Tuscany never ceases to leave us speechless with its varied landscapes. One of the lesser-known ones is the so-called Devil’s Valley in Larderello, near Pomarance, in southern Tuscany. It is a geologically active area renowned for its geothermal productivity and known since ancient times for its volcanic nature and phenomenal hot springs.
It is called Devil’s Valley for the boiling water that rises there, already known at the time of Dante Alighieri who was inspired by these landscapes for his "Hell" in the Divine Comedy. The village of Larderello, instead, is named after François Jacques Larderel, a industrialist from Livorno of French origin that, around 1827, perfected the boric acid extraction from the sludge of so-called "lagoni" (big lakes).
The area was already known by the Romans, who used its sulphur springs for bathing, then used it to extract boric acid during the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1904, a pioneering experiment in geothermal energy production was carried out here and, in 1911, the world's first geothermal power plant was built in the Devil's Valley, characterized by white steam coming from the soil, boiling waters and a landscape that resembles the surface of the moon. The fumaroles (“soffioni boraciferi”) are violent emissions of water vapour at high pressure and temperature, which escapes from fissures in the ground or artificial perforations. These emissions are made of gases and vapours released inside the magma chamber (water vapour, boric acid and ammonia) that can reach 230°C and a pressure of 20 atmospheres.
Larderello Geothermal Museum
Larderello was the first ever experiment of harnessing geothermal energy to produce electricity. Today, people can visit the Larderello Geothermal Museum, founded by Larderello Spa (the company in charge of the plant) in the late 1950s and situated in front of the Villa De Larderel. The museum aims to document the relationship between the geothermal energy sources of the area and the daily life of its inhabitants and includes the history of geothermal energy, from research to drilling, to the various systems for using geothermal fluid for the generation of electricity, thermal power and mechanical power. Original models and equipment also depict the history of drilling.
The hilltop medieval village of Pomarance is situated between Volterra and Massa Marittima, in the centre of the Val di Cecina. Pomarance has been transformed from a medieval village into a modern little town thanks to the harnessing of geothermic activity. Pomarance is worth a visit. Among the attractions there is the Rocca Sillana fortification dating back to the twelfth century and set on a hill to dominate the surrounding area. The building was later annexed to the church of San Bartolomeo. Another important church is that of St. John the Baptist built on an Etruscan necropolis; the three-nave interior is decorated with works of the nineteenth century. The main religious architecture of the town, however, is the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the second half of the last century. Those who are interested in folklore shouldn’t miss the “Palio delle Contrade,” which takes place once a year on the second Sunday of September.