Senese Fortress and Town Walls - Massa Marittima

How to reach

The city of Massa Marittima rises on a hill 380 meters high in the heart of 'Colline Metallifere' (Metalliferous Hills), hills of the Alta Maremma. It can easily be reached from Siena following SS73 up to the crossing point of of the 'Madonnino', then SS441 up to the junction with SS439 that, following the direction to Follonica, leads just under the walls of the 'old town'.


Massa Marittima, that despite the name is more than twenty kilometers far from the sea, is considered one of the medieval jewels of Tuscany. Its origins are wounded by mystery, traces of an human settlement of the Bronze Age has been found in its outskirts. In the Etruscan period the zone was known for the wealth of its mines, probably the city was the 'Massa Veternense' of Roman Age.


After this periods the settlement remained at the borders of the history at least until the 9th century, when it became center of the Episcopalian power, thanks to the transfer of the Bishop's Main Seat from Populonia. The Bishop preferred to leave the coast, became marshy and object of continuous raids of the Greek and Saracens pirates, to retire the court in the heart of the 'Colline Metallifere'. It seems that first wasn't selected Massa Marittima as seat, in fact are of 1016 the first traces of the existence on site of a church and of the beginning of the 12th century those of the constitution of an Episcopal center.


In the 1225 Massa becomes a free city-state (Comune autonomo), detaching definitely from the Episcopalian control, and from this time begun a period of great prosperity, thanks to the growth of the mineral trade (iron, copper, lead, silver) of which the zone was rich, so much that the name of the town was changed in 'Massa Metallorum'. In this era were build the great monuments as the Romanic-Gothic Cathedral of San Cerbone (initiated perhaps already in the 12th century), the Praetorian Palace and the Public Palace (1230), the Public Fountain (1265), all inside the town walls of the lower old town, still today endowed by two gates (called Salnitro and S.Bernardino).


Afterward was launched a grandiose plain of transformation of the upper city, call subsequently 'New Town', and here was written the 'Codice Minerario', one of the most important juridical medieval documents of Italy and perhaps the most ancient example of job-legislation, with the purpose to control all the extractive, mining and entrepreneurial activities. In the first years of 1300 the city counted between 10.000 and 20.000 inhabitants.


The prosperity, together with the strategic position, attracted on Massa the aims of Pisa, Siena and Florence, in whose disputes the town was involved up to 1337, when it fell under the Senese domination. Siena immediately planned, thanks to the imposition of strong taxes, the reconstruction and the enlargement of the fortifications:  a second walls circuit was erected all around the 'New Town' and, between the 'two towns', the Fortress.


This acted in practice as 'bearing' between the old and new town, dominating both, englobing the ancient fortress and Episcopalian residence of Monteregio (of which don't remain traces) and the primitive Keep, the 'Candeliere tower', today reduced of a third part of its original height, joined to the walls from a bridge with rampant arc. In this point, to the vertex of the Moncini street that join the two town parts, rises the magnificent Gate 'Alle Silici', with a double breteche (a small projection beyond the wall that covers the entrance below), perhaps the most beautiful and still intact medieval town gate of Tuscany. The form of the Senese fortress  is like a 'butterfly', in fact the two wall curtains are separated by only 15 meters at north, in correspondence of the aforesaid gate, and by 42 at south, where they englobed the Episcopalian fortress. These defensive system was studied with the purpose to  guarantee safety and external contacts in the case that both the parts of the city fallen in hostile hands. The town walls have the same characteristics of the fortress, endowed with machicolations (opening between the corbels of the parapet through which the defenders can drop rocks or fire projectiles against an enemy directly below them) in stone, alternated by square towers. Today are still intact the S.Francesco gate and the whole eastern side of the enclosure while a big part of the  western side was demolished between the 18th and 19th century.


The Black Plague in 1348 and the loss of the autonomy caused the decline of Massa, so much that in 1408 the population was reduced to 400 persons. In 1555, defeated the Senesis from Charles the 5th army, allied with that Florentine, the city was annexed to the Granduchy of Tuscany. However, it was only thanks to the reclamation of the 18th century, made by the Lorena, that the zone reborned with the development of the agriculture and of the extractive activities. The city has been rediscovered, especially in the last century, from historical, researchers and artists that have contributed to bring its patrimony to the ancient shine, thanks to great works restorations. Today the historic center of Massa Marittima is a forced destination for all the lovers of the Middle Age.