Massa Marittima, a medieval jewel
Massa Marittima is a town in the province of Grosseto located in the southern area of the Metalliferous Hills, an area that was inhabited since prehistoric times as documented by numerous archaeological finds. The city has a long history behind it which has left it with a great historical, artistic and cultural heritage.
The history of Massa Marittima
A first mention of the settlement, which is assumed to be of Etruscan origin, could (the conditional is a must) come from the Res Gestae of Ammiano Marcellino (4th century AD), in which Massa Veternensis is mentioned. A few centuries later, towards the end of the 10th century, Massa appears in a list of castles that were ceded by the Marquis Lamberto and then bought back by his wife a few years later.
The most important period of the city began in the 9th century when it became a bishopric. From there until the XIV century the city reached its maximum splendor also and above all thanks to the numerous mineral riches of the area. Between 1225 and 1337 Massa was a free municipality but then entered permanently in the orbit of Siena ending up losing this status. This was the beginning of a much less fortunate period, marked by the impoverishment of the countryside and by some plagues (such as the black plague of 1348), which brought Massa towards decay.
Even the Medici era was stingy with satisfactions for Massa and only with the Lorraines (XVIII century) and with the start of the reclamation in Maremma, the living conditions began to improve. Massa continued to be a mining center until 1994 when the last mine was closed. Today Massa Marittima is a city that live most of all by tourism, thanks to its monuments, its culture and also its proximity to the sea.
Things to do in Massa Marittima, guide to visit the main points of interest
The historic centre of Massa Marittima is composed by two parts: Massa Vecchia (Old Massa) and Massa Nuova (New Massa). In the Middle, between the old and the new town, stands the fortezza senese.
- Palazzo and Fonti dell’Abbondanza
- Piazza Garibaldi
- Cathedral of Massa Marittima
- Museo Archeologico
- Torre del Candeliere e Cassero Senese
- Museo di Arte e Storia delle Miniere
- Complesso Museale di San Pietro all’Orto
- Museo di Arte Sacra di Massa Marittima
- Centro espositivo di arte contemporanea
- Museo degli organi Santa Cecilia
- Museo della Miniera
- Antica Falegnameria
Massa Vecchia, the lower part of the town, in the past was the center of the civil and religious power. Here are several monuments to visit including the main point of interest in the city: the Cathedral of Massa Marittima.
Palazzo and Fonti dell’Abbondanza
Our visit starts from via Ximenes which overlooks the Palazzo dell’Abbondanza (1265), a building with three large pointed arches that served the dual function of a fountain (the so-called “Fonti dell’Abbondanza“) and warehouse. On the ground floor there are in fact three basins that once contained water, while on the upper floor there are the rooms where cereals were stored.
The palace catches the attention because of a curious fresco that is located near the left basin which represents a Tree of Fecundity (or Tree of Abundance). It is a very particular tree that has penises like fruits. In the fresco you can also see women intent on picking the fruits hanging from the branches of the tree as well as crows and a large eagle in a heraldic position. The fresco lends itself to numerous interpretations: the most probable is that it is a symbol of fertility, a wish for a rich harvest, however there are also those who have seen a political manifesto in it (as always the history of Guelphs and Ghibellines would have to do with it), and those who instead see esoteric implications, the fresco in this case would depict witches intent on their rituals.
Continuing on the road, the Palazzo Vescovile flanks up to Piazza Garibaldi. This is the heart of the ancient settlement of Massa; here are the centers of spiritual and temporal power. The square has an irregular shape further accentuated by the position of the Duomo which is placed diagonally with respect to the space in front. With its monumental buildings willing to create a breathtaking setting, the square is a masterpiece of medieval urban planning, one of the most beautiful in all of Tuscany.
Cathedral of Massa Marittima
The Cathedral of San Cerbone, built from the second half of the twelfth century, is the main religious building of this area and also the most important monument of the Massa Marittima. This is one of the most important romanesque-gothic building in Tuscany.
The cathedral stands at the top of a steep stairway in the south side of piazza Garibaldi. The wonderful facade is characterized in the lower order with a series of blind arches that continue even on the sides of the building. Above the portal, five more arches on columns stands before the rose window. A last series of arches is in the tympanum.At the base of some columns there are sculptures representing the symbols of the evangelists and other subjects both human and animals. Also the architrave of the portal with the episodes from the life of San Cerbone is remarkable. The bell tower stands on the left. Partially rebuilt in 20th century, it has five series of arches on every sides.
The interior has three naves divided by arches on columns with corinthian capitals. Among the many works preserved inside the Cathedral we recommend to focus on the baptismal font (1267) made by Giroldo da Como; the Ark of San Cerbone (1324), a marble urn made by Goro di Gregorio located behind the main altar; and, inside the Chapel of the Madonna, the Madonna delle Grazie (1316) attributed to the workshop of Duccio da Buonsinsegna and maybe performed by Duccio in person.
In front of the facade of the cathedral stands the Palazzo del Podestà or Palazzo Pretorio. Built between 1225 and 1235, Palazzo Pretorio today houses the Museo Archeologico of Massa Marittima.
The museum documents the history of Massa Marittima and its territory from prehistory to the Etruscan era according to a strict chronological criterion. The first rooms are dedicated to the Paleolithic with a collection of stone tools found in the various sites in the area; then we move on to the Neolithic and Eneolithic rooms where we find the symbol of the museum, the stele of Vado all’Arancio, and finally to the Etruscan section with the numerous finds from the excavations of Lago dell’Accesa.
For all information on the opening hours and tickets of the archaeological museum of Massa Marittima, I refer you to the website of the Musei di Maremma.
On the right of the Palazzo Pretorio, in via Todini, stands the Palazzina della Zecca where you can find the Tourist Office. Heading back to Piazza Garibaldi, walking clockwise direction we find Casa dei Conti di Biserno and the Palazzo Comunale (city hall), result of the merger of 13th-14th century tower houses. Right in front of the town hall, you can see Palazzo Malfatti, former Palazzo Pannocchieschi (13th century). To the left of the building starts the street connecting the old and New Mass Mass: via Moncini.
Via Moncini leads to Porta alle Silici (14th century) that connect the massetane walls of the 12th century and the sienese one (14th century). Passing through Porta alle Silici, you’ll reach piazza Matteotti in Massa Nuova.
Torre del Candeliere and Cassero Senese
In Piazza Matteotti we find some military works such as the Torre del Candeliere which is joined to the Cassero Senese through a large arch. The Fortress of Siena was built after 1335 when the Republic of Massa became a vassal of Siena. Partially destroyed first in the eighteenth century and then in the nineteenth, the structure has been restored in recent years.
Born as a watchtower in 1228, the Torre del Candeliere (or clock tower) is characterized by a scarp base and a travertine coating. On the top there is a small bell tower. From the tower and from the cassero you can enjoy a beautiful panorama over the city and the surrounding area.
Museo di Arte e Storia delle Miniere
On the left of Piazza Matteotti is the Palazzo delle Armi (15th century) which houses the Museo di Arte e Storia delle Miniere which documents the mining activity from the Etruscan era until recent times. Inside the museum are exhibited the tools used by miners such as helmets, lamps and equipment that allowed to measure and trace the tunnels and also the extracted minerals and some models. This is a museum for educational purposes and in fact provides various activities in this sense and guided tours that illustrate the history and life of the mines of Massa Marittima.
A short distance on the homonymous road is Porta San Francesco which is part of the defensive walls of Massa Marittima which in this stretch have been well preserved. Just beyond the city gate you reach the Romanesque-Gothic church dedicated to San Francesco (XIII century).
Complesso Museale di San Pietro all’Orto
From piazza Matteotti we take Corso Diaz until the church of Sant’Agostino. Built in the beginning of 14th century in gothic style, the church has a travertine sober facade opened by a big portal and a rose window.
On the left of the church, stands the convent of San Pietro all’Orto. Inside the ecclesiastical complex are hosted some interesting museums: the Museo di Arte Sacra, the Centro Espositivo di Arte Contemporanea Collezione “Martini” and the Museo degli Organi Santa Cecilia.
Museo di Arte Sacra
The Museo di Arte Sacrat is the result of the joint effort of the Municipality of Massa Marittima and the Diocese of Massa Marittima-Piombino. The museum displays works from the Cathedral of Massa Marittima and from other churches in the city, mainly referring to the XIV-XV centuries, which marked the most important historical-artistic period of the city. Among the works we can mention a wooden Crucifix and three sculptures by Giovanni Pisano, another Crucifix by Pietro Lorenzetti and the wonderful Majesty of Ambrogio Lorenzetti. In the end, the Museum of Sacred Art leads to the Centro espositivo di arte contemporanea.
Centro espositivo di arte contemporanea
The Centro espositivo di arte contemporanea “Angiolino Martini” gathers around 750 works of art from the twentieth century from the Angiolino Martini collection. In reality the spaces do not allow to show all these works at the same time, so it was decided to make a rotation in order to create always different exhibitions and to give space to all the works in the collection.
Museo degli organi Santa Cecilia
Founded in 2002, the Museo degli organi Santa Cecilia collects numerous musical instruments from various eras starting in the 1600s. Among the exhibits there are numerous mechanical organs, some harpsichords and fortepianos that document the evolution of the piano over time. A unique museum of its kind where you can admire unique pieces of fine workmanship.
For timetables and tickets I recommend you visit the museum’s website.
Museo della Miniera
Located just outside the lower town, in via Corridoni, the Museo della Miniera was created inside an ancient quarry which was reused as a refuge during the Second World War. Inside, the galleries have been set up in order to realistically reconstruct the mine’s working environment. If you want to get an idea of how mining worked, this is definitely the right place.
The Antica Falegnameria is part of that group of museums in Massa Marittima aimed at the enhancement of ancient crafts. Located in vicolo Massaini, just behind the Town Hall, the Antica Falegnameria is a museum that documents the carpenter’s profession.
Balestro del Grifalco
The Balestro del Grifalco is the most important traditional event in Massa Marittima. The event, which has its roots in the medieval history of the city, takes place twice a year, on the fourth Sunday of May and on the 14th of August, in the magnificent setting of Piazza Garibaldi. The Balestro del Grifalco is a skill competition with a crossbow in which the crossbowmen representing the three districts of the city participate (Cittanuova, Cittavecchia and Borgo). Before the competition you can admire the parade of Massa Marittima, with over 150 appearing in period clothes, and the show offered by the flag-waving company of Massa Marittima.
Tourist office and cumulative ticket
The Massa Marittima Tourist Office is located in Via Todini, 5.
Telephone: 0566 906554
If you want to visit many museums, I recommend you buy the cumulative ticket which includes the Museo Archeologico, the Museo d’Arte Sacra, the Museo della Miniera and the Torre del Candeliere and costs 12 euros (10 the reduced).
How to get to Massa Marittima
Massa Marittima is located in the province of Grosseto at a distance of 50 kilometers from Grosseto and 20 kilometers from the sea and Follonica.
From Firenze: freeway Firenze-Siena, then Strada Provinciale delle Galleraie, Strada Provinciale Pavone and SR439 (111km)
From Roma: A12 untill the exit Gavorrano Scalo, then Strada Provinciale Collacchia, Strada Provinciale Perolla and Strada Provinciale Massa Marittima (240km)
Massa Marittima is served by the bus Tiemme.
From Grosseto, line 43F
From Follonica, line 49M
From Siena, line 59F
All schedules on the official website Tiemme.
The nearest train station is in Follonica.
Where to park the car in Massa Marittima
A parking lot is located right at the beginning of our route, near via Ximenes.