Guide to visiting Gavorrano in the province of Grosseto
Gavorrano is a town in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany. Its historic center rises on Monte Calvo at an altitude of 273 meters above sea level. Despite having a small population (about 8000 inhabitants), Gavorrano has a considerable territorial extension. Its territory develops between the Metalliferous Hills, the Monte d’Alma complex and the plain of the Grosseto Maremma.
The naturalistic and landscape context of this area is remarkable: here we find green hills entirely covered with woods and the typical Tuscan countryside with vineyards, olive groves and cypresses. In addition, there is the sea which is really close by. Gavorrano is in fact located inland in a beautiful hilly position, but it is not very far from the sea: the beaches of Scarlino are 13 kilometers away, while Follonica is just 16 kilometers away.
The Etruscans were the first to inhabit the territory of Gavorrano. Numerous traces of this ancient civilization remain. Specifically, some necropolises from the 7th century BC have been found. (Poggio Pelliccia, San Germano, Santa Teresa) which must have been linked to some settlements located in the area of influence of the city of Vetulonia.
To find the name of Gavorrano in a document, one must go as far as 1164, when the Emperor Frederick I granted his fief to Count Alberto degli Alberti of Mangona. A century later the Counts Pannocchieschi d’Elci succeeded the Alberti di Mangona. Gavorrano first entered the orbit of Volterra and then of Massa Marittima. In the fifteenth century, this area was absorbed by the Republic of Siena and remained with it until the end of that state and the consequent annexation to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the mid-sixteenth century.
For a few centuries Gavorrano went off the radar of history until, in 1898, a large pyrite deposit was discovered here. From that moment, and until 1981, Gavorrano became an important mining center. Its mine was among the largest in Europe and this led to significant economic and demographic development with the birth of new inhabited centers such as Bagno di Gavorrano, which is now the largest of the towns in the municipality.
What to see and what to do in Gavorrano
After the mine was closed, Gavorrano was able to reconvert its economy by focusing on the tourism sector. In recent times it has in fact developed a wide range of products which is also based on the enhancement of those old extraction sites as well as the various historical villages in the area and the environmental and naturalistic context.
What to do in Gavorrano
The main points of interest in the municipal area of Gavorrano are the historic center, the Castel di Pietra, the Parco Minerario Naturalistico di Gavorrano with the Teatro delle Rocce, the Etruscan archaeological sites and the villages of Caldana, Giuncarico and Ravi.
Walls of Gavorrano
Like any self-respecting medieval village, Gavorrano too was equipped with a defensive system based on solid walls and towers. The walls of Gavorrano were built during the 12th century at the time of the domination of the Alberti di Mangona counts. A century later they were reinforced by the Sienese who added some towers to the original layout. After a period of neglect, the walls were restored during the twentieth century and today they are in good condition.
Chiesa di San Giuliano
The church of San Giuliano overlooks the central square of Gavorrano, right in the heart of the historic center. Before this church, here there was a parish church dedicated to San Gusmè which is mentioned in a papal bull of 1188. The title to San Giuliano dates back to 1529 while the current church was built towards the end of the eighteenth century. Another intervention, which took place in 1927, instead remodeled the facade of the church, with the addition of new architectural elements. Inside there are some interesting works including a fine statuette depicting the Madonna and Child made in 1336 by Giovanni d’Agostino (master builder of the Siena Cathedral) and a series of paintings (Madonna del Buonconsiglio, Annunciation and Baptism of Christ).
Parco minerario naturalistico di Gavorrano
Inaugurated in 2003, the Parco minerario naturalistico di Gavorrano was established with the aim of enhancing and redeveloping the area of the pyrite mines active between 1898 and 1981. The mining park, together with the whole territory of the municipality of Gavorrano, is part of the largest Parco tecnologico e archeologico delle Colline Metallifere grossetane.
The mining activity has marked a century of Gavorrano’s history and the mining park represents an excellent opportunity to learn more about this period and the whole world of mines.
The park is divided into two main areas: the Parco delle Rocce which is located just outside the historic center of Gavorrano and the Ravi Marchi Mine which is 3 kilometers away.
In the Parco delle Rocce you can visit the Museo in Galleria, an underground multimedia path in which the various phases of the miners’ work are described in detail. Not far from the museum is the Teatro delle Rocce, an open-air theater that was built inside a limestone quarry, taking advantage of the pre-existing morphology. Every year, in summer, the theater hosts an interesting review of theatrical performances and musical concerts.
The Miniera Ravi Marchi is located on the opposite side of Monte Calvo, near the small village of Ravi. Thanks to a recovery work that took place in several phases between 1999 and 2013, it is now possible to visit the structures of this disused mine. Among these, the two iron mining castles, respectively called Vignaccio I and Vignaccio II, and the laveria stand out.
For more information on the park, especially regarding tickets and timetables, I refer you to the official website.
What to see in the surroundings of Gavorrano
Castel di Pietra
The ruins of the Castel di Pietra are located on a hill north-east of Gavorrano. The castle is documented since the 11th century when it was part of the possessions of the Abbey of Sestinga. After a period in which it was included among the properties of the Aldobrandeschi counts, the castle passed to the Pannocchieschi who ruled it between the 13th and 14th centuries.
It was precisely in this period that an episode took place that made Castel di Pietra famous. According to tradition, Nello Pannocchieschi would have committed the murder of his wife Pia de’ Tolomei here, of which he wanted to get rid of in order to marry Margherita Aldobrandeschi. The murder was allegedly committed by throwing his wife from the castle. This episode is still remembered today with the historical re-enactment of the “Salto della Contessa”.
The legend of the Salto della Contessa is based on the interpretation made by some historians of a passage from the Divine Comedy. In the fifth canto of the Purgatory, Dante meets a certain Pia who tells of being born in Siena and being killed by her husband in Maremma. Other scholars believe that this was not Pia de’ Tolomei, because there are no documents to support this hypothesis.
“Remember me, who am the Pia:
Siena made me, undone Maremma:
said the one who was ringed first
arranging me with her gem”
(Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio canto V)
Over the centuries the castle has been abandoned and today it is reduced to a state of ruin, however some parts of the walls and even a tower remain. In 1997, the University of Siena began a series of archaeological excavations aimed at investigating the history of this important castle.
Caldana is a beautiful village of medieval origin located on the south-eastern side of Monte Calvo. Perched on a hill and well inserted in a very pleasant naturalistic context, Caldana is the typical Tuscan hamlet that lends itself perfectly to a trip away from the stress of modern life. Here is the beautiful Church of San Biagio which was built in the 16th century and whose facade is attributed to the school of Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, one of the best architects of the Renaissance.
Documented since the eighth century, Giuncarico is a very remarkable medieval village, waiting to be discovered. Still enclosed within its walls (11th century), it has the only access road in the Castle Gate. To see the Church of Sant’Egidio, the Oratory of the Holy Crucifix and some buildings including the Palazzo Pretorio.
The small village of Ravi also has medieval origins. These origins are clearly visible by observing its concentric layout that follows that of the ancient castle and is characterized by narrow and twisted alleys. The Ravi castle is documented since the year 785 and in the nearby Grotta dell’Artofago some finds dating back to 5000 years have been found.
In the area of Gavorrano there are also some archaeological sites from the Etruscan era. These are the Tumulus of Poggio Pelliccia which is located near Castellaccia, the Necropolis of San Germano, located along the Sovata stream north of Giuncarico, and the Necropolis of Santa Teresa Nuova which is close to Castel di Pietra. All three of these sites date back to a period between the seventh and sixth centuries BC.
Other hamlets to visit in the vicinity of Gavorrano
From Gavorrano you can quickly reach various interesting centers. The closest are Scarlino, Vetulonia, Montemassi and Massa Marittima. Going to the Maremma coast you will find Follonica, Punta Ala and Castiglione della Pescaia; these are the seaside resorts closest to Gavorrano.
How to get to Gavorrano
Gavorrano has a railway station which, however, is located in Potassa, a few kilometers away from the historic center. This station is regularly served by regional trains that connect it with Pisa and Grosseto. In any case, if you travel by public transport you will probably do better to take a train to Follonica and then continue by bus.
By car, if you come from the north you have to take the A12 motorway towards Rome and continue on the SS1 Aurelia (always towards Rome) until the Gavorrano exit. From the south: A12 motorway towards Civitavecchia then SS1 Aurelia towards Grosseto to the Gavorrano Scalo exit.