Monte Argentario is a really unique place in southern Tuscany. Part of this uniqueness lies in the three strips of land which connect Monte Argentario to the coast of Maremma, forming two lagoons. Today we’re going to know more about its two main centres: Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole. Have you ever been there?
Porto Santo Stefano is the largest seaport town of Monte Argentario and is located on the northwester promontory. In Porto Santo Stefano you can find a picturesque bay with an old port, a lively marina with yachts, restaurants and shops and colourful houses perched on the promontory. Because of its good geographical location, it has been inhabited since ancient times and the Romans left significant traces of their presence, including the remains of the baths of Domitian. Under the domination of Siena the place was often attacked by pirates, so many coastal towers where built. After various dominations (French, Spaniards, Austrians, Bourbons) it went under the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. During the Second World War, Porto Santo Stefano was the scene of violent bombardments, resulting in the loss of many civilians. The Spanish Fort, a military structure that was built by the Spanish between the end of the 16th and the start of the 17th century, overlooks the historical centre of the town and was completely restored in the second half of the last century. Today it hosts the Museum of Axe Masters and other displays that include local archaeological artefacts.
Within the other things to see, visit Forte del Pozzarello, a coastal fortification built between 1874 and 1888; the Lividonia lighthouse; the towers of Lividonia and Calvello. You can also visit the Argentario Aquarium called Acquario mediterraneo della Costa d'Argento, on the waterfront. Porto Santo Stefano is the departure point for the ferries to Giglio Island and Giannutri Island and most private cruises leave from here too. You can buy your tickets in the office next to the harbour. Since 1937, excluding the years of the wars, every year, on August 15, takes place the Palio Marinaro dell’Argentario, a rowing competition between the four districts of the town.
The second biggest centre of Monte Argentario is Porto Ercole, located on the eastern side of the promontory. The old, charming town is on a hill above a bay with a natural harbour and trees and rocks cover the surrounding countryside. The water is clear and there are many caves. The story of Porto Ercole begins with the Etruscans, as proved by the numerous artefacts found in nearby areas. Later, the small Etruscan town was conquered by the Romans and turned into a port. The tower named Torre di Terra forms the oldest core of the town and dates back to 1296. Within the most important facts of Porto Ercole there is the exile of the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio, who died here in 1610.
Before reaching the town there are two forts that were part of the defence system of the promontory and a tower: the sixteenth-century Forte Filippo, the Tower of Mulinaccio and the eighteenth-century Forte Santa Caterina. Other two well preserved forts are Forte Stella, built by the Spanish in the shape of star; and the Rocca Aldobrandesca. You can also visit the Chiesa di Sant'Erasmo (the patron saint of sailors) and the Palazzo dei Governanti in Santa Barbara square with its elegant and intricate façade. As well as Porto Santo Stefano, Porto Ercole has its own rowing competition between the four districts of the town (Forte Filippo, la Rocca, Forte Santa Caterina, Forte Stella) and it’s held in June.
Cover image credit: TPT