The drive from the Island of Elba to the town of Pitigliano in southern Tuscany took only a few hours, but it felt like we traveled for centuries (back in time).
In our travels through Tuscany we have seen many medieval towns and castles, or what remains of them. But the site of Pitigliano…how do I describe it? Mushrooms. Yeah. Huge mushrooms sprouting from the mountain of tufa, both the colour of light coffee. It is almost impossible to discern where the tufa ends and the house begins. Luigi stopped the car across the valley from Pitigliano so I could sit in awe. Me, with my height phobia, questioning how they could build houses on the very edge of that strange tufa ground and whether they could sleep at night knowing their house is “on the edge” (even though they have been there for millennia).
The residents of the area before the “mushroom houses” were built in Pitigliano were Etruscans, a well developed civilization that preceded Rome, some 3000 years ago. They were MY kind of people. They lived close to the ground, in fact IN the ground. No height challenges there.
We toured the Etruscan open air museum and visited what felt like a whole city of tufa houses and tombs, dating back as far as the 12th century BC. Besides digging houses out of the tufa, the Etruscans were also “digging” their way through southern Tuscany! There are paths, called Vie Cave, cut out of the tufa, some 20 metres deep. We walked through two of the 10 via cave still accessible.
Not far from one of those paths we spotted a metal stairway leading up the side of the mountain to the site of two large caves dug out in the tufa wall. Inside, there are dozens of small perfectly sized holes which may have housed Etruscan urns (burial site), but later, in the medieval times, were used for raising pigeons. You can see from our pictures that these caves were a long way from ground level. On the way down the metal stairs, Luigi kept saying “Don’t look down”!
Just when I started to wonder if all there is to this part of Tuscany were the mushroom towns sprouting from the tufa and the caves of the Etruscans, we discovered water! No, not the Mediterranean sea but at almost the same colour. And it was warm! 37 degrees warm, almost swimmable (for me). All this thermal water in the middle of nowhere! “Terme di Saturnia” was the hot tub of the Romans. Where was my bathing suit when I needed it?
Our “home” in southern Tuscany is an Agritourismo called “Casa Marta” which Luigi discovered while planning our trip. We have the house to ourselves, in fact, the whole acreage, which is about 11 minutes from Pitigliano … if one does not get lost. Casa Marta is really in the country – the GPS does not even recognize the road. We don’t have cell phone coverage and no internet. How will we survive?