Discovering Fufluna, an Etruscan City

Tuscany is well-known worldwide and most of the people think about this region when they think about Italy. Rolling hills, roads lined with cypresses, spectacular sunrises and wonderful beaches. But maybe only a few know that the name Tuscany comes from one of the oldest civilization: the Etruscans.

When we were touring through Tuscany for a few days this summer, I decided that we need some history-lessons. And one of the best places to learn a little bit about the region we are in, is Populonia. It is situated at the Baratti Gulf a little north from Piombino and south of Castagneto Carducci where we had our base.

First of all: who are the Etruscans? They have been the maybe the most important civilization before the Romans. The Etruscan era was more or less from the 10th century BC until the Romans arrived, and they assimilated into the new culture in the 1st century BC.

Their area was roughly the nowadays Tuscany, Umbria and northern Lazio with high influence in the Campania and the Po valley. The Etruscan civilization should not be confused with the Celtic civilization which co-existed.

Populonia is located in the north of Piombino on a promontory right in front of Elba which you can see so near you think you swim to the island. The modern town has just 17 (!) inhabitants, mainly custodians of the nearby archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia.

Fufluna – how it was originally spelled and pronounced – was founded around 900 BC on a pre-urbanization of the Villanovan culture. Once the acropolis extended over two hills: the ‘modern’ and the ancient you see today. The area was populated from around the stone age. They had a huge port (one of the only two port-cities of the Etruscans) which doesn’t exist anymore and was re-located to Piombino at a certain time. The Etruscan people were very rich. They important iron from Elba, pyrite from the mainland south Tuscany and other metals from the Colline Metallifere (Alta Maremma). They produced slag (a glassy, colored by-product after the fusion of metal) which was used for jewelry and glass work. The city maybe was founded in the prospect to produce ore.

After the Roman-Etruscan wars the land was finally conquered in 264 BC by the Romans, though the language survived another 300 years at least.

To find the place was not that easy as it goes mainly over small country roads, but the road-signs are pretty good. In addition, everyone has today a navigation system 😀

Right to the archaeological site there is a spacious parking place (not free). Otherwise, you can park at the foot of the hill and walk up. It will be half an hour possibly.

I paid an entrance fee of 12 € and got also a pArcheo Card which gives me a discount to the other associated parks, to quality products like olive oil and wine, in restaurants, hotels and more. We only had 3 hours to see the ancient part of the city. I was intrigued by the excavations but also by the amazing view from every side of the hill. We made just the little hike in the Acropolis, I recommend the longer one which includes the Necropolis.

I found very impressive the Balneum with mosaics and more mosaics at the Ninphaeum. The king’s home (a reproduction of what I might have looked like) was less impressive, but also because it shows how a king would have lived in the Iron Age. We saw various temples, but we could not walk between the ruins, it was more a view from a far point.

The Necropolis is the cemetery with several tombs and is located at the foot-hill. We unfortunately were too late for it, it would have been a great addition and definitely very interesting as well.

When you arrive at the city walls along the seaside you have a breathtaking view on the Tuscan archipelago with Elba in the foreground, nearly touchable.

Take a beach-walk and put your nose towards the sand: it should be particular shiny as there are still a lot of hematite mineral. If you want to dive deeper in the Etruscan history, you can go to the Archaeological Museum of the Territory of Populonia in Piombino (with the pArcheo Card you get a 50% off). And I would do one of the archaeological workshops next time!

Populonia, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
Here a little bit more about the Park of Baratti and Populonia

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Suvereto – Where Henry VII was put on Fire

Suvereto is part of the ‘Borghi più belli d’Italia’ (association of small Italian towns of historical interest) and was on my to-visit-list when touring along the Etruscan coast of Tuscany. Located in the forests and mountains near to Castagneto Carducci, its name comes from the cork oak which once were part of the income of the little fortified Medieval town.

The picturesque town was first mentioned in the year 1000 and was integrated in the properties of the Aldobrandeschi family. The rocca, which can be visited and I would very much recommend, is a good testimonial of that more than 1.000 years ago domain. The view from here is spectacular.

Today the town is known for the very fine vineyards (most of the wines are D.O.C.) in the area and also the olive oil.

Suvereto is member of Cittaslow, a movement founded in 1999 which is dedicated to a higher standard of life in cities, a better infrastructure, urban quality, hospitality and of course to high quality food and products. In my humble opinion something you can literally breathe here.

But why did I say “where Henry VII was put on fire”? Well, in August 1313 the emperor died of Malaria in Buonconvento (which lies more east inland). He had to be transported to Pisa and the contingent stopped in Suvereto. To prevent the cadaver of decay he was dried at a fire in the Franciscan convent of the city.

I liked very much to go through the streets, nearly no cars, very calm. The little shops and stores are offering local products like wine, olive oil and olive wood utensils, food specialties and much more.

During the year there are many festivities that remind the ancient roots but also ‘sagre’ (food festivals dedicated to one kind of food) which attract many people from the whole regions and tourists.

Suvereto, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
Maybe a little bit more about CittiSlow

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Hidden in the Woods: Abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo

Do you have a navigation system in your car? Of course, every one has! Like every one has a smartphone. Well, I don’t have a smartphone. And I don’t have a navigation system in the car.

Most of the people believe they can’t arrive anywhere without a navi. But guess what…. 40, 30, 20 years ago people did arrive where they wanted to go without any. I read ordinary, ‘antique’ road maps to go where I want to go. OK, it takes me more time maybe, sometimes, but it gives me also the possibility to see actually where I am driving as I have to look for street signs, where is the right turn, and I have to use my brain to combine what I see if that is possibly correct. All things people normally don’t want: they want to arrive as fast as possible, no interest in the landscape on the way, and thinking is definitely also not on their list. But I don’t have a timetable when I go far away, and I enjoy much more the journey than the goal.

Thanks to my way of driving I have discovered places I never would have had otherwise, I have had talks to people I would never have thought of and I have learnt things I was never thinking of. One of these discoveries is the abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo in Tuscany.

This ancient abbey is located in a very hidden place, were you have to walk for good bit but it is much more than worth of it. If I remember well, we walked something like half an hour until we finally arrived. If you have a good car for the dirt-road you can also drive to the abbey.

The abbey was founded in 754 AD by Walfred, the forefather of the later Gherardesca family which would rule for many centuries the area. He had a wife and children but decided one day to live a monastic life. He founded an abbey for men and another one for his wife and daughter and all wives and daughters of men becoming monks. The abbey was under the Benedictine order and for long periods one of the most important and richest abbeys in the Medieval Tuscany.

Originally it was built a little bit more south than the current location in a place where once was a Roman villa with the name ‘Palatiolum’ (little palace) which would be the Latin word for Palazzuolo.

From the very begining Walfred brought a lot of land and goods in the monastery, land from Populonia to Lucca and even the nearby island of Corsica. Its peak was in the 11th and 12th century and had full jurisdictional power.

Of course, it was always a target for incursions and so in the end of the 12th century the original abbey was moved to the hidden place of today. It is a hill, hidden in the woods, not easy to find and reach but easy to defend. Nonetheless in the middle of the following century a decline started and in 1252 the Pannocchieschi family killed all the monks in order to get all the wealth of the abbey. Legend says that only one monk escaped, Mariano, and he saved a wooden statue of the Holy Virgin, sculptured by Luke, the Apostle. He hid the statue under a tree and it was rediscovered only two centuries later. Today there is the Sanctuary of Madonna del Frassine.

The monastery after this massacre was repopulated by the Vallombrosian monks. The last monks left the monastery in 1561 and moved to the Monteverdi castle.

The monastery had a watch-tower, good defensive walls, a large cloister, a one nave church with one apse only.

The abbey you find in the Val di Cornia near to the village Monteverdi. We had a nice walk there (we had to park before, my car is not made for country-drives) and enjoyed the quiet place and the amazing view. You can walk around even though you just find only ruins.

In the village of Monteverdi previously a young woman in a bar where we had some refreshment told me about the monastery and that even people in the village didn’t know anything about it and only recently it was freed from vegetation in order to make it visitable.

We ended up in the village (and the monastery) by just driving around the direction where we thought would be a place we wanted to visit, Surveto. Unexpected discoveries are the best!

Abbey of Saint Peter in Palazzuolo, Tuscany/Italy:

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Bolgheri – Picturesque Castle Village in the Heart of Tuscany

At our stay in Castagneto Carducci we visited a little bit the surroundings. One of the places people recommended is the little hill village Bolgheri. It is located just 12 kilometers from the coast and Castagneto Carducci. We took the famous pine tree road.

The village has just 150 people living there but because of the tourists it seems much more. It lies at the foothills of the Colline Metallifere (metal-bearing hills) in the Maremma Livornese and the name has its roots in the fact that once here was a military camp of Lombards coming from Bulgaria. The place was first mentioned in 1075. The castle village was dominated by the Ghirardesca family and had the same history as Castagneto Carducci.

The Pine Tree Road (or cypress avenue) was very much recommended, and I was surprised that I wasn’t really was that impressed. Yes, the road is nice with all those pine trees aligned. But the road is famous thanks to Giosuè Carducci in his poem “Davanti San Guido” (In front of San Guido).

The picturesque castle owned by the Ghirardesca family has an interesting family coat of arms at the castle/village entrance. And staying with the nose in the air: look under the eaves, there are a lot of swallow nests!

We stayed over lunch-time in Bolgheri and enjoyed a nice little lunch in the piazza. The village has one road going in and out and it takes only a short walk to go through. What really takes time is to have a look into the nice little shops, enjoy the beautiful view over the surrounding lands and to have a nice meal. I recommend warmly to sit and have at least a coffee and ‘inhale’ the atmosphere. It is so relaxing, time seems to stand still here. BTW: the wine of Bolgheri is famous! The red Sassicaia for example.

Bolgheri, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
A little bit more about Bolgheri

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A Short Vacation in Castagneto Carducci at the Etruscan Coast

This summer our 4 days vacation was in Tuscany. I chose the little medieval village Castagneto Carducci. Only 10 kilometers from the coast, the village is located in the green hills of the Alta Maremma.

To me it was a surprise that the place is actually a pretty popular town at the Etruscan Coast. You still see very well that the town once has grown around a castle. There is nearly from every angle in the town an amazing view to the nearby coast, over the flat land and up to the green hills with dense forests.

A little bit about the history: The name refers to the chestnut tree forests (castagneto) and had once the additive of Marittima because the location which is in the Alta Maremma. But in 1907 they changed the name in Castagneto Carducci (to honor the Italian poet). Giosuè Carducci was one of the greatest poets, writers and literary critics of Italy in the 19th century, and he lived most of his childhood in Castagneto, though he was born near to Lucca.

During the medieval period the family of the Della Gherardesca was the ruler of this part, together with Bolgheri, Bibbona, Montescudaio and other places. Saint Wilfrido, a Gherardesca family member, in 754 became a monk, and founded the nearby monastery of San Pietro in Palazzuolo.

The family of Gherardesca until the unification was the ruler of the area and still has properties here.

Today the little village in the green hills of the province of Livorno is a holiday destination. It has a very small center with narrow streets, most of them car-free and only accessible by walking up and down. Little shops with typical food, souvenirs, wine and olive oil and much more are lined together with nice little restaurants. Especially in summer it is a real vacation-feeling when sitting at a small table in the street, having good Italian food and a great glass of wine while watching tourists of all nationalities walking by.

For us Castagneto Carducci was the perfect place as a base to explore the region and coming back in the evening, then just walk to the piazza and have a candle-light dinner with view.

In the village I would recommend the Carducci museum. Unfortunately it is only in Italian, but still it is very interesting to see old photos and more. The house and rooms are actually the place where he stayed with his father, who was a doctor in Castagneto Marittima (at that time). The castle and the church are interesting, too, though I didn’t see too much of the castle.

There are several restaurants, we tried a few, and they are all very nice and quiet. We liked in particular one at the corner of the main piazza for some unknown reason. The wine bars are perfect to have the ‘aperitivo’ before you go for dinner!

We arrived by car coming from Rome. It was a little more than two hours driving along the coast with wonderful views. We took the exit of San Vincenzo Nord, following the signs to Donoratico and on the Aurelia following the signs to Castagneto Carducci, which is a right turn in the center of Donoratico. But we saw also a train station in Donoratico from where you can take a bus to Castagneto Carducci. The bus station in Castagneto is right out of the center at the pharmacy from where you just walk into the center.

Castagneto Carducci, Tuscany/Italy:

For further information:
Maybe a little bit more about Castagneto Carducci

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