Massa Marittima: a treasure of Maremma

There's much to visit in this unmissable Etruscan town

Massa Marittima is a hidden Tuscan jewel perched on a panoramic hill at just 50 kilometres NNE of Grosseto, in Southern Tuscany. The historical town centre has Etruscan origins and many signs of the past are still recognizable in the perfectly preserved city walls, in the narrow streets and in important urban and architectural complexes. The town’s main characteristic is that it is extremely different to the others in the Maremma area of Tuscany. It has more resemblances to the towns in Northern Tuscany. So Massa Marittima is unique in Maremma, and visiting it provides something different to the rest of this area. The history of this place is strictly linked to mining, because here there are mineral ores as well as iron, mercury, lignite and copper mines.

All the most beautiful buildings were built during the golden age of Massa Marittima, i.e. 1225, when all the surrounding cities went under the rule of Pisa, Siena and Florence, but Massa Marittima maintained its independence. All the main buildings in the centre stand in one piazza, the central square with the Cathedral, the Palazzo Pretorio, the town hall, the marketplace and, very close by, the mint and the public fountain. Practically all of the buildings needed for the public life of a 13th-century city are found here.

Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius and Piazza Garibaldi
Cathedral of Saint Cerbonius and Piazza Garibaldi

Sights in Massa Marittima

The Cathedral or Duomo of Saint Cerbonius: this superb 13th-century cathedral is in Romanesque Pisan style in the lower part, while the large arch is a later Sienese addition. It follows the Latin cross plan and is situated in the main Piazza Garibaldi, the heart of the medieval town. The beautiful marble facade was built over the centuries from about 1225; the tower next to the church was rebuilt in the 1900s. The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Cerbonius and the central portal features lion sculptures and five panels with stories of the saint. There are precious pieces of art inside: from the Romanesque font to the rose window, from a Gothic reliquary to a beautiful and famous painting, The Madonna and Child, attributed to Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Details of the Cathedral
Details of the Cathedral

Piazza Garibaldi: if you visit Massa Marittima, you’ll definitely pass through here. Piazza Garibaldi forms the heart of the town. It’s where all the powers were situated, both civil and religious. Here you can also find restaurants, cafes and shops. There’s also the Duomo as well as the Palazzo del Podestà and the Palazzo Pretorio, which is home to the Archaeological Museum and is adorned with the coat of arms of the city’s former noble families, the Palazzo dei Conti di Biserno dating to the thirteenth century, the Palazzo Comunale and the Logge del Comune.

The Archaeological Museum: located in the Palazzo del Podestà, the archaeological museum of Massa Marittima showcases exhibits found in the Accesa Etruscan territory (6th century) and included the excavation of houses and tombs.

Duomo and Palazzo del Podestà
Duomo and Palazzo del Podestà

The Mining Museum: it is housed in the middle of the galleries carved around 700 m deep into the travertine on the hill above the historical centre of the town. These tunnels were used during the Second World War as a refuge, but they have actually existed since the Middle Ages and the stone was used for building work. Former miners set up the museum to recreate their working environment and to display the working methods. A guide shows you around, and by using the joint mining museum ticket you can visit the Museo di Arte e Storia delle Miniere mining art and history museum in Massa Marittima.

The Fonti dell’Abbondanza: you simply must see this sight in Massa Marittima located on Via Ximenes to the left of the Cathedral. The building, which is the original site of the city’s water supply built in 1265, is famous for its fresco of a painted tree with male genitals in the place of leaves. The fresco is called the Albero della Fecondità (tree of fertility) and you can easily understand why! There is also a group of women who are apparently collecting the falling genitals!

The Cassero Senese (Sienese Fortress): it was built in the 13th–14th centuries. The Cassero, as well as the Torre del Candeliere, is a sign of the Sienese expansion of the city’s borders beyond the medieval fort built by the Pisans.

The Torre del Candeliere (Chandelier Tower): It was built in 1228 and it is also called the clock tower. Today, both the tower and the fortress are open to visitors.

Torre del Candeliere
Torre del Candeliere

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Photo Credit: Serena Puosi 

Cover image credit: Paolo Trabattoni

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