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The Tree of Fertility

The famous medieval fresco in Massa Marittima

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Massa Marittima

In Massa Marittima, along the great wall of the Fonti dell’Abbondanza, you’ll find a very famous and unique medieval fresco: the Tree of Fertility. The work dates back to at least 1265 and depicts a tree with dozens of penises hanging from it, as if they were fruits. At the base of the tree, a crowd of women waits for them to fall, and two of them are clearly fighting over one in particular. 

The Tree of Fertility is a rare example of thirteenth century wall painting, and is mostly of interest due to its unusual, profane subject matter. It seems to be rooted in ancient fertility cults.

The tree stands out for its "synthetic naturalism": all its branches are adorned with the male members, and at the base of the tree, some women are calmly conversing, while two are conspicuously fighting, and another seems to dispel some menacing birds that seem ready to pounce on these unusual “fruits.” A great black eagle, shown with its wings spread, is also the symbol of the city of Pisa (the hometown of the chief magistrate at the time).

Fertility tree
Fertility tree - Credit: Tatiana Gorbutovich

It was the emblem of the emperor, which the city of Massa Marittima couldn’t overlook, since it had Ghibelline loyalties up until 1266. 

Massa Marittima
Nestled on a high and isolated hill, Massa Marittima’s beautiful historic city center is enclosed and protected by the well-preserved city walls, representing one of the most important urbanistic-architectural complexes in all of Tuscany. ...