The Lorraine were the first to tackle the environmental problem of the area with commitment and determination and began the total reclamation that allowed the Tuscan Maremma to recover definitively after centuries of neglect and decay.
The Jesuit Father Leonardo Ximènes – The “mind” of the Maremma Reclamation
Only with the Lorraine was the problem of reclamation in Maremma tackled as a general problem with great use of both intellectual, financial and physical energies. Pietro Leopoldo was the first who made a radical change by abolishing part of the feudal rights that limited agricultural development. It also eliminated duties and taxes that affected the grain trade and civic customs that hindered private enterprise, distributed grand-ducal properties to direct farmers, and introduced new and more profitable crops and selected breeds of cattle. In 1766 Pietro Leopoldo claimed the autonomy of the lower Sienese province to the advantage of the central administration of the state “to give possible help to the agriculture of the Maremme where there are unhappy populations”. With him, the problem of Maremma reclamation became, first of all, a problem of the state, because individuals or private companies would never have had the strength or perseverance over time to free the Maremma from the malarial plague. With this program, under the direction of the Jesuit father Leonardo Ximènes (1716-1786), he began a series of grandiose reclamation and canalization works, starting from the plain surrounding Grosseto. From the Fucecchio marshes to the Bientina lake, the Pisa plain, the Rimigliano lake, the Piombino and Scarlino marshes, the Castiglione della Pescaia and the lagoon of Orbetello began the embankment of rivers, the delimitation of ponds and marshes, the excavation of canals for the outflow and diversion of water and the construction of cataracts to regulate the drainage of the marshy areas. In 1815, under the guidance of the engineer and mathematician Vittorio Fossombroni (1754-1844), the reclamation was resumed with the new “filled” method, a particular procedure which consisted in pouring the turbid waters of rivers into well-defined marsh areas; special channels then proceeded to dispose of the clarified water.
The Reclamation of 1828
Bust of Leopold II of Lorraine – Grand Duke of Tuscany
A new impulse and new technical advances in hydraulic concepts, under Leopold II, animated the reclamation (at the expense of the Ganducato) of 1828. The works began the following year, with 5000 workers and the direction of the hydraulic engineer Alessandro Manetti (1787-1863), in just one hundred and sixty days the first diversion canal, fourteen meters wide, was built which, deriving the turbid waters of the Ombrone , north of Grosseto, it flowed into the swamp to be filled, after a journey of seven kilometers. Once the swamps were filled, Leopoldo II also provided for a new road network. The artery of the Via Aurelia from Cecina to Chiarone was then traced with regular branches to the Maremma hills and mountains. The repopulation plan of the area was also implemented: all the convicts of the other Italian states, as long as they had not committed serious crimes, could freely take refuge in this area. The most evident consequence of this concession, however, was the birth and proliferation of Brigandage, seen by many locals as a phenomenon of rebellion and freedom. The spirit and commitment that guided the Grand Duke Leopold II gave rise to imitators and emulators, and the Counts of Gherardesca also set an example by providing for land splitting, sharecropping, agricultural innovations and breeding.
The unification of Italy and the reclamation of the Maremma
The centuries-old struggle for the reclamation of the Tuscan Maremma ended in the sign of united Italy in 1861. The previous commitment and efforts had a limit in the regional dimension that obligatorily informed the interventions of the previous administrations. On the other hand, a general and integrated concept could emerge from the new state. The Maremma reclamation could live at the center of political thought as a typical critical work of civilization. In this sense, in 1890 the Maremma reclamation was defined as being of public utility and it was reasoned and operated in terms of integral reclamation, alongside the two terms of hydraulic and sanitary reclamation also the agricultural one, to achieve an organic, unitary and long-lasting result. The complete reclamation started by the Lorraine was completed in the course of the twentieth century by theEnte Maremma (created in 1951 by Presidential Decree) and by the agrarian reform of the post-war century: the large estates were dismembered and expropriated, then hundreds of farms were born (many still visible today) given in ownership to the peasants and lands to be cultivated were assigned to those who did not never had anything. Thus was born an intensive and mechanized agriculture, supported by hundreds of small businesses of direct farmers.
The Reclamation and the Rebirth of the Maremma
Thanks to the reclamation (and to the continuous maintenance during the 1900s of what was tenaciously done by the Lorraine), the dream of centuries of men and peoples who inhabited and lived (painfully) the Tuscan Maremma has been realized. The cleared and channeled waters, the filled marshes, the dried up ponds, the destroyed “malarial” Anopheles mosquitoes, give way to the cultivated fields, the plowed plains, the farms and the restored villages. The Maremma from a frontier land has been transformed into that rich agricultural area that we can all appreciate today.