Cortona is a medieval hilltop town, dating at least to the 4th century B.C., in the Tuscany region of Italy. It was Etruscan before it was Roman, then Italian. Cortona may be best known as the town where the main character bought and restored a villa in the bestselling book "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. Cortona and the surrounding countryside are also home to several species of snake.
The hills and woodlands to the east and north of Cortona provide great cover for all types of snake, including the viper. Its position on a rocky mountainside also makes the town and its olive groves prime serpent territory. If walking through the countryside, you should take precautions against bites. Wear hiking boots and long pants so striking vipers are not able to reach the exposed skin of your legs. Never reach into piles of wood or stone without looking closely first since both snakes and scorpions favor them as nesting areas. Snakes are also found in the fields and gardens of Cortona and greater Tuscany. They're a common sight, especially during the summer months when they often lay out to sun themselves.
There are nose-horned vipers (Viperidae) present throughout Italy and especially the Tuscany region. The asp and adder are also considered vipers, although they are very different snakes. Vipers love rocky terrain, and the hills of Tuscany offer ample habitat. Vipers are poisonous and their bite can injure or kill humans if left untreated. Many pharmacies throughout Italy carry anti-venom to treat anyone who is bitten by the snakes.
Asps and Adders
The asp viper is a snake that inhabits the countryside around Cortona, although it is also a creature that has something of a mystical air. "Asp" was at one time a term used to refer to any poisonous snake. It is also said to have been the snake used by Cleopatra to commit suicide. There are several types of adder found in regions throughout Europe including central Italy. Adders are highly venomous and are known to bite people without provocation. They vary in size from 18 to 36 inches in length and live in the fields and hills around Cortona.
A variety of non-Viperidaes live in the Tuscany region including the whip snake, cat snake, smooth snake and rat snake. Some species of these snakes are mildly poisonous and should be avoided, while others are altogether harmless. Most of the snakes that live in and around Cortona are daytime hunters although some will venture out only once twilight has fallen.
- Lonely Planet Tuscany & Umbria: Leviton, Bing & Petterson page 81
- Understanding Italy: Snakes of Italy
- Toxinology: Vipera Aspis
- Lonely Planet Tuscany & Umbria: Leviton, Bing & Petterson page 454
- Encycolpedia Britannica: Asp
- Frommers: Introduction to Cortona
- Wilderness Survival: Poisonous Snakes of Europe
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Vipera Berus
Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.