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Photo ©Shutterstock.com / Evgeny Rivkin

Piombino to Pisa by car

Discover Etruscan history along the way


Populonia is the only Etruscan city directly on the sea. The city has been inhabited since the Villanovan period by scattered households, distinguishing themselves by boasting a privileged relationship with the Sardinian market. During the period of Near Eastern acculturation, aristocrats at the helm of the political life in the settlement led an opulent life. This social class was particularly wealthy thanks to its control over the nearby iron mines and the Isola d’Elba, the exploitation of which soon became systematic.

Taking the road that runs along the gulf, before arriving in Baratti, you’ll come to the Populonia Archeological Park. Today, Baratti is a pleasant tourist destination with a small port, but in the Etruscan and Roman eras it was a very important centre for trade and iron production from Elba. Indeed, the town processed so much haematite that a proper industrial district was created and the amount of slag ended up covering most of the ancient necropolis! In some places, there’s even a layer as much as 20 metres thick.

At the park, you can visit the San Cerbone necropolis, the Necropolis of the Caves and Populonia’s acropolis. The Visitors’ Centre narrates the history of the region through explanatory panels and media projections. There are also educational activities at the Centre of Experimental Archaeology, located at the centre of the park.

- Credit: Shutterstock.com / robertonencini

Once you’ve finished your visit to the archaeological area, head on to Piombino to visit the Archeological Museum, which conserves the most important findings from the territory.

The historical building housing the museum was first the residence of the Appiani family and later owned by Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister. The museum contains archaeological findings covering a period ranging from Prehistory to the Roman era. There are particularly important pieces, like the numerous and rich funerary tombs from Populonia, and some extraordinarily beautiful Roman artefacts, including a silver amphora from Barrati dating to the 4th century CE, with medallions depicting pagan myths and a fish mosaic.

- Credit: Nuccio71

Once you’ve left Piombino behind, go back to Pisa, travelling down via Aurelia. After 50 km, make a stop in Cecina, on the coast, offering long stretches of dunes covered with dense vegetation that go from the beach to further inland. But Cecina is also an ancient area, with some local discoveries being traced back to the Neolithic period. This area was also inhabited during the Etruscan era and gets its name from the Etruscan Consul Albino Cecina. Here, you can visit the Cecina Archeological Museum, housed in the 18th-century Villa Guerrazzi, which retraces the history of the Val di Cecina through interesting artefacts found that were used in settlements, necropolises and artisan activities in Volterra, Casale Marittimo, Vada, Bibbona and Montescudaio. 

Rosignano Marittimo
Castle of Rosignano Marittimo
Castle of Rosignano Marittimo - Credit: Etienne

Not far from Cecina is the Archeological Museum in Rosignano Marittimo. Housed in Palzzo Bombardieri, it conserves pieces found in the Etruscan necropolises in Castiglioncello and Vada, architecturally interesting pieces and furniture from luxury homes along the coast and further inland.

The Etruscan Prince Tumulus
The Etruscan Prince Tumulus - Credit: Alecobbe / Wikipedia

Pisa was a river port: located where the Serchio River merges with the Arno, near the mouth of the latter, it’s been inhabited since the Villanovan period. It was the centre of Etruscan wine exports to the Spanish and French coasts and it thrived even in the first Hellenistic age, growing immensely in the 4th century BCE. Romanization here took place fairly early on: it was already under the Roman sphere of influence by the 3rd century BCE. The city’s ancient harbour, used in the Etruscan and Roman periods, was discovered recently in the town of San Rossore, near Pisa. 

The Etruscan Prince Tumulus is located between via San Jacopo and via Pietrasantina, and can be dated to between the 8th and the 7th century BCE. The tomb has a diameter of about 30 meters and is 4 meters deep. The tumulus is not a real tomb but rather a cenotaph, built to commemorate a person buried in another place, celebrated with a "funus immaginarium" ceremony. The bonfire area has been identified in a section of the tumulus, and inside were the remains of a metal product shaped like a human, which took the place of the deceased.