Like the other hilltop towns, Sorano is build on the top of a tufa hill, that is the material of which houses, streets and buildings are made of. Sorano is one of the most suggestive cities in Southern Tuscany, that was already inhabited during the bronze age and it still preserve the archeological beauties fixed in a picturesque landscape and completely uncontaminated.
Its medieval part, dominated by the Orsini Fortress, is like a fantastic labyrinth of narrows streets and little alleys where it is easy to lose the orientation, but it is also easier and pleasant to find it again because of its small dimension. Walking through the narrow streets of Sorano it is impossible not to note the majestic Masso Leopoldino, that will guide you with its big clock on its facade. When duke Leopoldo commissioned the building of the fortress in 18th century, he wanted to satisfy his mania of grandeur, and he succeeded greatly in his purpose! The terrace of the Masso is a real observation point..what you will see is not easy to describe!
The etruscan territory
The marks of the etruscan civilization are well-spread in all the territory and also in Sorano, after visiting the shops of the artisans, restaurants and alleys you could visit the numerous necropolis that surround the town.
Sorano is one of the few places in Italy to preserve intact pre-roman buildings. Its countryside is full of necropolis, ancient cave settlement and “Vie Cave”. This territory have attracted both the Etruscans and Romans because it was considered rich of sources by both of the two civilities. Also if you are not interested in ancient history, the countryside deserves a visit, also just for a walk through the tall oaks living that wild atmosphere that still defines Southern Tuscany.
The park of San Rocco, just on the other side of the main valley, is reachable on foot by the town. It is an amazing place, where to contemplate the stunning panorama.
The medieval Orsini Fortress of Sorano has never been conquered..it cannot be caught, a real self-sufficient labyrinth, able to resist to the many sieges ( Siena has been trying to bend its resistance for four years in the XVTh century). Niccolò III Orsini made the fortress a real majestic fortification. On the other hand, Niccolò IV, transformed it into a hidden refuge for his vexations and intricate violent love stories.
The Orsini Fortress is the most majestic building of Sorano, built on a spur over the rest of the village. It is a masterpiece of architectural balance. It is a real fortress city because it can contain all the inhabitants of Sorano. It had big cisterns for the gathering of the rainwater, it could produce energy from the wind and the millstones worked seeds and saltpetre. Many soldiers were trained there, and there were a production of powders necessary to create munitions.In the basements of the fortress there is also a tufa cave. Surely, the Aldobrandeschis had already built a fortification of Sorano, but only the Orsinis transformed the village into a military unit.
Gian Francesco Orsini and his son Niccolò IV, designate the senese architect Antonio Maria Lari in XVITh century to reinforce the fortress by realizing a parade ground and two bastions, in order to make it resistant to the new fire-arms. Getting into the higher part of Sorano you will meet the monumental emblem that remember the Aldobrandeschis, with the rampant lion, and the Orsinis, with the five-petals rose and the heraldry bear.
In the first part of the fortress you will meet the fortified tower, and the palace Ricci Busatti, once the residence of the Laris and now linguistic high school. Two bastions, San Marco and San Pietro, protect the fortified tower. They are dedicated to Venice and Rome, the two towns of the Orsinis. There is a wonderful panorama of Sorano from the San Marco bastion. A big moat divides the military quarters of the fortress to the residence of the Orsini counts. You can walk on a tufa-bricks bridge to reach piazza Cairoli, that hosts Hotel della Fortezza. In addition to the Hotel, there is a very little theatre dedicated to Niccolò IV that is often used for small performances.
The Middle-Ages and Renaissance museum
The Middle-Ages and Renaissance museum has been set up in the private room of the palace. It is like getting, as guests, in the residence of the Orsini. There are showcases which safeguard pitchers, bowls, pieces of glass, phial of perfume and many other objects dated back to the Middle-Ages and to the Renaissance of Sorano.
We are in the west part of the palace, where the small windows watch the rest of the town..a place of meditation? A little office for the counts? A room for the reflection for Niccolò IV? He was not this kind of person! He was aggressive, cruel and arrogant, he withdrawn into his tower with the girl who captured his attention. It was the place of his violence. The old stories say that a young girl, Antea, succeeded in escaping from that room, and Niccolò IV, while chasing her, fell into one of cliffs that surround the fortress.
The fresco of this little room, appeared during the restoration works in 1967, are incredibly light and beautiful. It is a unique testimony of renaissance pictures: figurative art, music and poetry mixed in a single painting. Niccolò IV was an harsh character but his painters were genial.
The underground tunnels
It is difficult to imagine a building with a profoundness of at least fifteen meters. In fact it is a fortress of five levels. The restoration works have reopened the underground tunnels, allowing people to getting in, but only joining the guided tours. The entrance is the point of beginning of the tours, just under the San Pietro Bastion. Here you can find the guarding point, the first mean of defense in case of danger.
The tunnels are a military labyrinth. Long and strict narrow streets and conic breach through the floors and the ceiling to communicate among soldiers. They were one-way tunnels where the soldiers had to follow a precise direction in order to avoid to crash with the others. Getting out of the undergrounds, you will pass through a room that was once a foundry.
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