Massa Marittima is an ancient medieval town located on the Metalliferous Hills, its wealth over the centuries is testified by the sumptuous artistic and architectural heritage that makes it an authentic jewel of the Tuscan Maremma.
The charm of Massa Marittima, an extraordinary testimony of medieval town planning, is revealed gradually. The medieval town is located in the heart of the Tuscan Maremma Grossetana, about 50 kilometers from the capital and 400 meters above sea level, on the Grossetane Metalliferous Hills.
From the Massetana road that goes around the hill and then along via Ximenes you arrive in front of the Fonte dell’Abbondanza, a construction that dates back to 1265. But that’s just the beginning. Another hundred meters – the car must be left in the municipal parking – and you are in front of one of the most suggestive squares in Italy. The cathedral (or duomo) of San Cerbone, the Bishop’s Palace, that of thePodestà and the municipal one are all close together, but they do not face each other due to a refined game of symmetries, according to some studied in detail because none of the powers were “subjected” to the other. And so, for a whim of history, the city of Massa Marittima, one of the first in medieval town planning, gathered all the powers of public life in a single square. Really remarkable.
The Terzieri of Massa Marittima
Massa Marittima was divided into three districts, called Terzieri. The peasants lived in the village and here were the artisan shops, kilns, workshops and stables. Going up the hill you met the Cittavecchia, with the cathedral, the palaces of the Municipality and of the Podestà and the houses of the nobles; further up there was Cittanova, where the poorest strata resided. Each of the three levels was representative of a different social class and heated rivalries existed between the inhabitants of the three Terzieri. The only thing that united them was their interest in the crossbow, an essential weapon for the defense of the city. The division of the districts of Massa Marittima still remains today: the boundaries of the Terzieri Massetani, in fact, are marked by colored tiles applied on the walls of the “border” houses.
The astonishing scenography of Piazza Garibaldi, in the center of Massa Marittima, arises from the harmonious arrangement of the volumes of the cathedral and the surrounding buildings.
The cathedral, in Romanesque-Gothic style, stands on a stepped podium: to increase the perspective effect of the facade, transversal to the square, the spaces between the columns on the left are a little wider than those on the right. Due to the anomalous position of the church, the gaze runs to the left side, which opens into a fan-shaped churchyard and closes with the Episcopal Palace, on which the bell tower stands austere. The Cathedral of Massa Marittima is dedicated to San Cerbone, who escaped from Africa in the sixth century due to the barbarian invasions and took refuge in Populonia where he founded a diocese, as illustrated in the facade architrave. Of great importance is the baptismal font (1326), the panel with the Madonna delle Grazie by Duccio da Buoninsegna and the Ark of San Cerbone, an exquisite masterpiece of Sienese art (1324). The non-aligned arrangement of the fourteenth century Palazzo Pretorio e del Podestà, whose façade is studded with noble coats of arms and which houses the Archaeological Museum, of the Palazzina dei Conti di Biserno and the adjoining building Palazzo Comunale– made up of three distinct buildings built at different times – contribute to the multiplication of singular views and glimpses.
The refined play of perspectives continues with Palazzo Malfatti and the town halls, located in front of the Town Hall, which close the square with the typical medieval bottleneck due to defensive purposes. Via Moncini climbs up to Porta alle Silici, between the Old Town and the New Town, where the geometrical planning due to the urban growth of Massa at the beginning of the 13th century begins. The monumental Fortezza dei Senesi (Cassero) dominates the scene, a work by Angiolo Ventura, the architect who designed the Torre del Mangia in Siena. A bold and majestic bridge connects it with the Torre del Candeliere and dell’Orologio, built at the beginning of the thirteenth century inside the fortress by the people of Massa and then cut off by about a third of the original height by the Sienese, after the conquest of Massa ( 1335). Today the tower can be visited and is an excellent vantage point to see the historic center from above and the surrounding hills to the sea. Taking via Diaz you arrive at the former Church of San Pietro dell’Orto, home to the new Diocesan Civic Museum of Sacred Art, intended to house the Majesty of Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a masterpiece of the Sienese master’s mature age, and other valuable works. One room will be dedicated to contemporary art with the works of the Angiolino Martini donation which include, among others, paintings by Mario Schifano, Renato Gattuso, Pietro Annigoni, Remo Squillantini and Franco Gentilini.
The Mine Museum and the Museum of Art and History of Mines
Although mining is no longer one of the main resources of Massa Marittima, a visit to theMining Museum, founded in 1980, is of great interest. They are seven hundred meters excavated on the surface (this is the only difference with real mines, which usually develop in depth) with three tunnels and six hundred work tools. Located in the immediate vicinity of the historic center of Massa Marittima, the museum occupies a series of galleries excavated during the Second World War as an anti-aircraft shelter for the population. The collaboration of the old miners in setting up the museum made it possible to reconstruct even the atmosphere of the mining environment: from the lumber yard to the canteen, from the descendery to the cast stoves. The different types of armament with which the tunnels were supported are also visible. A visit to the fifteenth-century Palazzetto delle Armi, seat of the Museum of Art and History of Mines, inaugurated in 1984, where you can find interesting cartographic and bibliographic documentation, as well as objects relating to the mining history of the area, completes the in-depth study on the mining activity.
The Origins of Massa Marittima
On a hill in the coastal Maremma, Massa Marittima originates from a castle of the Aldobrandeschi, the Castle of Monteregio (8th-9th century) located in the historic center, from the 11th century it was a bishopric. A free municipality in 1225 (when the two nuclei of Massa Vecchia, low, and Massa Nuova, high, planned in 1228, took shape), it was conquered by Siena (14th century) and by the Medici (16th century).
Resources on Massa Marittima
- Municipality of Massa Marittima – Services and information on Massa Marittima by the municipal administration.