Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Archaeology by the sea: 5 sites in Maremma

Those Etruscans sure knew how to pick the best locations! In Maremma, Tuscany, there are numerous Etruscan and Roman archaeological sites in an area that is now perfect for tourism – vast landscapes producing lots of fresh food, and a short drive to blue-flag beaches and parkland. Personally, I find it hard to spend a week’s holiday by the sea without at least a little bit of culture. Archaeological sites are a good option, often providing good views and an opportunity to go for a walk. As it can get hot, it’s best done first thing in the morning or towards closing time in the evening. Here are five beautiful archaeological sites in Maremma, in order from south to north.

Populonia

Necropolis of Populonia on the sea / photo Flickr user Glen Bowman

Necropolis of Populonia on the sea / photo Flickr user Glen Bowman

The only Etruscan settlement directly on the sea, Populonia is as good as it gets. The Etruscans set up their town on the peninsula of Piombino on a hill overlooking this stunning bay of Baratti on the Tyrrhenian sea. This is the largest Etruscan necropolis in all of Italy, with tombs that represent all the shapes and types in use over the years. There are upper and lower areas to explore – if your time is limited, aim for the more concentrated top part, which has better views. The modern town that grew up next to the necropolis features a 15th-century castle made of stones stolen from the Etruscan ruins.

Vetulonia

Etruscan domus at Vetulonia

Etruscan domus at Vetulonia

If Castiglione della Pescaia is your beach of preference, Vetulonia is the closest dig. About 20 minutes inland from the famous beach destination is the modern hill-town of Vetulonia, and on the road up to it, you’ll find the archaeological area, a necropolis that dates to the 7th century BCE. As Vetulonia, like many sites in Maremma, is still an active dig, you may see people at work, or witness a new discovery! In 2010, a well preserved Etruscan Domus was found here, the first of its kind to be discovered intact. Almost everything we know about the Etruscans comes from tombs, not from domestic architecture.

My sister-in-law Laura demonstrates the height of the opening of one of the tombs found down the dirt road.

My sister-in-law Laura demonstrates the height of the opening of one of the tombs found down the dirt road.

If driving up the road, the entrance to the main area is on the left, but a little bit back down the road, on the right side, there’s a dirt road off which some more tombs are located (and they’re free to visit!).

Roselle

Roselle (Thermal bath area) / Photo Wikipedia

Roselle (Thermal bath area) / Photo Wikipedia

The via Aurelia  was built in 241 BCE to connect Rome to Pisa. Now Strada Statale 1, you can feel the history at 90km/h. At the Grosseto Sud exit is the Etruscan city of Rossellae (now Roselle), established in the 7th century BCE and taken over by the Romans in 294 BCE. The Romans “incorporated” rather than killed off the population, so Etruscan workmanship, style and even traditions can be found in the later structures of the area. One of the best preserved areas is the “House of the Mosaics” where, from the layout and the bit of decoration that remains, you can get a sense of the shape of a rich Roman house. There is also an impressive ampitheatre where events are held in the summertime. By Italian standards, the signage at this archaeological area, while aging, provides useful information. Read my article about Roselle on TuscanyArts.

Sovana-Sorano

vie cave

vie cave

Sovana, a visit best paired with the tufa town of Pitigliano, is famous for its vie cave, amazing Etruscan roads that were carved out of the relatively soft tufa stone. Walk though these narrow stone openings with walls that reach ten meters high and marvel at how they made this road without any mechanical tools! The permanent shadow makes this a good place for a summer walk, and also favours the growth of unusual types of lychens and ferns. Due to heavy rains in Maremma in 2012, some of the area is closed for restoration. (Read my article on the vie cave on TuscanyArts)

My family at the Hildebrand tomb

My family at the Hildebrand tomb

Through the park’s circuit there are also a number of Etruscan necropoli. The most famous is the very large Tomb of Hildebrand, named not for who was buried there but for an 11th-century pope (Gregory VII) who was from Sovana. It was discovered in 1924. Cut directly out of the tufa stone, the elaborate tomb facade denotes a large burial chamber. Hard to imagine now, it was fully painted in bright colours and had numerous decorative elements that were already lost when the tomb was raided in Ancient times.

Vulci

Roman road at Vulci

Roman road at Vulci

Over the border into Lazio, this large archaeological park boasts mostly Roman ruins. It’s greener than many other parks, making it particularly pleasant to look at, though not very shady. For a good history of this park – and a good argument for why you should visit – check out this article on the blog Minor Sights.

Vulci devil's bridge

Vulci devil’s bridge

We headed south to Vulci one day when I was looking at the Fiora river on a map and wanted to follow its path in person (there are a few interesting things to see along the way!). I had read that there was a “Devil’s bridge” here. It’s not the only bridge in Tuscany (or Lazio) to be attributed to the work of the Devil, since in the middle ages, when this bridge was probably built (in its first incarnation), it must have seemed like an impossible, magical feat. In fact it still does today, especially if you visit at sunset. The bridge is accessed by continuing inland by car after visiting the archaeological site.

Map of sites

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • http://www.mapitout-siena.com/ Tuscany – Map it out!

    Brava! exactly the kind of post I’ve been wanting to write for ages. The Roman city of Cosa near the Argentario peninsula is worth a mention too. Not as big as Roselle, but with an interesting small museum and great for a lovely walk/exploration before or after the beach since it’s so close to the sea.

    The devil’s bridge looks amazing! Never heard of it before.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi dear!
    I have been meaning to go to Cosa, too… but this way only mention the ones I’ve been to! I have been lazy about writing about them more in depth though.
    The devil’s bridge is closer to you than to me! I found it on google maps :) You know where I want to go? Santa Fiora. Have you been?
    Alexandra

  • http://www.mapitout-siena.com/ Tuscany – Map it out!

    Santa Fiora is lovely. I’m actually going to come through it tomorrow on my way to an instameet organized by igerstoscana. In case it should after all get hot in summer it might be nice day in the mountain when you’re in Sticciano in August. We won’t be here, but if you do it some other time you can stop by here since it’s kind of on the way.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    I will indeed go there if there’s a non-beach day this august (I’m only in Maremma for a week this time). Too bad i can’t come to the instameet, I would have liked that! But today is a beach day. Rare.

  • http://www.sovana.altervista.org Sovana Città del Tufo
  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    You’re very welcome!!