The vie cave (vee-ah cavay, meaning cave roads) are mysterious pathways cut by Etruscan hand tools into the mile high tuff stone (tuff or tufa are layers of solidified ash from volcanic eruptions) of the Maremma area of southern Tuscany. The Etruscans lived 200-800 years before the birth of Christ and are the ancient ancestors of most Tuscans.
The paths are an unusual opportunity for hiking, horseback riding and nature photography. They are cut into the tuff to a depth of 30 meters or more. Some are fairly wide and could have handled small carts while others are very narrow and could only be used for human and animal transport, such as pack animals, as donkeys are still used in Italy today. The Vie Cave also incorporates both Pagan and Christian sites and a necropolis.
Many ponder how and why the Etruscans carved out these amazing subterranean roads. There are several theories:
Hidden roads to protect from bandits
A primitive method of moving water from the high plateaus to the valleys
Protection from invading armies
Ceremonial paths leading to ancient sites of Pagan religious importance
Paths leading to burial grounds
Roads for transport and trade between settlements
Pathways for shepherds leading their cattle to the rivers
The vie cave roads radiate like a messy spiderweb from the towns of Pitigliano, Sovana, and Sorano. Some of the roads have more modern sacred Christian images, carved symbols and shrines that were installed to protect against evil Pagan spirits. You will also find ancient tombs. Some paths are green and lush, while others are rocky havens of moss and lichen.
If you decide to visit the Vie Cave, plan ahead, perhaps hire a guide or plan a horseback tour. If walking, be aware that hiking shoes should be worn--some of the paths contain rugged steps and others are uneven due to erosion. This is a true Italian adventure, not just another cookie-cutter tourist destination. Have fun!