aldobrandeschi and Orsini Counts walked its streets.
I guess you could say it’s almost a ghost town, but, this isn’t really a problem for visitors. To be honest, it’s more of a bonus.
There are few towns in the Maremma that have maintained both their history and original splendour like Sovana. The sand-coloured streets, battleworn, but effortlessly characteristic buildings and unassuming old centre are honest and simply beautiful.
Everything here is completely tourist-gimmick free.
If you have time, wander outside the borders of Sovana. Concealed in the rolling hills and forests of the nearby countryside are miles of ancient Etruscan ‘Vie Cave’ roads, necropolises, crumbling settlements and other archaeological sites that date back millennia.
To find out more about Sovana, check out our online guide.
What to see in Sovana
Aldobrandesca Fortress: built in the 11th century by the Aldobrandeschi, the fortress is part of the city walls and is part of the defensive structure of the city. At the foot of the fortress are the remains of the walls built in the Etruscan era. The fortress was restored in the Sienese era, but it was Cosimo I dei Medici who brought it back to its former glory, with an important renovation in 1572. At the end of the 1600s the fortress lost its defense function and was slowly abandoned.
Palazzo dell’Archivio: also known as Palazzo Comunale, it stands in Piazza del Pretorio. Particularly its bell gable and the clock in the center of the facade. The Palazzo dell’Archivio was built between the 12th and 13th centuries, in the period of greatest growth of the Free Municipality of Sovana. A few decades after its construction, the building was destined for public use.
Bourbon del Monte Palace: built in 1600, the building is very austere and simple, it was built starting from a pre-existing loggia dating back to 1572-1573. The palace performed public functions.
Loggia del Capitano: characteristic building with a portico structure, with two arches resting on a single pillar. The large coat of arms of Cosimo I dei Medici was added in 1570.
Palazzo Pretorio: Romanesque-style building built between the 12th and 13th centuries, it was restored by the Sienese in 1410. The coats of arms of the nine Campitani and commissioners who administered the city during the Sienese and Florentine governments stand out on the facade.
Church of San Mamiliano: overlooking Piazza del Pretorio, this church is the oldest in Sovana. The church was built on the remains of an Etruscan building, inside, during the restoration works, a precious treasure of 498 gold coins from the Roman era was found, minted under Leo I and Anthemio and coming from the mint of Constantinople, the church was transformed into a museum today.
Church of Santa Maria Maggiore: built between the 12th and 13th centuries, the church overlooks the Piazza del Pretorio, next to the Bourbon del Monte Palace. The interior of the church is divided into three naves, particularly interesting the octagonal pillars, the trussed ceiling, in Romanesque style but with interesting Gothic elements, but the main element is the Pre-Romanesque Ciborium, unique in all of Tuscany, made of marble. white between VIII and IX.
Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul: it is the Cathedral of Sovana, located at the end of the village of Sovana. The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 12th centuries, starting with an 8th century church still visible today in the underground crypt.
The Sovana area was inhabited since the year 1000 BC, small settlements of farmers and shepherds perched on the tuff cliffs along the flow of the Fiora river, originally known as Armine.
From the merger of these settlements, the first real settlement was born, the ancient Suana which, thanks to its strategic position, soon became the main center of the territory, with connections to the cities of Statonia, Saturnia, Chiusi and Cetona, together with which it was under the control of the powerful Etruscan city of Vulci. Throughout the Etruscan period, Sovana was an ally of Vulci, even during the defense of the Lazio city from Roman attacks, until, in 278 BC, Vulci was definitively conquered by the Roman consul Caio Tiberius, effectively sanctioning the end of the Etruscan hegemony on the territory of the lower Tuscan Maremma.
The Romans raised Sovana to the role of Municipium and between the third and first centuries BC. the city experienced a flourishing period for culture and trade, thanks in particular to relations with other cities, Volsinii in particular. Despite having been conquered by the Romans, Sovana maintained Etruscan traditions for over two centuries, such as writing for example, which was abandoned only from the 1st century BC. From the fifth century Sovana became a bishopric.
During the barbarian invasions Sovana managed to maintain its role as an independent city and during the government of the Lombards, thanks to its role as a bishopric, it was chosen as the seat of a steward and therefore a judicial seat.
In the 9th century the county of Sovana was inherited by the Aldobrandeschi, a Lucca family of Lombard origin, thus one of the most important domains of the Maremma was born in medieval times, expanding towards the nearby cities. Starting from the year one thousand, the city of Sovana became the undisputed capital of the Aldobrandeschi county and remained so until the fall of the noble family. In the course of the year one thousand, approximately between 1014 and 1028, Ildebrando di Suana was born, better known in the chronicles as Pope Gregory VII, famous for his struggle for investitures and conflicts with the then sovereign Henry IV.
At the end of the year one thousand, the growing number of free communes that began to form in Italy became a threat to the Aldobrandeschi who soon saw their control over the county weaken, soon the Republic of Pisa managed to subdue Count Ildebrandino VII, in this climate of tension, in 1213 Sovana, which became more and more a free and independent municipality, made an alliance with the city of Orvieto, with the aim of freeing itself from the control of the Aldobrandeschi, but this alliance was short-lived, the Aldobrandeschi family he again succeeded in submitting Sovana to his control and remained so until the decline of the noble family of Lucca.
In the following years the county of Sovana was affected by the struggles between the Pope and the Emperor and in 1243 the territory was definitively conquered by the imperial troops. On the death of Guglielmo Aldobrandeschi his son Ildebrandino Aldobrandeschi, nicknamed Il Rosso, came to power. Ildebrandino, in contrast to the Republic of Siena, allied himself with the Florentines and took part in the battle of Montaperti, but the Sienese won the battle and took Rosso prisoner, freeing him only after the signing of a peace treaty. On the death of Ildebrandino, his daughter Margherita Aldobrandeschi takes power.
The government of Margherita marked the beginning of a period of strong decline for Sovana and for the whole county, which ended only with the death of Margherita, when power passed to the Orsini, following the marriage of Anastasia Montfort, daughter of Margherita and the count Romano Orsini. The new sovereigns immediately undertook to recover the territories lost under the government of Margherita, but they never managed to eliminate the Sienese threat.
The decline of the county also led to the decline of the city of Sovana and its citizens, worried about their fate, turned to the Republic of Siena offering full submission in exchange for actions in favor of the city. Siena accepted the compromise and issued a decree that abolished all the debts of the city, also built public and private buildings and favored immigration to the town of Sovana with various incentives. The Orsini counts, however, never accepted Sovana’s submission to Siena and Count Bertoldo Orsini managed to defeat Siena in the battle of the Pianetti and reconquer Sovana, but the victory lasted only a few years, and the Republic of Siena returned to power again. In 1555 the Republic of Siena fell at the hands of the Florentines, and the Orsini took possession of Sovana again, but the Medici of Florence asked for its restitution. Niccolò IV Orsini refused to cede Sovana to Florence, the Medici then sent their troops to besiege Sorano, the pontiff, before
occupied by the conflict near the border with the Papal State, he intervened by convincing the count to renounce Sovana.
The Medici government in Sovana never managed to revive the fortunes of the city, also due to a terrible malaria epidemic. Same fate for the successors, the Lorraine, in this period Sovana became part of the Lower Sienese Province. Pietro Leopoldfo di Lorena dissolved the Sovana community by placing it under the municipality of Sorano starting from 1814.