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Pitigliano Tuscany during flaming sunset
Pitigliano during flaming sunset

Tuscany's Pitigliano


When traveling I like to drive, I also am driven to take as many good travel photos as humanly possible.  Considering my meager European portfolio, I also like to keep moving to get as much variety as possible.  I try to do my driving in the bad light times of day, and hopefully only about five hours of driving at a time.

Near the end of my 2017 whirlwind tour of Italy, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, I needed to find a photogenic place halfway between Cinque Terre in Northern Italy and Naples in Southern Italy where my trip would come to an end.  During my 2014 photo trip while driving between Naples and the Dolomite Alps I had seen from Autostrada route one, a cool fortified Medieval Hilltop Village,  Autostradas like turnpikes in the USA have few exits, so I just watched this cool looking photo opp disappear through my rear view mirror noting, I have to shoot one of these villages one day.

Most travel photographers are sharper then me, and go shoot what is known; hence, what has market value.  Not me, rooms are more reasonable when you can find a cool looking place before the tour bus companies discover them.

These hilltop fortified ancient villages evidently are rather ubiquitous in the Tuscany region so I researched to find another fortified walled Tuscan city around four hours from Cinque Terre. Pitigliano was the final result. The final leg of our trip to Naples would be a  four drive also – perfect.

Upon completion of my final sunrise shoot in Cinque Terra, I awoke Sharon so we could set off for the new place.  Early afternoon we got to our economical hotel that looked deserted, not quit, the owner was there and she was expecting us, her only guests.  Somehow in an empty hotel we ended up in a third floor room and the only wifi was in the lobby. After settling into the room, I went to the lobby to check emails.  Aghast I discovered the password was the most difficult I had ever seen, it was around 30 digits long mixed with zeros and Os and you couldn't decipher which was which. It took at least ten minutes with Sharon’s help to finally get logged onto the internet. Since I have a photography tour business, it is important for me to have email access daily. After achieving  WIFI, we set out to find the fortified city,

A few minutes after our departure I rounded a corner and my wife exclaimed; “Wow, look at that!”   I explained; “Honey, this is why we are here. Pitigiliano looks cool in photos; in person it smacks you across the face.  I can imagine what a conquering army felt when they rounded this corner.  I bet it wasn’t Wow.  More likely a variation of “Oh Crap!” I promptly pulled over so I could go to work photographing this amazing reveal, and so Sharon could take it all in.

We did a reconnaissance around the exterior of the city so I could plan on the best way to shoot in the evening and following morning, then we found a place to park outside the walled city.

After parking we saw the quintessential ristorante owner standing outside his business, his smiling and inviting face sucked us into this cute garden restaurant as if we had lost our free will to choose. Olive Garden would be wise to recruit this iconic looking restaurateur to market their goods. Il Grottino Restaurant overlooked the chasm Pitligliano towered above with an awesome view of the fortress as well.

After my amazing meal of veal sautéed in lemon butter and Tuscan salad, we walked to the fortress of rock to explore. Since it was a sunny day I wanted to shoot it before the shadows got to long.  The inside of the fortress was as cool as the exterior, except not as grand.  Beyond the courtyard, the roads were too small for cars, so it was largely a pedestrian village. There were small vehicles used by the shop owners; however, none were parked on the little streets.   Some donkey carts would have been lovely.  As expected there were cute little shops, pizzerias, and churches.  There were many for sale signs for the retail spots because the busses haven’t discovered the place yet.  I couldn’t help but think that this place would be an awesome location to open a photo gallery. I always seem to want to stay and live in all my new discoveries.

The winding roadways were a fascinating amalgamation of angles, arches and textures.   Many stairways would drop away from the alleyway to mini courtyards that were the entryways to residences; others went up, all tied together with Roman archways. The antiquity of the place was palpable.

After exploring the city, I wanted to shoot some Tuscan countryside.  Southern Tuscany didn’t prove to be as photogenic as the central and northern regions as it was a bit flatter. The beauty of Tuscany is the undulating hills studded with vineyards, and beautiful estates on hills.  Southern Tuscany likely looked better in the evening than late afternoon, but with only one sunset in the itinerary it was reserved for the fortified city of antiquity.

Undoubtedly one of the most curious looking walled towns in Tuscany, the cliffs of Pitigliano have been home to many peoples for over a couple of millennia since 2300 BCE. Much of its culture and even history was either obliterated or assimilated into that of its conqueror, Rome. Originally built piecemeal by the Etruscans, the Etruscan civilization lasted from the eighth century BCE to the third and second centuries BCE. They founded city-states in northern Italy, and to the south. The Etruscan cities were independent city-states linked to each other only by a common religion, language, and culture. They sought to establish more nucleated settlements; often on higher ground – better to defend from the ravages of violence.

Centuries later, Pitligliano became known as "Piccola Gerusalemme," or "Little Jerusalem" after the large Jewish population found refuge  here in the middle of the 16th century from the south to avoid the Vatican's Counterreformation persecution. It was wonderful they had a haven from persecution for several centuries until World War ll took hatred of the Jews to extents that are still hard to comprehend. Hitler brought an end to the Jews of Little Jerusalem.

We returned to the village for an early dinner, this time we found a parking spot in the courtyard of the city near a pizzeria; we soon regretted not returning to Il Grottino Restaurant where we had lunch.  It was now time to roll the dice on the best sunset location. I chose the overlook near Grottino Restaurant as it faced west/northwest only to find the wrong section of the sky turning pink, I chose incorrectly.  We had the perfect swirling cirrus clouds, often the best for sunsets,  and alarmingly they were going to light up best in the east.  We quickly returned to the car and took off for the west like Pierce Brosnan in pursuit of a double  agent, down the switchbacks below the city we went then up the other side just in time to capture the amazing pinks and tangerines photographer hope for without a moment to spare.

Old cities often photograph better during the blue hour after the sun goes down and the city lights come on; however, this time the sunset was so amazing it out shown the blue hour magic.

The day was such a success, I decided a sunrise couldn’t beat the sunset I just achieved so I chose to do something I rarely do while traveling; I chose to sleep in. Three weeks of portfolio packing had taken its toll.  My short time in Pitligliano was a resounding success.

Pitligliano is a very cool place and it is a wonderful miracle it isn’t overrun with tourists.  I’m sure its time will come, and I’m glad I got to see it before they arrived.


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