Tuscany is pronounced and horizons of soft hills are evoked with lines of cypresses punctuating the path that leads to a stately mansion. Or perhaps the architectural filigrees of Pisa, the color of Siena, or those Florentine landmarks that upended the arts and sciences across Europe come to mind. I go over some of this along the way, of course, but my goal is further south, already on the border with the Lazio region.
I arrive between olive trees and vineyards, also patches of holm oak forests. I review the directions. They're waiting for me south of Pitigliano. I reach this town, which seems nondescript to me until I leave it. Then the road descends with a couple of hairpin bends, crosses a stream and calmly ascends the other side. And I have to stop. From here the town has taken a very different look. The houses of the old town squeeze together and lean out over the walls cut plumb from a stone prow.
This rock originated six hundred thousand years ago. It is volcanic tuff that the Lente River and its tributaries have undermined, sinking its valleys around Pitigliano and leaving a natural bastion. People have always taken advantage of this bulwark, of course. Etruscan vestiges prove it. In this light and porous rock, they also drilled caves to keep livestock or as a pantry. But what is more controversial is the use of what is found below, at the bottom of the ravines, where the water drains. There are Etruscan vestiges, caves, tombs, sculpted pieces, lions, angels, mermaids... And a string of pathways drilled into the rock, chiseled trenches more than twenty meters deep, the use of which is still in question. They are known as via cava and are located around the towns of Sovana, Sorano and Pitigliano, which have been named Città del Tufo.
Pitigliano has some notable buildings, the Orsini palace, the synagogue, churches and chapels, the Medici aqueduct, but the bulk of the town is made up of austere, cubic houses, made of exposed stone, the same color as the earth. He left them up there.
I descend to the bowels of the Earth. The temperature changes, the light also changes, the trees thicken, the ferns appear. Already at the bottom, I enter the via cava de Fratenuti. Then, in Gradone, in San Rocco. The walls rise up on each side, the width almost allowing me to touch them at once. The forest is up there, on these chiselled walls. What led to excavating them? Did they connect towns? Did they lead from the city of the living to the city of the dead? Were they leading to the baths of Saturnia? In any case, they should never cross paths at night. They are inhabited by forces from earlier times. There is talk of music, appearances, dark characters.
The humidity sticks to my skin and the cold enters my bones. I ask how to expunge it. It could bring me closer to Lake Bolsena or the Maremma coast. But they suggest another solution, one that is closer and also emerges from the ground: the Mulino waterfall, in Saturnia. There the waters spring up at an ideal temperature, close to forty degrees, turquoise waters that flow through different white limestone pools. It parks, you take off your clothes and you dive. Its benefits are innumerable for the body and mind. Among its consequences, a wolf's hunger awakens in me.
Luckily everything is planned. I have a maestro working in his workshop in Pitigliano and, when he returns, he presents me with the order: some tortelli the size of a fist and a loving consistency. The teacher looks at them with the sorrow of someone who says goodbye to a son who is going to war. I ask how I accompany them.
"Butter with a sage leaf," he says. Nothing else.
They have a sparkling water source in the town where you can fill the bottle. They also make a fresh and elegant white wine. And I eat dinner calmly, looking for subtle contrasts. The earth exhales the humors retained during the day. A gentle breeze approaches them. And the song of a cricket puts its exact note. The night would give for a calm eclogue, Horace, Virgilio. Although a discreet chat is enough.