A number of years ago following the winding road from Orvietto through the countryside of southern Tuscany known as Maremma, it seemed as though we would never reach Pitigliano. The rolling green hills, olive groves and vineyards were a scenic backdrop, but with no direct route to our destination, piccola La Levitt was becoming a tad restless. After clearing yet one more turn on a windy country road, the medieval town of Pitigliano majestically emerged, perched atop of the massive volcanic rock from which it is built.
Pitigliano originally settled by the Etruscans, served as a refuge for Italian Jews for geopolitical reasons. The first documented influx of Jewish settlers relocating from Siena and Florence is from the 16th century; later Jewish arrivals were from the Lazio region of Italy. Under the rule of the Orsinis, Jews were welcomed in anticipation that their presence would help to reinvigorate the local economy; the Jewish community flourished under Orsini rule. In 1622, the Papal state appointed the Medicis to rule the area and a ghetto was created mandating a distinctive marking for all Jewish residents of Pitigliano.
The Jewish community lived in harmony with the predominately Catholic residents of Pitigliano for centuries. The population was educated – valuing knowledge, family and community. It comes as no surprise that the first school in Pitigliano was established by Jews. Over the years, Hebrew words actually became assimilated into the language of local Italians. The town hosts a synagogue dating from 1598, with evidence suggesting that the location may have been the site of an earlier synagogue. An underground complex including a matzah oven, mikveh, and ritual slaughterhouse carved into the tufa rock demonstrates historically the existence of an observant and dedicated Jewish community.
Un piccolo gita, a little trip, to Pitigliano allows one not only to experience the essence of Italy, but provides the visitor a broader understanding of Jewish life in a way many people are unaware of. We always welcome the opportunity to travel the meandering road north from Orvietto, each visit to Pitigliano brings with it something new and special. On our last visit, as we were snapping photos outside of the synagogue door overlooking the incredible countryside panorama, a young Italian asked me if I could perhaps take a few photos of him with the synagogue as a backdrop. Certo un piacere…. he told me of his family history in Pitigliano; for generations the family made their home there and were an integral part of the Jewish community. In the 1920’s like other Jewish families, they migrated to larger cities in search of what they hoped would be more opportunities for their children.
Jewish life in Pitigliano is kept alive through the museum and an organization of concerned Italians with roots in the area. It is a fascinating and charming city, most worthy of a trip. Once your morning of touring is concluded, a mid day meal at Il Tufo Allegro, within a few steps of the synagogue is the perfect spot to reflect and enjoy.
Il Tufo Allegro is gracefully positioned off of the picturesque Via Zuccarelli; comprised of a series of intimate rooms, artfully carved from the tufo. Domenico and Valeria Pichini, owners are committed to bringing the flavors, products and history of Maremma to the cuisine.
Sr. Pichini, executive chef, takes immense pride in creating seasonal specialties composed of the highest quality organic ingredients, locally sourced. Although not a kosher restaurant, many of the dishes reflect the influence of Italian kosher specialties handed down through the ages; vegetarian options are an integral part of the menu. Il Tufo Allegro’s extensive wine list is housed within the cool confines of the tufo caves. The local wines of Maremma, not always easily available outside the area, are excellent and naturally compliment the food. Like true artists, Domenico & Valeria have brought into being a masterpiece in what they have achieved with Il Tufo Allegro.
[…] been thinking quite a bit about Sfratti, a cookie originating in the picturesque hilltop top of Pitigliano traditionally prepared by Italian Jews to celebrate the holiday of Rosh Hashanah (yes, it is […]