La Grotta della Topa

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Testo italiano a fondo pagina


The botanic garden terraces make up a plot of land that is marked as the cocceria (pottery) on the local ordinance survey map. On the strips of land there are five caves, some likely dating to the Bronze Age, dug from a cliff of tufa that drops 50 feet from other terraces above. One of the caves is considered to be Sorano’s oldest pottery, in use up until the end of the 19th century, and another was a habitation, with a large fireplace. Two of the caves have weathered wooden doors, and one has a white 38 stenciled above it, a civic number indicating that it was registered at one time as taxable property in the town hall. A 90 year old friend who advised me on many Sorano town matters came to the cocceria as I was finishing clearing a boulder of the brambles and ivy that had totally enveloped it- which I was delighted to find had been hollowed out to make a large oven for baking bread and pizza.  Before he left, the friend peered into the cave with the fireplace. This, he said sotto voce, was the grotta della topa. “The Pussy Cave,” I repeated incredulously.  “You don’t mean to say that this was a bordello?”  The friend pointed out that the cocceria is the only plot of land in the valley with two entrances, convenient for a quick escape.  He had only heard tell of the woman, nicknamed Topa. By the time he was a young boy in the 1920s, she was no longer there. Presumably Topa lived in and worked from the cave roughly between 1900 and 1920. Enthralled with the knowledge that the small bit of land contained not only the pottery, but also the whore house of the town, I sought out others to see if they knew anything more about Topa.


There is no disputing that the cave was a habitation.  Prior to homes being built with blocks of tufa, people in the area were troglodytes. In a nearby town several families were living in caves well into the 20th century. The Etruscan path below the cocceria was one of the three principal routes leading to Sorano, before the roads were constructed in the 1930s.  Because of the stenciled 38 outside the Grotta della Topa, I went to the archivist in the town hall, to see if he had any records pertaining to Via della Cavarella, 38. The information in the numerous large leather bound tomes is incomplete, and often illegible.  Likewise, no one other than my one elderly friend chose to recall anything about the Topa - but this likely was due to some old-fashioned sense of gentilezza, instead of forgetfulness.  Rather, in the spirit of revelation and recollection of the past, Chris Warren has invited fellow artists Sergio Tamassia and David Hoptman to celebrate with him the Topa, her cave and her oldest profession.