Massa Marittima: the Fortress of Maremma
Nestled within the “Colline Metallifere” (the hilly area from which metals and minerals are produced) and 400 metres above sea level, the town is surrounded no fax no direct deposit payday loans by the famous Maremma countryside and unmistakable vegetation: low, dense scrub, laurel and broom bushes, oaks and strawberry trees.
Despite its name, Massa Marittima is not located on the coast but around 20 kilometres inland. Its unlikely name probably derives from the fact that the area was once notorious for its unhealthy and impenetrable swamps. Massa was, in fact, the last inhabited outpost before the sea and therefore, in a broad sense, “maritime”. Another theory is that the word derives from “Marittima Regio”, the ninth-century term used to identify the entire coastline stretching from Cecina to Civitavecchia.
Located in an area that has been known for its copper and silver mines since Etruscan times, Massa Marittima became a free city-state in 1225 (after various historical events and having managed to evade the remaining Bishop’s prerogatives), creating the Repubblica Massetana. Accompanying the political and administrative upheaval was a large-scale development plan that saw the Old Town renovated and an urban expansion that led to the creation of the New Town.
Massa took part in the warring that occurred between the cities of Tuscany until it was conquered by Siena in 1335 and then subjugated to Medicean rule. The city later experienced a period of decline, caused by the outbreak malaria. It was only in the nineteenth century that the city managed to leave this period behind, following the reclamation of Maremma’s marshes by Grand Duke Leopold II.
There is something interesting to discover in every corner of this charming city, from the medieval village to the New Town. Ancient, steep alleys wind through the centre before leading up to the city’s highest point, steeped in history and offering panoramic views over the countryside to the sea.
Piazza Garibaldi is the heart of old town; built on a slope and not quite square-shaped, Piazza Garibaldi is somewhat unique. It is also home to a surprising number of architectural masterpieces. On one side we have the “buildings of power”: the thirteenth-century Palazzo del Podestà – housing the Archaeological Museum and featuring numerous coats of arms on its facade – and the fourteenth-century Palazzo Comunale, which was created by the merging of thirteenth-century houses and towers. On the other side we see the imposing San Cerbon Cathedral – built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – a huge Romanesque cathedral topped with pinnacles. Inside is the “Arca di San Cerbone”, a masterpiece from the Sienese school built to commemorate Massa’s patron saint, the life of whom is narrated in the architrave of the church facade.
Next, we find the Bishop’s Palace and, right below, the fountain with the famous Abbondanza fresco.
On one side of the Bishop’s Palace we find another large fresco: created in 1992 by the Tuscan painter Giampaolo Talani, this work is dedicated to the preacher who, in 1380, was born on this site and who went on to become Saint Bernardine of Siena. Every year – on the fourth Sunday in May and the second Sunday in August – the “Balestro del Girifalco” crossbow competition is held in his honour, a spectacular event with archers dressed in medieval costume.
A visit to the Mining Museum, with its reproduction of an original mine, allows us a better understanding of the importance of mining to the country’s economy throughout different periods in history. Massa Marittima’s entire old town is protected by a mighty wall. Going up Via Moncini – the steep “staircase” that leads from the Old Town to the New Town – we pass underneath the Porta alle Silici. Here stands the Fortezza Senese fortress, built during the fourteenth century by the architect Angiòlo di Ventura following Massa’s subjugation to Siena.
The imposing Torre del Candeliere is connected to the Fortress via a monumental stone arch. The architectural complex of San Pietro all’Orto is situated in the New Town.
Here we have the fourteenth century church of St. Augustine with its beautiful cloister, the old Convent, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Martini Collection of Contemporary Art and the Santa Cecilia Foundation Museum of Historical Organs.
Tourism is the driving force of this town, which, in addition to its rich heritage of historical attractions and museums, offers many opportunities for hiking, trekking, horse riding, cycling, interesting cultural events and, last but not least, a fantastic local cuisine.