Saturnia, a spa town famous around the world
In the heart of the Tuscan Maremma there are beautiful waterfalls fed by thermal water, a real masterpiece of nature, which every year attract many visitors. The thermal baths of Saturnia are certainly among the most beautiful in all of Tuscany, and one could safely say that they are also among the most beautiful in Italy. Not far from the famous Cascate del Mulino, there is also the ancient village of Saturnia which stands on a hillock located in the municipal area of Manciano in the province of Grosseto.
The name Saturnia can only make one think of Saturn, not the planet but the divinity who, according to legend, would have given life to the thermal spring of Saturnia. The myth tells that the god Saturn, angry with the men who were always at war with each other, took a lightning bolt and threw it on the earth, thus opening a crater from which hot water began to come out. The miraculous water that emerged from this crater was able to restore peace among men and lead them to a golden age.
History of Saturnia
Having said the myth, let’s briefly see what the story of Saturnia was. The area in which the village and the baths are located has been frequented since the Bronze Age and numerous archaeological finds document the presence of an Etruscan community since the eighth century BC. Saturnia follows the fate of the important Etruscan city of Vulci and in the third century BC passes under the control of the Romans. During the Roman era, the center acquired a certain importance but with the end of the empire and the barbarian invasions, Saturnia went through a long period of decline, so much so that the city seems to almost disappear from history.
We find news of Saturnia again only from the 12th century, when it is mentioned as a castle and spa center. At the time this area was controlled by the Aldobrandeschi counts but, very soon, Saturnia found itself at the center of the expansionist aims of Orvieto and Siena who attacked it repeatedly. During one of these attacks, in 1299, the city was destroyed by the Sienese who, however, took possession of it only starting from 1410. In the following centuries the fate of the village was not the best and the area was essentially abandoned, until the necessary reclamation works starting from the 1820s.
Things to do in Saturnia
Saturnia still retains part of the defensive structures of the past; among these there are the fortress, the walls and one of the city gates. Also worth visiting is the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, the archaeological museum and the Etruscan necropolis located along the ancient Roman via Clodia also known as via delle Terme.
Walls of Saturnia
Saturnia has been endowed with defensive walls since the time of the Romans who built a first circle during the second century BC. These walls had four access gates placed according to the traditional scheme of Roman settlements, centered on two perpendicular axes, the cardo and the decumanus. At the beginning of the 13th century the walls were restructured and enlarged by the Aldobrandeschi and then rebuilt by the Sienese around the middle of the 15th century.
Even today the walls surround a large part of the hamlet and, by observing them carefully, you can see the various construction phases. Only one of the four access gates is preserved: Porta Romana. This city gate opens with its round arch in the southern part of the walls, coinciding with the passage of the ancient Via Clodia.
The rocca aldobrandesca of Saturnia is located just outside the city walls, a stone’s throw from Porta Romana. The fortress was probably built between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, when the Aldobrandeschi took possession of Saturnia. Severely damaged at the beginning of the 15th century, the fortress was renovated and modernized by the Sienese during their dominion. The last important modification to the complex dates back to the early twentieth century when the neo-Gothic Castello Ciacci was built inside. The fortress well preserves its military characteristics with powerful circular towers and solid walls with a shoe base. Unfortunately it is not possible to visit it inside because it is privately owned.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Maddalena
The church of Santa Maria Maddalena is located immediately inside the walls, near Porta Romana. The existence of this church is documented since 1188, but due to a complete restructuring in 1933, its appearance has been totally distorted. Inside there are some works including a panel by Benvenuto di Giovanni depicting the Madonna and Child between San Sebastiano and Santa Maria Maddalena (15th century), a tabernacle depicting Saint Clare and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and a pair of wooden crosses.
Museo Archeologico di Saturnia
The Archaeological Museum of Saturnia collects artifacts dating back to a long period ranging from prehistoric times to the Roman age. Most of the materials on display come from the Ciacci collection. The collection is mainly composed of the findings of excavations carried out in various locations on the Albegna and Fiora hills and near Saturnia, Sovana, Pitigliano and Montemerano. The exhibits on display offer a broad overview of the material production of the area, especially in the Etruscan and Roman times.
The thermal baths of Saturnia
The spas are what made Saturnia famous. In the surroundings of the village there are some sources that are well known since ancient times. In Saturnia you can choose between the beautiful Cascate del Mulino, which are freely accessible, and the luxurious spas of Saturnia.
The water of Saturnia
The thermal water of Saturnia is born in the depths of the earth of Monte Amiata and travels a 40-year journey before reaching the surface. Along the way, the water is enriched with minerals and gases before gushing out at a temperature of 37.5° with a flow rate of 800 liters per second, enough for a complete change once every 4 hours. The water of Saturnia has many recognized therapeutic properties and is used to heal the skin, reduce blood pressure and increase lung ventilation.
Cascate del Mulino
The famous Cascate del Mulino (or Cascate del Gorello) of Saturnia are located just 3 kilometers south of the town. These are in all likelihood the most famous spas in all of Tuscany and in fact they are often stormed by tourists, so you should carefully consider when to go to avoid finding too much crowding. In any case, even in winter the sulphurous water temperature of Saturnia guarantees absolute relaxation and perfect shelter from the coldest temperatures.
The great fame of this spa town is mainly linked to the beauty of the place and the unique scenery that these waterfalls are able to create. Nature here has created a series of tiered thermal pools with the water flowing regularly from one pool to the next. The Cascate del Mulino are open and free but are not particularly equipped so you should bring towels, food and so on. The pools are not deep so, with due care, you can also bring children.
If you are passionate about photography, I would like to point out a nice panoramic point along the SP10 road, just south of the Cascate del Mulino, from which you can take excellent shots of the waterfalls.
What to see and what to do near Saturnia
Saturnia is located in Maremma, an area very rich in things to do and places to see. In the vicinity of the thermal baths there are several historic hamlets that deserve to be visited. The closest are Montemerano, a delightful medieval village considered one of the most beautiful in Italy, Manciano and Scansano, the homeland of Morellino wine. From Saturnia you can also quickly reach the so-called “tuff area” where there are three fantastic villages such as Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana.
Another very popular feature of the Maremma is the sea. Saturnia is located just 45 kilometers from the coast and from the Argentario where some of the most famous seaside resorts of the area are located such as Orbetello, Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole.
How to get to Saturnia and to the hot springs
Saturnia is located about halfway between Florence, which is 180 kilometers away, and Rome which is 160 kilometers away; the provincial capital, Grosseto, is 55 kilometers away.
By car: if you come from the north or from Florence, you must take the Firenze-Siena highway and continue following the signs towards Grosseto, Scansano, Montemerano and Saturnia.
From South / Rome: A12 motorway to the Civitavecchia exit, Aurelia to Montalto di Castro and then follow the signs for Vulci and Manciano / Saturnia.
Train and Bus: it is not very convenient to reach Saturnia by public transport. The closest railway stations are those of Albinia, Orbetello, Grosseto. From these cities you will have to take a bus such as the 17P Orbetello-Albinia-Manciano line of the Tiemme bus lines.