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"Rock on" in Tuscany: the region’s prehistoric heritage

History and sights spanning the Stone to Iron Age

It’s safe to say humans have had quite a long tenure in Tuscany. Many prehistoric finds have been unearthed throughout the region, with origins going back as far as the Paleolithic Age. Stone cutting tools have been unearthed in the Mugello, in the Siena area, around Monte Cetona, the Apuan Alps, near Livorno and in the Serchio Valley. From caves to stones to the contemporary museums that make sense of it all, here are some must-see prehistoric attractions to visit around Tuscany, all with “rock-solid” reviews!

Caves

The oldest evidence of human settlement in Tuscany dates to the Paleolithic Age. Curious contemporary explorers should explore the hamlet of Caprarecce, found within the Regional Park of the Maremma. At the base of the western slopes of Monti dell’Uccellina is the Grotta La Fabbrica, a cave containing traces of civilization spanning the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic periods. Here the sediments and deposits attest to a longstanding presence of humans, including hunting groups who left behind illuminating artifacts and tools.

La Fabbrica is not far from the only cave worth checking out in the area: a complete itinerary of Maremma caves, all deserving of more than just a “pit” stop (pun intended), can be found via the Geopaesaggi della Toscana project.

If your travels will take you to the Lucca and Versilia area, turn your sights toward the Grotta all’Onda in Casoli, part of Camaiore. It’s quite a sight to behold even before you go in: miniature waterfalls trickle down its exterior walls, creating a postcard-perfect effect.

Beyond aesthetic appeal, the cave has scientific and social significance. For the former, it still contains traces of the major sedimentological and paleoclimatic events starting from about 170,000 years ago; in terms of the latter, it housed Neanderthals who left behind both their flint hunting tools and the bony remains of their prey. Grotta all’Onda is accessible year-round from a low-intensity C.A.I. hiking trail.

Museums and parks

The previously cited Archaeological Museum of Camaiore , housed in the Palazzo Tori Massoni, is a must-stop for the “cavepeople-curious” and would-be prehistory scholars. It’s also family-friendly, with tactile exhibits designed to ignite your imagination. But much of the material housed within is surprisingly recent: while the early Etruscan-Ligurian and Roman finds will pull you in, the medieval and Renaissance relics may be what keep you there.

Belverde Archeodrome in Cetona
Belverde Archeodrome in Cetona - Credit: preistoriacetona.it

Meriting a substantial slice of time is the Monte Cetona Prehistory Museum and the Belverde Archaeological Nature Park, which together document the various eras of human settlement in the Sarteano area in the Siena province, from the Paleolithic period up to the Bronze Age. The nearby Belverde Archeodrome offers the reconstruction of a Bronze Age village and a Paleolithic cave dwelling, as well as an area simulating an archaeological dig, sure to delight the little ones.

Further afield in the Massa-Carrara province are two bucket-list attractions. The first is Pontremoli’s Statue Stele Museum in the Lunigiana region.

The “stele” are a particular type of personified prehistoric monument found in droves in this area of Tuscany, where they flourished for around 3,000 years. In the museum you’ll find around 80 statues covering various eras—from the third millennium BCE to the beginning of recorded history—all depicting men and women in a strikingly stylized manner.

Equi Terme Park
Equi Terme Park - Credit: Grotte di Equi Terme Fb page

Second is the Parco Culturale delle Grotte di Equi Terme, with open-air pathways winding along the banks of the Fagli torrent. Its “Tecchia”—a word taken from Tuscan dialect essentially signifying a “rock park”—is most famous for the presence of Paleolithic humans, which alternated with that of now-extinct animals. Particularly noteworthy here was the discovery of hundreds of cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) bones.

In the same vicinity is a large cavity known officially as the “Grotta”, and a sizeable square referred to as the “Riparo”.

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