Travel to Pitigliano

Pitigliano, the “Little Jerusalem” in Tuscany

July 16, 2021 | By

Pitigliano is an Italian medieval town of 3.737 inhabitants in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany.

Perched on a tuff cliff, the town stands imposingly on the valleys of the Lente, Meleta and Prochio streams, offering a wonderful view of the wild and unspoiled nature of this area of the Tuscan Maremma.


Arriving with your own car, stopping at the lookout in front of the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie, you have a first spectacular view of the skyline of the Tuscan village. The massive tufa rock supports the entire town, founding itself with the oldest houses, until it becomes one with the town.

At night, the view is even more spectacular, illuminated from above by the natural light of the moon, the village seems to be suspended in the void, as if supported by a mysterious force.

People also ask

Why is Pitigliano called Little Jerusalem?

The characteristic historical centre is known as the “Little Jerusalem”, due to the historical presence of a Jewish community, which has always been well integrated into the social context and has its own synagogue here.

Pitigliano was already a popular and inhabited place since the times of the Etruscans, when numerous settlements dug into the tuff were founded here and attested to from the late Bronze Age (XII-XI century BC). Even in the place where the town stands today, there was an Etruscan centre, testified by the remains of the walls found in the Capisotto district and then disappeared between the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 5th century BC.

The first news of Pitigliano appears in a bull sent by Pope Niccolò II to the provost of the cathedral of Sovana in 1061, where it is already indicated as the place of competence of the family of the Aldobrandeschi counts.

In 1293, Anastasia, daughter of Countess Margherita Aldobrandeschi, married Romano Orsini, bringing the county of Sovana as a dowry and the county seat was transferred to Pitigliano. The Orsini ruled the County of Pitigliano for centuries, defending them from the continuous attempts of submission by Siena and Orvieto first, and then by Medici Florence. It was only in 1574 that Niccolò IV Orsini ceded the fortress to the Medici and in 1604 Pitigliano was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, sold by Count Gian Antonio Orsini to pay off his debts.

The Medici, however, were not interested in the fate of the city, which soon fell into decline, and only in 1737, the year in which the grand duchy passed to the Lorraine, Pitigliano experienced a slow economic and cultural recovery.

Today Pitigliano is a real jewel of art, history and culture, every corner of its historic centre tells a past rich in history, the narrow alleys, the squares, the panoramic views, in Pitigliano everything is magical and offers a unique emotion .

Pitigliano is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and Orange Flag, and it is today one of the most fascinating historic villages in Italy and an unmissable stop during a trip to Tuscany.

Let’s start to discover this gem of Tuscany!

Jewish Ghetto

A Jewish settlement of Pitigliano began in the first half of the fifteenth century. It grew from the late sixteenth century when the city – at the time ruled by the Orsini counts – welcomed Jews fleeing the small towns of Lazio, Florence and Siena, following the establishment of ghettos in the Papal States and in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the city passed to the Medici who, in 1622, also imposed the ghetto here. They designed a block of flats along the urban axis of via Zuccarelli, between the alleys of Marghera and Goito, where the synagogue had already been built at the end of the sixteenth century.

Despite the segregation, mostly good relations with the local population remained and exceptional privileges were granted for the time, such as the right to own real estate. However, there was no lack of harassment by the civic and Catholic authorities.

With the establishment in 1799 of a pro-Napoleonic government, the doors of the ghetto were demolished. During the riots against revolutionaries, several Jews were accused of supporting the Jacobins and arrested; only when an Orvieto troop moved to attack the ghetto did the local population intervene in support of the Jewish group. The escaped danger was celebrated for many years with a local Purim, also called the “night of the Orvietani”.

With the definitive emancipation (1859), the Pitiglianesi Jews gradually moved towards the major centers. The synagogue (rebuilt) and the oven for Easter unleavened bread, in operation until 1939, are preserved in the ancient ghetto; in the adjacent rooms the typical community life services have been identified and reconstructed, such as the miqveh, the slaughterhouse and the kosher cellar, together with an exhibition of objects and documents.

Inside the Ghetto, there are the Synagogue, the Unleavened Oven, the Kasher Butcher, the Cellar and the Ritual Bath. Finally the churches, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the Church of San Rocco, which is the oldest building in the whole town, and the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie, just outside the town, in a panoramic position with respect to the village.

Pitigliano was a lively and numerous Jewish centre in proportion to the inhabitants of the place; for this reason, the city is still known as “Little Jerusalem”.

Archaeological Museum of Etruscan Civilization

The Civic Archaeological Museum of Pitigliano is a museum located in Pitigliano inside a wing of Palazzo Orsini.

A first archaeological museum in Pitigliano was inaugurated on 5 June 1864 together with the municipal library and was simply defined as an antiquarium. Thanks to a series of improvised archaeological campaigns in the territories of Sovana and Poggio Buco, between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the small museum had increasingly specialized in a specific type and had begun to transform itself into an archaeological museum.

However, after the Second World War, the precariousness of the structures and the continuous danger of thefts meant that it was preferable to transfer the pieces to the museums of Grosseto and Florence and close the small antique shop in Pitigliano. After almost fifty years, thanks to the donation of artifacts collected by Mrs. Adele Vaselli, who in the years between 1955 and 1960 had conducted a series of excavations on the land she owned at Poggio Buco, the new civic museum was inaugurated in 1995. The museum is included in the Provincial Museums of Maremma network. The exhibition itinerary revolves around the restoration laboratory, which is also a showcase of finds of great interest. The Museum, inaugurated on 11 March 1995, is located in a wing of the Palazzo Orsini structure. The first two rooms, dedicated to the Vaselli collection, house the finds from the necropolis of Poggio Buco, where Adele Vaselli had carried out excavations on the land he owned in the years 1955-60.

The collection includes numerous vases with geometric decoration, the pottery from Symposium in bucchero called ‘heavy’ – large craters and amphorae for water (hydria) dating back to the first half of the 6th century BC -, and the ceramics with decorations of fantastic animals of the Etruscan-Corinthian style (late 7th-mid 6th century BC).

The ceramics, in purified clay and polished brown mixture (7th-6th century BC), and the refined fragment of Attic black-figure kylix – attributed to the circle of Exekias – are part of the Cav. B. Martinucci and excavations carried out in Pitigliano.

Finally, some finds that come from the area called ‘Le ruberie’, which is located inside the historic center of Pitigliano – excavated in 1998 – and those of the Northern side trace the presence of the first settlements to the period of the age. of the final Bronze Age (XII century BC).

“Alberto Manzi” Open Air Archaeological Museum

The “Alberto Manzi” Open Air Archaeological Museum was born as an educational path to discover the area and local archaeology. The project was born by the will of Alberto Manzi, educator and pedagogist, who was mayor of Pitigliano from 1995 to 1997.

On the death of the mayor in 1997, the project continued and in 2004 the new museum was inaugurated. The open-air museum was born with a strong didactic value and the desire to counteract the deterioration process of the environmental heritage and the looting of funerary monuments of the Etruscan age by clandestine excavations, through the enhancement of the natural and historical heritage.

The new archaeological area allows the visitor to immerse himself completely in the history of the places. Walking in the “city of the living” it is possible to reconstruct the various phases of the urban layout, from the articulated protohistoric village of the final Bronze Age, represented by an educational model of a circular hut-like dwelling built in dimensions close to the real, to the Etruscan city with a house with three rooms and a porch that allows, with virtual views, to observe the interior.

A “via cava” leads to the underlying “city of the dead”, where it is possible to visit the Etruscan necropolis of Gradone, with one, two and three-chamber tombs which was in use from the second half of the 7th to almost the end of the 6th century B.C Here you can visit the “demonstrative” tomb inside which the burial of Velthur and Larthia was set up and thus relive the sacredness and emotions of an Etruscan funeral ceremony.

A further descent leads to the necropolis of San Giovanni with tombs from the 6th to the 4th-early 3rd century BC. Inside the monumental tomb with a pair of pillars there are some panels with images of theatrical animations in costume that take place in summer.

An example of the pottery found in them is exhibited in the Archaeological Civic Museum of Etruscan Civilization at the Orsini Fortress in Pitigliano.

Church of San Rocco

The Church of San Rocco, or Santa Maria, is the oldest church in the village of Pitigliano.

Dating back to the 12th-13th century, the building was rebuilt in the late 1400s, the works were commissioned by Count Niccolò III Orsini to the architect Giovanni da Traù il Dalmata.

The interior of the church is rich in frescoes, immediately striking the numerous coats of arms of the most important families of Pitigliano, first of all that of the Medici. The three naves are separated by Ionic-style columns.

The façade, of sober late-Renaissance architecture, is decorated in the lower part by four Corinthian pilasters and a portal. On the left side the church retains an architrave from the previous medieval building. The interior, with a trapezoidal plan, has three naves divided by Ionic columns, of which the middle one is narrow and high, while the lateral ones widen from the facade to the bottom.

The church was built during the 16th century as a place of worship and prayer for the faithful who lived in the corresponding area of ​​the historic centre.

The religious building was frequented for a long time, although the redevelopment of the main churches in the historic centre meant that it became above all a resting place for prayers, while the performance of religious functions was privileged in the larger churches.

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the place of worship was closed and subsequently sold to private individuals who transformed it and used it for other uses.

The church of San Rocco was located inside a building, where the testimonies of the religious functions to which it was originally used are clearly legible.

Although the structure of the entrance portal has been lost, given the changes made to the facade, a characteristic niche in a raised position remains clearly visible, in which a venerated statue is placed, under which there is the inscription that recalls the dedication to the saint of the original religious building.

The building has been divided into three distinct levels, where housing units have been obtained.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is the main place of worship in Pitigliano, in the province of Grosseto, the bishopric of the diocese of Pitigliano-Sovana-Orbetello.

The first mention of the parish in Pitigliano dates back to 1061. In 1276, three parish churches were then mentioned, those of San Giovanni, Santa Maria (later dedicated to San Rocco) and San Pietro.

The latter later became collegiate with the chapter of the Canons and was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. It was repeatedly renovated, particularly in 1509 by the will of Niccolò III Orsini, count of Pitigliano, and during the 18th century. When the bishop of Sovana came to permanently reside in Pitigliano, the ancient collegiate church became a cathedral in 1845, also thanks to the interest in this sense of bishop Barzellotti.

The façade is divided into three parts by four large pilasters. On the sides of the sixteenth-century travertine portal, surmounted by eighteenth-century stuccoes depicting Cherubs holding the cross, there are two niches also decorated with stucco. The right niche houses the travertine statue depicting Saint Paul, while the left niche holds Saint Peter, the two holy owners of the cathedral.

The second order of the facade consists of three windows with stucco frames, and in particular that of the central window is of exquisite workmanship. The third order ends with the tympanum where the Carrara marble bas-relief depicting the Assumption of Mary with the saints Rocco and Francesco is placed.

On the left side of the cathedral there is the bell tower originally used for civil and military activities. The structure at the beginning had only two orders (as attested by the municipal coat of arms of the city of Pitigliano) to which a third was added in the Medici era, entrusting the tower with the role of bell tower as attested by the bells cast in 1726.

The internal architectural structure of the cathedral is that given to it by the intervention of 1509. The appearance of the church is that given to it in the eighteenth century when the side chapels, the baroque “machine” of the main altar and the set of architectural elements and decorations. To the right of the entrance compass there is the plaque commemorating the intervention ordered by Niccolò III Orsini in 1509.

Medici Aqueduct

The Medici aqueduct is a hydraulic engineering structure conceived for the water supply of the village of Pitigliano.

The construction of the infrastructure began in the sixteenth century, based on a project by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. At that time, the Orsini family decided to improve the water supply service, both at their residence and in the entire city.

The construction of the work was considerably complicated by the roughness of the territory which presented an extraordinarily strong slope between the town of Pitigliano and the underlying valley crossed by three rivers.

The works lasted for very long years, so much so that the work was not yet completed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the town passed from the county of the Orsini to the Medici, who incorporated it into the territory of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

Precisely during the seventeenth century, the Medici continued the work, managing to complete the work which, even today, allows us to grasp its grandeur and majesty. The aqueduct was completed in 1639.

In the eighteenth century, the Lorena family carried out renovations which ended with the construction of the succession of small arches.

The aqueduct looks like an imposing work that distinguishes the south-eastern part of the historic center of Pitigliano. The water collected from the nearby rivers Lente, Meleta and Prochio was conveyed towards the town.

The visible part of the aqueduct looks like a succession of round arches, two of which are wider and separated by a very high pillar that descends into the valley below the south-eastern part of the village, above which there is a small niche opening with round arch. The thirteen successive arches are characterized by significantly smaller width and height than the first two. The relative support pillars branch off from a tuff curtain wall which, almost certainly, was an integral part of the medieval walls; a crease separates the base of the pillars from the underlying curtain wall.

The aqueduct, entirely covered in tuff, is fully integrated both with the geological context of the area and with the other architectures of the previous era.

Palazzo Orsini

Palazzo Orsini is one of the main city buildings in the historic center of Pitigliano.

The complex was built as an ancient religious convent, almost certainly between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Purchased by the Aldobrandeschi, it was transformed into an Aldobrandesca fortress in the mid-thirteenth century, which became their residence, as well as institutional headquarters, of Pitigliano. The permanence of the Aldobrandeschi’s power was, however, relatively short, as the entire County of Sovana was inherited in 1293 by the Orsini, following the marriage between Romano Orsini and Anastasia Aldobrandeschi, the last heir of that family branch.

From the end of the thirteenth century onwards, therefore, the Orsini’s dominion began and lasted almost uninterruptedly until 1608, the year in which there was the definitive political fall of the County of the Orsini and the annexation of these territories to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

Just the Orsini, commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger to carry out a series of renovations which, in addition to further fortifying the pre-existing structures, gave an impression of elegance to the entire complex, introducing the characteristic Renaissance stylistic elements. Other interventions had also been carried out, at the time, by Baldassarre Peruzzi.

The complex of Palazzo Orsini consists of a keep, two towers and a keep, with external wall structures mainly covered in plaster and some sections in tuff blocks; the top parts have battlements.

The entrance takes place through a first ramp that leads to a round arched portal, beyond which another short ramp gives access to the internal courtyard, where the characteristic Renaissance-style well-cistern is located, with which the loggia is contemporary. it faces it on one side, with round arches resting on columns with Ionic capitals.

From the courtyard, a short flight of steps leads to the entrance portal of the building, with an architrave, which houses the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art; on the opposite side, another staircase leads to the entrance to the Archaeological Museum.

Particularly elegant is the portal of the palace, entrance to the museum, in richly sculpted travertine at the end of the 15th century with festoons and an emblem praising the military loyalty of Nicholas III, called in 1495 by Venice as Governor in the field of the militias of the Serenissima: two hands they hold tightly a mastiff collar with spikes and the motto “Prius mori quam fallere“.

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