Pitigliano, also known as "the Little Jerusalem," is a town in the upper Maremma, in Tuscany. It is located on the border with Lazio and is part of the "Borghi del Tufo" area. For those arriving by car , Pitigliano appears in all its beauty and glory after a series of curves. The nickname "Little Jerusalem," was given because, thanks to its strategic position near Rome, the fleeing Jewish people often took refuge in this village. Already in the 14th century, this town became a place of refuge for Jews, so numerous, that they built a synagogue.
It is a small town carved out of the tuff rock, which rises on the ridge of a promontory, bordering with valleys and two rivers. The tuff, which at night seems suspended between heaven and earth, is the protagonist of this Tuscan village. It is only an hour away from the Tuscan coast, through the famous wine regions and the picturesque landscapes of the Val d’Orcia.
The town is perfectly maintained, with flowered balconies, very clean streets, and a lot of silence. Below the current village, there was another "Pitigliano" dug out of the tuff. Its tuff was extracted to build the village above. Over time this place has been used to preserve wine and take refuge. Also, part of the synagogue of the Jewish ghetto was built in the tuff. There is so much to see in the beautiful village of Pitigliano!
Palazzo Orsini dominates the skyline of Pitigliano. The imposing building used to be the residence of the noble Aldobrandeschi family, and then of the Orsini, who restored it, giving it a Renaissance style. Currently, Palazzo Orsini houses the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, the Archaeological Civic Museum, the Palazzo Orsini Museum, the Library, and the Historical Archive.
In the center of Pitigliano, one cannot fail to see the two giant arches of the Medici aqueduct, connected to 13 smaller domes. The aqueduct was built at the behest of the Medici between 1636 and 1639. It is a work of very high engineering, as in order to build it, it was necessary to make the water rise from the streams below, with a steep uphill slope. Filled with the water of the Medici aqueduct, the Fountain of the Seven Cannelle, formed by five arches, can be found in Piazza della Repubblica. The head of an animal represents the seven spouts.
After Piazza della Repubblica, the heart of the historical center begins. Pitigliano is organized in three main streets, almost parallel, intersected by alleys. And it is in these alleys that we find a wonderful village, that looks like it came out of a fairytale: A fairytale made of stone steps, windows with lace curtains, flowering plants, and sleeping cats, creating a beautiful landscape stopped in time. Many small shops are selling typical local products. From the historic center, we head towards the Jewish Ghetto, to which an essential part of the history of Pitigliano is linked.
In Piazza San Gregorio, there is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, flanked by the bell tower, which, in the upper part, preserves the original appearance, dating back to the Middle Ages. The interior of the cathedral is in Baroque style, with a nave and side chapels decorated with beautiful paintings.
As already mentioned, Pitigliano and the Orsini family have always been welcoming, without any discrimination. At the end of the 1500s, hundreds of Jews had arrived from nearby villages. A great community was therefore created that coexisted peacefully with the Christians, to the point of erecting a synagogue. It was the Medici family who wanted to confine the Jews in the ghetto while recognizing their validity for the local economy. In 1799 Jews and Christians fought together against the anti-French troops who wanted to pillage the ghetto. Precisely this was the most flourishing period for the Jewish community (up to the decline due to the racial laws in the fascist period). During World War II, many Jews were saved thanks to the protection of the population of Pitigliano.
The most important sign of the Jewish presence in Pitigliano is the Synagogue, built in 1598. Recently restored, it can be visited. Inside, most of the furnishings -such as the Arca Santa on the bottom and the pulpit in the center- date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are decorated with biblical writings. Under the synagogue, there are several rooms, (such as the ritual bathroom, the butcher's room, and the kosher cellar, the unleavened bread oven) where a permanent exhibition on Jewish culture is set up.
And if you still have time and you are not tired enough, after visiting Pitigliano, the Little Jerusalem, a suggestion is to visit the ancient village of Sovana. It can be found not far away, and it is also built mostly with tuff material. The atmosphere is still medieval; it is expected from one moment to another to see knights appearing, or a sword fight. Alternatively, take the direction towards Saturnia for a relaxing bath in the warm natural pools.
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