Sorano And Pitigliano: Two of Italy’s Tuff Towns

| Updated on May 28, 2024

During a two day adventure through Tuscany, I took an evening to explore further south and see two of the famed “tuff” towns in the region of Maremma. Tuffaceous rock or “Tuff” is actually a soft volcanic rock that is easily moldable and shaped. Many in this region have used it over the years to store wine below ground, as it was easy to carve out cellars to keep things cooler during the heat of summer.

There are three of these tuff towns: Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano. I did not visit Sovana on my first trip to this region, so this article will focus more on Pitigliano and Sorano, with emphasis on how I photographed the night scene over Sorano further below.

History of Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana

These towns were first inhabited by the Entruscans in the 3rd or 4th century BC. Throughout the area there are relics to these ancient civilizations. Near Sovana are numerous Entruscan tombs, including the Ildebranda Tomb. Found in the early 1900s, the tomb has become one of the most important locations in Etruria. In addition, the surrounding lands near these three towns is the Vie Cave, an intricate network of tunnels, passages and caves that the Entruscan’s hand dug into the tuff rock that acted as roads.

Many years after the Entruscans, a pope was born in this region. Sovana was home to Pope Gregory VII, ldebrando di Soana or in English, Hildebrand of Sovana. Over the years, these towns have been passed on to different rulers and important families until the Kingdom of Italy finally claimed them in the 1800s, where they remain part of Italy in the region of Tuscany.

One more important historical item that related to Pitigliano in particular is the large historical Jewish population. Pitigliano has been nicknamed “Little Jerusalem” for the large Jewish population that has inhabited part of the town for centuries. The “ghetto” is one of the places you should definitely explore if visiting Pitigliano.


My own visit to Pitigliano was one I will not soon forget. While I didn’t have time to try any food or explore the insides of the towns, my experience was one of jaw-dropping beauty. I had driven down from my hotel in Pienza for the evening, first stopping by the hot springs of Saturnia in hopes of getting a nice photo of the springs. That didn’t really work out, as place was pretty crowded. I was a bit bummed not to have gotten a great image from Saturnia, but continued on driving to Pitigliano. Driving through tree lined roads, the road suddenly opened up to the most stunning vista view I could have imagined. Pitigliano came into full view and it was bathed in warm sunlight from a sunset that was just beginning to light up the sky. The entire village was drenched in such warm light and the scene was so incredible that it gave new meaning to the nickname “Little Jerusalem” for me. You could feel this place was something special.

The Walled City of Pitigliano
The Walled City of Pitigliano - Prints AvailableThe Walled City of Pitigliano | Evening sunlight floods the town of Pitigliano | Limited Edition Run of 100


Finally breaking myself away from the stunning scene above, I drove on to Sorano, arriving at the start of my hike right as the sunset was waning. I had a different image in mind for Sorano. Hiking to the vantage point that I photographed the image below, it was interesting to know there were a number of cave systems in the area that were built into the tuff. I hiked to an amazing vantage point and photographed the scene over the course of about an hour. Below I will explain how I created this image of the stars over Sorano.

Sorano Nights
Sorano Nights - Prints AvailableSorano Nights | The Milky Way above the lights of Sorano, Italy at dusk | Limited Edition Run of 50

The Making of Sorano Nights

The image above was one I spent a lot of time with. One thing I pride myself on is the creating very high quality art. I want my images to be sharp and beautiful when printed large. This can be particularly challenging when photographing night scenes where the rotation of the earth causes “star trails”. While star trails in themselves can be beautiful photographic pieces, I wanted a nice crisp Milky Way behind Sorano for this image. I traveled to Sorano, getting there at the last colors of sunset and waited out a darker scene to capture all of the lights of Sorano beginning to come on for night, while allowing just enough natural light to still see the cliff side and other features in the foreground. I could have photographed the stars while here, but to get the level of detail I wanted, I knew I needed to use a star tracker or equatorial mount. These are devices that let you line your camera up with the pole star and let your camera slowly move so that it compensates for the earth’s rotation, staying in line with the night sky, allowing me to capture longer exposures of the stars. This gives a cleaner, more detailed image of the night sky. Because I was on a 4,000 mile road trip across multiple countries and already had a lot of baggage, I left the star tracker at home in the United States. I made the decision to capture the image in a way that would let me then photograph the night sky at home in Kansas and combine the images for a natural “blend”. However, one thing I don’t like to do is just put the stars in places they shouldn’t be. So while photographing Sorano after dark, I took a number of images with an app called Photo Pills in order to know where the Milky Way would rise over the town. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, considering the circumstances of how I was going to have to blend the images. I then combined it with a sharp image of the Milky Way I had taken with the star tracker back in 2021. I placed the Milky Way in the same place it would have appeared that very night in Sorano, re-created the scene as it would have been captured by the camera that night. While a select few celestial items might be out of place, the spirit of the photograph and piece of art can felt as if you were there in person, watching the village lights turn on and the Milky Way rising in the background over the ancient town of Sorano.

More Tuscan Art

If you enjoyed the two images from Pitigliano and Sorano above, feel free to visit my Italy collection of images. Here are a select few more from the Tuscany region that I photographed around the same time as the two above:

Dreaming of Tuscany
Dreaming of Tuscany - Prints AvailableDreaming of Tuscany | Fog fills the val d'Orcia with beautiful light at sunrise | Limited Edition Run of 200

Shroud of Fog over Chapel Vitaleta
Shroud of Fog over Chapel Vitaleta - Prints AvailableShroud of Fog over Chapel Vitaleta | The beautiful Chapel Vitaleta appears between banks of fog | Limited Edition Run of 200

Under the Tuscan Sunset
Under the Tuscan Sunset - Prints AvailableUnder the Tuscan Sunset | A clear storm makes for a fantastic Tuscan sunset with a field of poppies in the foreground | Limited Edition Run of 200

Tuscan Wonder
Tuscan Wonder - Prints AvailableTuscan Wonder | Fog drifts in and out of the hills revealing a lone tree | Limited Edition Run of 200

Restaurant on Piazza di Spagna
Restaurant on Piazza di Spagna - Prints AvailableRestaurant on Piazza di Spagna | Early morning in the streets of Pienza | Limited Edition Run of 200

Tuscan Mornings
Tuscan Mornings - Prints AvailableTuscan Mornings | A row of Italian cypress trees frame a driveway in Tuscany as the sun melts away at the morning fog | Limited Edition Run of 200