In the 6th century BCE, Maremma’s coastline and hills were home to one of the world’s most mystical and innovative civilizations. This was the area where the Etruscans settled, fished, farmed, smelted iron, made wine, and praised their gods.
This land, characterized by an abundance of fish in the sea, game in the woods, and iron in the northern hills and on the island of Elba, was also rich in luxurious mineral springs and in a soft, limestone stone called tufa — a type of earth ideal for carving homes, furnaces, roads, cellars and tombs. These are the reasons why the Etruscans lived in this area for such a long time, and not just for the duration of their lives, but also in death, taking their eternal rest in the hundreds of tombs and "necropoli" that have been discovered throughout much of the Maremma.
The Roman Empire absorbed Etruscan civilization, and by the 4th century BCE the complexion of the region began to shift into a less habitable state. Due to progressive depopulation and some seismic activity, this area changed to swamps and the villages, vineyards, and pastures were overgrown. Gradually, this area was abandoned and was the repeated location of battles, first amongst Sienese, Pisan and Florentine armies and later involving Napoleon’s troops. These lands were so neglected that, by the mid-1800s, they were considered some of the most dangerous places in Italy, mainly due to bandit hideouts and mosquito-infested swamps. The average life-expectancy of a male living in the region from Pisa to the north and Grosseto to the south was 18 years, and the most prominent cause of death was malaria.
The 20th century was characterized by the improving condition of the region, thanks to the draining of swamps and rising of Piombino as a favorite vacation spot for Fascists. The end of WWII coincided with a rapid revitalization of the town of Bolgheri and surrounding areas, where the production of prestigious wines started. This area still produces some of the best and renowned Italian wines such as “Rosso Bolgheri."
Main towns and areas
Pitigliano is located on a tufaceous spur, and its buildings, located all around the edge of a precipitous cliff, overlook the ravines of the valleys of Meleta, Leuta and Prochio, creating a fortification of great scenographic effect.
The urban aspect is characterized by the presence of two colossal arches and 13 smaller ones of the aqueduct built in the 16th Century and by the ancient houses that were erected on the tuff, within which fresh-keeping cellars have been dug. A travertine pillar in the Renaissance piazza has a small bear above it: the emblem of the Orsini.
A peculiarity of Pitigliano is that its houses blend in the rocks underneath them and vice versa. It’s a maze of little lanes, one after the other, sometimes so narrow people can hardly go through them. The territory keeps the mark of each culture alternating along the history: the Etruscans, the Romans, the civilizations of the Middle Ages. All the findings dating back to these cultural ages can be admired today in local museums, such as the Civic Museum of Etruscan Civilisation, Alberto Manzi Open Air Museum, Jewish Museum, and Diocesan Museum of Palazzo Orsini.
Every population passed by Pitigliano has dug its tuff rocks for some reasons, creating another town underneath the town, made of tunnels, wells, tombs, wine-cellars and “colombari."
The whole region is encircled by old paths carved in the tufa (Vie Cave). Probably, these unique and striking Etruscan paths had different uses: they may have led to spiritual meeting places, linked up the villages, and served for defense. Until fifty years ago, they were used as normal lines of communication, so they were passed through by horses and donkeys and, in fact, on some of the walls there are signs of the carts.
Sovana is an evocative medieval village lying on a plateau from which it embraces the surrounding countryside. In the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. it was a flourishing Etruscan centre which, after a long decline, regained its importance during the Roman era.
Piazza del Pretorio is in the centre of the town and is surrounded by many 13th Century buildings that were modified in the second half of the 15th Century (as well as later on), and at the end can be found the modest Archive building (12th – 13th Century) with its small ribbed bell tower. Among the smaller houses, still in ruins or recently restored, one is the presumed birthplace of Pope Gregory VII, the Pope who humiliated Emperor Henry IV at Canossa.
Sorano is located on the tufaceous rock that stands above the valley of the Lente. Encircled by a fortified wall, it retains a distinct medieval character, embodied by the magnificent 14th Century fortress of the Orsini. This structure is made up of a central structure, whose entrance is topped by a monumental emblem, with a cylindrical tower and two courtyards. The parish church of the town has been redone in neoclassical shape, and nearby a rustic portal giving access to the “Palazzo Comitale” has been built. A typical characteristic of Sorano is represented by the "columbaria:" enormous holes that were dug into the tuff in the First Century BCE, and it seems these were once used as dwelling places and without doubt provided a secure refuge.
Located on a mass of travertine at almost 300 meters above sea level, Saturnia, is surrounded by the remains of ancient walls. In the ancient era it was believed to be the first city to have been built in the Peninsula. The ancient ruins, however, are few because Saturnia was destroyed first by the supporters of Silla in the 1st Century B.C. and then by the Saracens. Above an ancient Roman Church rises the parish church, restored in 1933, and among the ruins of the Sienese Villa Ciacci, erected in the shape of a small medieval castle at the beginning of the 1900s, there is a small Antiquarium exposing local Etruscan and Roman artifacts.
Today, Saturnia is very famous for its thermal hot springs, which draw many people both in the spa resort and in the open air free pools.
Massa Marittima, with the irregular piazza Garibaldi and the severe 12th Century lines of its “palazzo," represents a true jewel in the evolution of medieval urbanization. An exceptional range of buildings faces the piazza, but the most impressive is the elegant roman-gothic structure of the cathedral that is dedicated to San Cerbone.
The Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo Comunale, built in travertine, deserve particular attention. Not far from the piazza, tourists can find the public fountain (constructed in 1265) and the Palazzo dell’Abbondanza, with its large oval arches.
A small town of singular aspect, Orbetello is located on the thin tongue of land that extends into the lagoon to which it gives its name and which was joined to the Argentario by an artificial dam in 1842. There were once nine mills situated on the lagoon, and the last remaining one is known as the "Molino Spagnolo" (the Spanish Mill), given that the Spanish government looked after its restructuring and reinforcing.
In the cyclopean Orbetellan walls of Etruscan and Roman construction, tourists will find the three-arched Porta Nuova that was restructured in 1697 during the reign of the King of Spain. The Guzman gunpowder store is likewise a result of Spanish construction.
Mount Argentario is an enchanting promontory overlooking the sea immediately opposite Isola del Giglio. Originally, it was an island that gradually became linked to the mainland due to the effect of the accumulation of natural detritus by means of two long sand dunes: the sandbar of Feniglia to the south and the sandbar of Giannella to the north. Between the two is located the Orbetello Lagoon. Mount Argentario is covered by lovely Mediterranean scrub, alternated with fruit, citrus, and olive trees as well as vineyards; the exclusive tourist resort towns of Porto Ercole and Porto Santo Stefano are situated in this area.
Settled by the Etruscans, made famous during the Roman era by the powerful Domizi Enobarbi family and defended by towers during the Middle Ages, it became the point of strength of Stato dei Reali Presidi Spagnoli, starting from the 16th century. In order to have maximum control of the Tyrrhene, a number of military garrisons, composed of commanding lookout towers, were built here. The promontory was also chosen by religious men, who settled in these secluded places for prayer and contemplation. One of these men was the famous San Paolo della Croce (St. Paul of the Cross) who founded the Order of the Passionists there. From the many panoramic spots high up above the sea, one can see marvelous sunsets, upon which Corsica, Elba, Giglio and Giannutri are silhouetted.
Originally a small fishing seaport, Porto Ercole is now an elegant, exclusive tourist harbor, particularly busy during the summer. The highest part of the city offers a delightful panorama, stretching from the sandbar of the Feniglia to the ancient Roman city of Cosa.
Porto Ercole was patronized during the Roman era, bearing the name Portus Herculis, and reaching its maximum splendor between the 14th and 16th centuries under Sienese rule. During this period, the town was fortified in successive stages: first came the stronghold, later the bastions built to defend the port, such as Forte Filippo, Forte di Santa Caterina, and Forte Stella.
After various events, Porto Ercole was inserted into the Stato dei Reali Presidi Spagnoli in the mid-16th century, but declined in importance in favor of Porto Santo Stefano, although it still maintained an essential defensive function.
The life of the town is linked to the sea, and from the sea came Michelangelo Merisi, the great 17th century Italian artist, known as the Caravaggio. After an incredible sequence of vicissitudes that were never completely cleared up, he reached the coast of Porto Ercole and there spent his last years, dying in 1610.
Museums and archeological sites
The Maremma hosts a wealth of museums and archeological sites, especially from the Etruscan period, that enrich the wide cultural offer this land has.
The Museum of Archaeology and Art of Maremma – Grosseto
The Museum of Archaeology and Art of Maremma is composed of heterogeneous materials and includes evidence related to other territorial contexts, such as Chiusi and Volterra, from whose necropolis comes the section containing Etruscan cinerary urns.
A section is dedicated to the city of Roselle, through a chronological route that traces the history of the city and reconstructs events pertaining to it, from ancient times until its decline and abandonment.
A part of the museum is also dedicated to the archaeology of the province of Grosseto with the exhibition of the most important finds from the main archaeological sites of the Maremma: from the rich burial fittings of the tombs of Vetulonia and Marsiliana d’Albegna to the relic discovered in the waters of Giglio Porto with its load of amphorae that highlight the commercial vitality of the territory.
Some rooms are dedicated to the history of the city of Grosseto, from classical pre-existences to the Middle Ages. The documentation is composed of materials coming from urban excavations, the keep, and the fortress.
The “Vie Cave” of Pitigliano and Sovana
In Pitigliano, entrenched on the tufaceous spur and with its buildings looking right over the sheer cliff and the arches of the aqueduct, like at Sovana, one breathes an atmosphere that has stopped in the past. Imprinted in the tufa are its routes of access (the dug-out roads), its internal alleys, and its cellars. It is a land of ancient Etruscan tradition, upon which the bear of the Orsini proceeded to roar its orders for a long time.
Archaeological Park City of Tufo (Sorano)
The Archaeological Park spreads across a vast area, heavily marked by the erosive action of the rivers and characterized by a striking, delightful landscape, displaying a wealth of deep canyons, opening out onto the tableland. The Archaeological Park proposes an itinerary that fully achieves a combination of nature, landscape, and monuments from the Etruscan and Medieval civilization.
The park includes the city of Sovana, with its most relevant monuments, the hollowed out roads and necropolises that developed around them, and the celebrated Tomba Ildebranda, Tomba della Sirena, Tomba Pola, Tomba Pisa and Tomba del Sileno. The Rupestrian settlement of San Rocco, with its historic proof of the Middle Ages, stands in the immediate vicinity of Sorano and is panoramically located above the Lente River. From San Rocco, one can reach Sorano and tour the Orsini Fortress that houses the Museum of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The visit to the park can be concluded with a visit to the Rupestrian village of Vitozza; this village is set in immediate proximity to the district of San Quirico of Sorano with its two hundred grottos.
The archaeological area of Roselle (Grosseto)
The archaeological area of Roselle is located about 8 kilometers north of Grosseto. The late-Roman baths, the Decumanus, a part of the wall belt, the Valle del Foro, the hill where the amphitheatre rises, the Terme Adriane, and the southern hill can be visited in this area, as well as a section of the Etruscan walls and the amphitheatre.