Between festivals and traditions
The first fortnight of August is usually very busy in Italy, ending with Ferragosto on the 15th. Whatever the city or the place you visit there is always a lot of entertainment and animation. Massa Marittima does not escape the norm. By day, the small town is quite peaceful. We are far from the touristic towns and villages, which allows us to enjoy the place even more. In this sense, Massa Maritimma lives for and by its inhabitants. Evenings are crowded by locals that come together for some good moments. Besides, Massa Maritimma hosts a yearly lirical festival called "Lirica in Piazza". We got some tickets for L'Elisire d'Amore on Piazza Garibaldi, an opera by Gaetano Donizetti. This was a pure great moment to live, though it was during an abnormally chilly evening.
Lirica in Piazza: L'Elisire d'Amore
Another night, the children were honored with many old traditional games they could play and have fun with. For the older ones, we had a good laugh while watching the giant soccer games. Unfortunately we missed the Balestro del Girifalco, a historical re-enactment of a crossbow tournament held on the evening of August 14th, which must surely be worth a visit.
What do you need to see in Massa Marittima?
Stop first at the Piazza Garibaldi at the foot of the Duomo. You'll get immersed into another era. Take some time or get a refreshment in one of the cafe's under the arcades to enjoy the view and people, then visit the cathedral. There is on the same square also an archaeological museum holding a beautiful collection of Etruscan objects.
Piazza Garibaldi and the Duomo
Go up the old village taking Via Moncini to the fortress dei Senesi and climb up the tower dating from 1228 for beautiful views of the city and its surroundings. Further away, at the end of Corso Diaz you'll get into the new city. Take some time to visit the San Pietro all'Orto complex to learn more about the history of Massa Marittima. Unless you are staying there, you can visit most of Massa Marittima in a few hours and you will probably not regret having stopped here.
Elba Island in view
By clear weather you can clearly distinguish the island of Elba in the Tyrrhenian Sea from the heights of Massa Marittima. We did not go there but it may be a good idea for a daytrip. Ferries to Elba leave from Piombino.
Mountain tops of Elba
On the sea side, the coast and the nearest beaches are not extraordinary and I suggest you avoid Follonica, a seaside resort with no visible charm. We preferred to visit the Etruscan tombs of Populonia and learn the history of the iron ore trade in Roman times which was formerly transported from Elba to the Italian coast and then transported to Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Go early in the day if you want to see all the sights and avoid the heat in the summer. We ended our visit by enjoying a swim in the Gulf of Baratti, a few walking steps from the large car park.
Etruscan tomb and view of the gulf of Baratti
Another beach that is worth a visit is Cala Violina, south of Follonica in the direction of Punta Ala. This beach of fine white sand apparently has the peculiarity of playing violin sounds when you walk on it. We did not notice anything special, probably because of the crowd. Acces to this beach is not easy. First count half an hour walk but more importantly make sure to arrive very early in summer time at the car park (in the fields, paying). We arrived at 08:30 and had one of the very last places to park, after queing for a very long time.
Turquoise waters at Cala Violina
A few kilometers further south stop by the small hilltop village of Castiglione della Pescaia. It deserves a short visit. Leave the shore road to get to the old village, walk through the old streets and enjoy beautiful views of the mediterranean and the islands of Elba and Giglio.
Panorama of Castiglione della Pescaia
The countryside nearby Massa Maritimma
There are so many places to visit in Tuscany that it is difficult to cover all the places. I will talk about Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra in other articles, but each of these destinations are easily reachable from Massa Marittima for a day trip. Closer, on the road that leads to Siena, we visited the ruins of the ancient Abbey of San Galgano and the chapel of Montesiepi.
Montesiepi Chapel seen from San Galgano Abbey
We only saw a few Italian tourists in this place. The ruins of the ancient Abbey are impressive and still quite well preserved. The small chapel is a little further up the hill, about ten minutes' walk away. The vault of the rotunda reminds of the Etruscan tombs of Populonia. It also holds the sword of Saint Galgano that is buried in a rock similar to the legend of King Arthur. The local legend tells that "Galgano Guidotti was a knight, one day when he went to join his old fiancée at his mother's request, he fell from a horse, he had a vision of an archangel, the archangel Saint Michel, who told him The knight said that it would be as difficult for him to detach himself from material things as to separate a rock in two, and to prove it, the knight struck a rock with his sword, and instead of breaking, sank into the rock very easily, and Galgano became a Hermit from that moment and isolated himself until his death by his sword ... ".
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