A thousand-year history
Man has lived in this area since prehistoric times and has always been able to exploit the riches of the earth, the geo-resources. From the Copper Age, around 3000 years before Christ, to the 1990s, through prehistoric, Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance populations, and continuing into the 19th and 20th centuries, for almost five thousand years this area has been the cradle of the exploitation of rocks and minerals, metals and other resources of the Earth that have supported the evolution and marked the events of various civilisations and cultures.
Neolithic to Copper Age
There are numerous Neolithic remains in the Park area. Among these, the La Pietra geological site along the Farma valley, in the Municipality of Roccastrada, after the hamlet of Torniella, is known for the presence of a large jasper quarry and workshop dating back to the Copper Age, about 5,000 years ago, which was used to select the best quality rock to be worked on site, through chipping, to obtain semi-finished products to be transformed into refined arrow and javelin points, with a particularly meticulous workmanship. An intense network of exchanges, already active during the Neolithic period, enabled, more consistently than in the past, a wide circulation of raw materials and finished products. During that period, the territory of the Park, rich in mineral resources, became the object of intense frequentation by metal-seeking groups. Recent studies by the University of Padua have suggested, based on the study of metal isotopes, that the copper in the axe of the Iceman better known as Ötzi, the mummy of the Similaun Man, found in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps and dating back over 5300 years, may have come from the Metalliferous Hills.
The Etruscans, people of metals
Starting from the 8th century B.C., the Etruscans began the systematic extraction and processing of minerals, metals and other resources in which the area was rich (starting from the nearby island of Elba) and left traces of numerous residential and productive settlements in the hills. Two important Etruscan cities, Populonia and Vetulonia, fought over these valleys and hills for centuries. One of the most important Etruscan sites is Lago dell’Accesa, where decades of archaeological excavations by Prof. Giovannangelo Camporeale of the University of Florence have brought to light a series of settlements around the lake that can be traced back to a village dedicated to metalworking. In addition, very important findings from the numerous Etruscan necropolises in the area (San Germano, Santa Teresa, Poggio Pelliccia, Poggio Tondo) can now be seen in the archaeological museums of Massa Marittima, Rocca di Frassinello, the Isidoro Falchi Archaeological Museum in Vetulonia and the Maremma Museum of Archaeology and Art in Grosseto (see the Maremma Museums site). Also important are the remains of an Etruscan settlement based on iron and steel production, discovered in the Rondelli area near Follonica in the spring of 1997. Starting from the 8th century B.C., the Etruscans began the systematic extraction and processing of minerals, metals and other resources that the area was rich in (starting with the nearby island of Elba) and left traces of numerous residential and productive settlements in the hills. Two important Etruscan cities, Populonia and Vetulonia, fought over these valleys and hills for centuries. One of the most important Etruscan sites is Lago dell’Accesa, where decades of archaeological excavations by Prof. Giovannangelo Camporeale of the University of Florence have brought to light a series of settlements around the lake that can be traced back to a village dedicated to metalworking. There are also important findings discovered in the numerous Etruscan necropolises in the area (San Germano, Santa Teresa, Poggio Pelliccia, Poggio Tondo), which can be seen today in the archaeological museums of Massa Marittima, Rocca di Frassinello, the Isidoro Falchi Archaeological Museum in Vetulonia and the Maremma Museum of Archaeology and Art in Grosseto (see the website Musei di Maremma). Also important are the remains of an Etruscan settlement based on ironworking, discovered in the Rondelli area near Follonica in the spring of 1997.
The Roman Era
The Roman era also left numerous testimonies in the territory of the Park. The MAPS, Archaeological Museum of Portus Scabris at Puntone di Scarlino, was set up in 2009 to disseminate scientific data on the underwater archaeological excavations carried out between 2000 and 2001, prior to the construction of the Marina di Scarlino tourist port in the Portiglioni bay. The excavations, carried out by a team of underwater archaeologists, brought to light a large and extensive deposit of artefacts accumulated over the centuries on the seabed in the Puntone di Scarlino area. The high concentration of these finds has revealed an intense traffic of merchant ships as early as the 3rd century BC. This important discovery testifies to the presence in this area of the famous “Portus Scabris” mentioned in ancient sources. Archaeological finds include objects that accidentally fell into the sea during loading and unloading of ships, amphorae and pottery damaged during voyages and thrown overboard to clear the holds.
The Middle Ages
Medieval times have left deep traces in the Park area. The early medieval site of Vetricella in the territory of Scarlino is located in the centre of the coastal plain crossed by the Pecora River, at the foot of Scarlino Castle, an area that has been the subject of in-depth archaeological research for several decades. Discovered in 2005 through aerial archaeological reconnaissance, when its exceptional three concentric circles were recognised, the latest excavation campaigns have definitively confirmed the historical importance of this site, which was found to be particularly rich in archaeological finds and indicators of economic and production activities dating from at least the 9th century. Moving towards the late Middle Ages, thanks to the deposits of the minerals copper, silver and alunite, the territory of the Metalliferous Hills experienced centuries of splendour, although it was fought over by the powers of the period: Siena, Volterra and Pisa. As evidence of this richness, we can recall the presence in this area of great artists such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Giovanni and Andrea Pisano, Sano di Pietro and Stefano di Giovanni known as Sassetta, most of whom were engaged in valuable works in the area of Massa Metallorum, the present-day Massa Marittima.
In the 13th century, one of the first mining codes in Europe was drawn up in this town. The “Ordinamenta super arte rameriae et argenteriae civitatis Massae”, better known as the “Mining Code”, is an invaluable source for knowledge of the medieval mining system at every stage, as it lays down the rules for the proper conduct of mining activities, from extraction activities to the safety of wells, the health of miners and the marketing of extracted products. The Massa Marittima Code constituted a model imitated by other Tuscan cities: Siena, which in the 14th century enacted mining laws similar to those of Massa, and Pisa, which, for the exploitation of iron in Sardinia, founded the city of Iglesias, whose mining documents have reached us in an edition dated 1302.
Also in Massa Marittima, in 1317, a mint was opened by the municipality with the intention of minting three types of coins using local silver and copper: the silver Grosso (20 denari), the silver Grossetto (6 denari) and the small Denaro, made of mixed metals. Two variants of the Grosso, three variants of the Piccolo and no Grossetto, which appears to be absent from coin circulation at the time, are currently known. The mint was certainly active from May 1317 until 1318 and its coins circulated until the end of 1319. In the same period, Montieri became famous for the wealth of mineral deposits in the area, especially rich in metallic elements such as iron, copper, lead, zinc and, in particular, silver, which made the town an important centre for the extraction and processing of this mineral. Due to the richness of its deposits, Siena’s merchant class exercised a constant influence over Montieri, which was challenged by the feudal lords and competing powers of the surrounding towns such as Volterra.
From the 16th century to the end of the 20th century
In the second half of the 16th century, this whole territory became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, following the final fall of the Republic of Siena in 1555. In the second half of the 16th century, Cosimo I de’ Medici reactivated numerous metal extraction and processing plants.
After this important entrepreneurial experience, mining was resumed only in the 19th century. Belgian, French, English and German companies brought the old production centres back into operation. Research was stepped up and large-scale production began. At the end of the century, in 1899, the Società Montecatini appeared in Maremma, founded in 1888 in Montecatini Val di Cecina for the exploitation of a copper deposit. In Maremma, Montecatini was interested in buying the copper mines of Fenice Capanne and Boccheggiano.
But the real fortune of this mining venture was not due to the richness of the cupriferous deposits, but rather to the pyrite deposits from which it was possible to produce sulphuric acid (from the sulphurous part of pyrite), one of the basic raw materials of the chemical industry. In 1910, Montecatini bought a substantial share of the Unione Italiana Piriti, owner of the oldest pyrite mine in the Maremma, in Gavorrano.
With the commissioning of the Niccioleta Mine in 1930, Montecatini had secured the monopoly of Italian pyrites: 90% of the national production of this mineral came from the Maremma mines, of which it was the exclusive owner. From the 1930s onwards, the landscape of the Metalliferous Hills underwent a sudden and continuous change, with the establishment of entire mining villages, industrial plants with increasingly daring and invasive structures. Several thousand people were employed in the area and the for the transportation of the material a network of cableways over 40 km long was built (the longest cableway system in Europe), which sent the ore from the various production units to the railway stations of Scarlino and Gavorrano for overland shipments and to the Portiglioni embarkation point, near Scarlino, for sea shipments (Terra rossa: a Park site that can now be visited).
Another chapter of Maremma’s mining activities is made up of lignite mines that were intensively exploited, especially during the two war periods (Ribolla mine, Casteani, Montebamboli). However, as soon as the markets were reopened, Maremma’s “coal” could not withstand competition from foreign coal and especially oil. The infamous Ribolla disaster, a lignite mine explosion that killed 43 people in 1954, accelerated the crisis.
From the 1980s onwards, the contraction in mining activities and number of workers employed in the mining sector gradually consolidated, finally ending with the closure of the mining facilities in the early 1990s.
The main reason for this closure was the decline in the international competitiveness of the ore mined and processed in the area, particularly pyrite, and its replacement by sulphur (obtained as a by-product in oil refining processes) as a raw material in the production of sulphuric acid.
This also led to the downsizing and then the technological reconversion of the sulphuric acid processing plant in Scarlino, which had been an effective example of production verticalisation and one of the most important phenomena in Italian chemistry.
This process coincided with the crisis of the steel industry in Piombino, contributing decisively to the serious economic and employment crisis in the basin and the province of Grosseto. From the early 1990s onwards, the inexorable process of the gradual reduction of workers and the decommissioning of mining facilities began.
hrough the use of resources made available by the then Ministry of Industry, it was possible to support the first projects and investments for the recovery of mining areas, also for the cultural enhancement of mining assets (the Park).
From 1993 to 1999 the municipalities of the Metalliferous Hills, having obtained the necessary funds, began to carry out feasibility studies for the recovery and development for cultural and tourist purposes of the former mining estates.
It should be noted that, in order to carry out the recovery and investments, the Park’s municipalities first had to obtain the availability of assets that were usually privately owned or under liens. At present, the resources invested directly by municipalities, regional, national and European Union funds and by the mining company responsible for the reclamation and safety of disused mining areas amount to approximately 130 million euro. Work on the first investments began in the late 1990s. In general, the municipalities had included the recovery and development of mining areas in their three-year plans.
The absence of the Park would have led to the risk of seeing unconnected projects being carried out without any coordination of content and management, thus nullifying the enormous cultural significance of the complete interpretation of the Metalliferous Hills landscape.