Piombino, maritime town situated on the promontory of the same name, originates from an area formerly made up of many watercourses that, until some centuries ago, ran through the plain forming the Piombino Lake (or Monache Lake) and the Rimigliano Lake. Over the centuries both of them became marshes, which were reclaimed in the course of the years.
The towns name derives from "Populino", namely small "Populonia", which later became "Palumbino" and finally Piombino.
Piombino was ruled by the maritime republic of Pisa, which besides the Pisan port had the port of Falesia in Piombino. This port was named Portovecchio when the Porticciolo of marina was built.
In 1022 the monastery of S.Giustiniano a Falesia sprang up one Km away from Piombino, by the sea. This monastery fostered the activities of fishermen, sailors and workers during the whole century. From those activities arose many other buildings, included the Rocca (Fortress) and the towers around the rocky spur of the Rocchetta, later called Bovio Palace and today known by the name of Piazza Bovio.
In 1115 Piombino was in the hands of feudal lord, who was also the Abbot of the Monastery and citizen of the republic of Pisa. Under him were the "Fedeles", representatives of the people of Piombino, and over him were the Archbishop of Pisa, the consuls and the commune of Pisa. The troops of Pisa garrisoned the Rocca (Fortress) of Piombino.
The port was attacked by the troops of Genoa in 1125 and the following year the Castle was sacked causing numerous victims.
The first inscription, placed around the entrance of the Torrione, talks about Rovigo Monaco, when appointed as Consul (Console Arrigo), began the construction of this tower. The second inscription, placed on the right side of the door, shows that in that time the abbots authority had been supplanted by the institution of three Consuls. Anyway, a half-century later they gave up their seat to a Captain (Capitano) charged by Pisa with governing Piombino, Baratti and the island of Elba, from a military and civil point of view. This is mentioned in the building of the Porticciolo and the Canali di Marina (Marine Canals), which were done in 1248. This fountain consists of six taps. Above them there is the image of the Madonna sculptured in mascarons, which in 1618 were made of bronze.
In the opposite direction, at the end of the current Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, there is the Palazzo Comunale (Municipal Palace), initially called Palazzo degli Anziani (Palace of the Elders), with its municipal Tower.
The Municipal Palace was built in Gothic style between the year 1435 and the year 1444 by Mastro Nanni di Mogio from Terranova in the Valdarno. Because of some defacement it was restored in 1933-1935 on the plan of the architect Bellini, by respecting the original style. A portrait of the Madonna with Child, situated in the Council chamber, is of great importance.
The municipal Tower was built at the end of the 16th century, when the Elders assigned the works to Francesco di Leone. It was demolished and rebuilt in 1938. In this circumstance the Keep bell, cast in 1778, was moved there. On this bell there are the images with inscription of the Madonna of Cittadella and S.Anastasia.
On the left side of the Municipal Palace, walking up the slope that leads to the hillock where rises the Castle, we can find the Casa delle Bifore (House of the Mullioned Windows), also known as "Palazzo di Martino di Brancaccio" or "Casa Minelli". It is the only testimony, still in good state, of the civil architecture of the thirteenth century in Piombino. This kind of architecture was very frequent in the buildings of thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In this building it is also possible to find marks of the Pisan art. The House is built in Gothic style: indeed the vertical structure prevails. Initially, the outside of the house was made of fine-grained full bricks. Probably, some tufo stones, still visible, were set at each corner, in order to make the structure more solid. The House of the Mullioned Window is supposed to be built by a Guelph or a sympathizer of the Guelph faction and dates back to the period of time between 1284 and 1289. De facto, the House survived the persecution of the Pisan soldiers against the Guelphs who took shelter in Piombino, after the battle of the Meloria. The battle of the Meloria, fought between the republics of Pisa and Genoa, who, by then, had competed for controlling Piombino for some time, ended with a victory for Genoa and a death sentence for Count Ugolino. Recently, the local government has restored the building, where is now housed the historical archives of the Town and State of Piombino and of the Cardarelli Foundation.
The Castle of Piombino originates from the initial structure of the "Cassero Pisano" (13th century), the southern gate of the town. It was built in the 15th century, like the Torrione (Keep), to which it is very similar regarding its proportions and materials. In the 15th and 16th centuries the gate was incorporated in a central fortification, that is inside the present Castle and that was just called "Cassero". On the contrary, the "Poggio al cassero" was the name of the point where it is situated. In 1504 Leonardo da Vinci made a project to strengthen the fortification. Although he couldnt carry out his project, it left a great mark on the Renaissance style of the fortifications. Under the rule of Cosimo I Medici (1552-1557) the fortification was further reinforced by a star-shaped structure, which is typical of the 15th and 16th centuries Tuscan coastal fortresses. The coats of arms, set on the outside walls of the Castle are a mark of the seignory of the Appiani family. In many 17th century documents this building is named "Fortezza Medicea", while in the 19th century is mentioned with the name of "Fortezza", "Forte Castello" or simply "Castello", its current name.
Later, a period of relentless struggles between noble families to control Piombino began. This period ended when Gherardo Appiani, the son of Iacopo I, who became seignior of Pisa in 1398 after having killed in 1392 Piero Gambacorti, founded the seignory of Piombino, which included Scarlino, Buriano, Suvereto, Populonia and the isles of Elba, Pianosa and Montecristo. Because Gherardo couldnt rule all this dominion, he sold the seignory of Pisa to Galeazzo Visconti from Milan by reserving for himself Piombino and the mentioned towns. He built his dwelling-place in Piombino, in the Piazzarella (the current Piazza Bovio). When he died, he left the State to his son Iacopo II, under guardianship of Donna Paola Colonna, his mother. They ruled Piombino by putting it under the protection of Florence, then of Siena and finally of Florence again.
On Iacopo and Donna Paolas death (1441 and 1445), successors were her daughter Caterina and her son in law Rinaldo Orsini. Under his government Alfonso I of Aragon, king of Naples, endangered the Seignorys independence, by laying siege to the town of Piombino, during his march towards Milan to seize that duchy on Filippo Maria Viscontis death. Rinaldo Orsini, with the help of Siena and Florence, held stoically out against the siege. He compelled Alfonso of Aragon to retreat, keeping his state free. In 1450 Rinaldo Orsini died from the plague, as did his wife the following year, who had retired to Scarlino.
The Principality passed to the brother of Gherardo, founder of the seignory of Piombino, and then, in 1457, to his son Iacopo III. The latter wasnt a good governor, because he was too liberal by nature and pleasure-loving. He had built the dwelling palace Villanova, which is now called Cittadella, in the place of the old Appiani Palace in Piazza Bovio, annexed to the S.Lorenzo church. Andrea Guardi built the palace between 1465 and 1470 and included the Seigniors Palace, which doesnt exist anymore, the familys Chapel, where is a terracotta by Della Robbia, the Cisterna (Cistern) and the Palace for servants and services.
Another church, built by the sailors' guild in the century before, was enlarged and beautified by a Renaissance portico. To this church was transferred the parish that took the name of S.Antimo.
In the monastery of S.Agostino built by Andrea Guardi there is the cloister with marble columns.
Iacopo IV succeeded his father Iacopo III. During his rule the Principality was occupied by Cesare Borgia, supported by Pope Alessandro IV, on whose death the duke Valentino renounced Piombino, over which Iacopo started to dominate again. During the duke Valentinos rule, Leonardo da Vinci was in Piombino. First in 1502 in order to plan the draining of the marshes, and then in 1504 to study the strengthening of the towns fortifications. Iacopo IV, for the first time in Piombinos history, minted gold coins at the mint, which was in Marciana, on the isle of Elba.
In 1511 he died and the Principality was left to his son Iacopo V and then to Iacopo VI, under the guardianship of his mother Elena Salviati.
On Elena Salviatis death, Cosimo I Medici took possession of the Principality. During the war between the Spanish and Florentines against Sienese and the Franco-Turkish, as a consequence of the latters victory the Medici family renounced Piombino in exchange for Siena and Portoferraio.
Then Alessandro, the son of Iacopo VI, obtained the Principality s rule. However, the people of Piombino didnt like his conduct, so that the leading families conspired against him. He was killed and the Principality was give to the Spanish Felice of Aragon, the garrisons commandant.
The struggle for the sway over Piombino went among Florentines, the Appiani family and Neapolitans went ahead until the Spanish ceded it to Niccol˛ Ludovisi, Prince of Venosa, and, after his death, to his daughters.
In 1801 the French took the Principality and in 1805 Napoleon assigned it to his sister Elisa Baciocchi. During her stays in Piombino, she lived in the Palazzo delle Delizie (Delights Palace), behind Cittadella.
Under Elisa Baciocchi was created the rural code of the Principality of Piombino. Piombinos parish seat was transferred to the S.Agostino church, the current S.Antimo. The previous S.Antimo and the attached convent of S.Anastasia were transformed into a hospital.
The S.Antimo Church was built with the name of S.Michele by the Augustinians. Over the centuries it was enlarged and in 1374 was rebuilt, as a memorial plaque, above the Gambacorti family coat of arms, testifies. Later the church was called S.Agostino and finally S.Antimo. The S.Michele mosaic image is on top of the church s door. The Vatican school did it in 1937.The front of the Church is made of little bricks. The inside is made up of one nave with a truss roof and windows on the sidewalls, all in Gothic style. In the following centuries, two chapels were built on the right side, by modifying the previous structure. Later, the second smaller nave, which ends with the Fallen Chapel, will be made out of these two chapels. The latter is rich in marbles and bronze sculptures, done by the Florentine architect Giovannozzi, in 1937. The church contains also a holy water font, built on a 4th century b.C Etruscan column, portraying warriors and a faun, and a very interesting bas-relief with Virgin and Child, by Andrea Guardi. Into the entrance wall are built two funeral monuments. On the front of the right side one are sculptured the Pieta, the Virgin, St. John the Evangelist. On both sides is an Appiani familys coat of arms. One of them portrays a donkey and the motto "I am a donkey and with my knowledge the others are standing and I am sitting". The other sepulchre, by Andrea Guardi, keeps the bodies of Emanuele and Fiammetta, children of Iacopo III, seignior of Piombino. Andrea Guardi built also, the baptismal font, in 1470. On a Churchs wall there is a painting, probably by Giorgio Vasari, portraying the redemption of Christ. The portico with marble mullions and capitals, by Andrea Guardi, situated on the right side of the Church, is of particular importance. It was built during the rule of Iacopo III, as a coat of arms and the name on a capital confirm.
As a consequence of the Congress of Vienna agreements, Piombino was included in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
In the 19th and following centuries the
town went on with its political, economical and social growth, by strengthening itself
during the industrial age and with new country planning, up to the present day.
Going along the road that follows the beach of the gulf of Baratti, in a typical Mediterranean landscape with pines, wild shrubs and low vegetation, it is possible to see Populonia in the distance. This small village, rising on the western point of the promontory of Piombino, with its few houses and its medieval castle, is nowadays destination of many visitors in search of historical fascination.
Populonia Castle, within the villages walls that were erected to defend the population against barbarian attacks, was built in the first half of the 15th century AD, under Iacopo III Appiani and restored in the last century.
During the Iron age (9th-8th BC) there were two separate parts that afterwards became a single town: the upper part was reserved for the Etruscan dwellings; below, outside the walls, by the sea, where the necropolis is sited, there was the maritime and industrial part of the town, which stretched along the whole Gulf of Baratti. The lower part was protected by walls that ran along the Poggio della Guardiola to the acropolis circle.
The archaeological findings are the main tourists attraction. In the small village a museum keeps some finds and, a new museum will be shortly opened outside the village.
Visiting the necropolis, going around the tombs that have been recently discovered after long researches and digs, you can feel as if you were living in a real Etruscan town. Indeed, as many historians confirm, the Etuscan people attached a great importance to death so that they devoted more attention to the world of the dead than they did to daily life.
Before talking about the history of Populonia, from its Etruscan origin up to the threshold of the year two thousand, it is necessary to dwell upon the etymology of the place-name, taking into account some of the most reliable theories. In the 18th century Giampaolo Nurra from Cagliari considered Populonia as a Tyrrhenian word, which refers to metals or mines on account of the fact that in Sardinia there was a place of the same name.
Alessio Mazzocchi analysed the name and divided it into two parts: "populus" and "Oeane", which means people (colony) from Volterra. According to Carlo Battisti, Populonia derives from the Etruscan word "Popluna" (from which the Latin word "populus") which means the possession of a people as a super tribal aggregation. So, the word Populonia concerned not only the town, but also the port, the promontory and its surroundings, which included also the "Acquae Populoniae" (of Caldana, in Venturina).
It has been decidedly discredited the derivation of the name Populonia from the goddess Populonia mentioned by St. Augustine as one of the pagan gods worshipped by the Romans.
Many scholars agree with the theory that connects Populonia with the Etruscan god Fufluns, which corresponds to the Greek god Dionysus or Bacchus. Although the Etruscan people were pensive, meditative and concentrated on the next world, they were first of all cultivators of wheat and grapes. So, it is highly probable that they worshipped a lively and cheerful rural divinity, which gave its name to the village and then to the town or vice versa. Gerhardt illustrated this theory for the first time in 1843. Afterwards, it was developed by Milano Ceci and followed by most of the Etruscan history and toponymy scholars of this century.
According to the classical works the town of Populonia seems to have been probably founded by the Corsican people and then captured by Volterra. Or, it seems to have become a colony of Volterra, then captured by the Corsican people and finally become again independent thanks to the help of Volterra. The theory that Volterra founded Populonia is more doubtful, because tombs of Volterra are more recent and are different from those of Populonia as regards the funeral objects and other details.
Populonia was the only Etruscan town that utilised an antique monetary system in trade, and was the only Etruscan town that faced the sea, but not only the port. It was exploited for agriculture, then for navigation and maritime trades and later for iron production, probably started in the 5th century BC. Both copper and iron were extracted from the mines coming from Campiglia and the Isle of Elba. At the beginning the iron ore was worked on the Isle of Elba, but, later on, a valid structure, made up of four furnaces, was set up in Populonia. A big mass of iron slag owing to the processing covered and kept the burial-sites. But, unfortunately, such a big mass of dross damaged their upper part (cupola), crushed the inside objects and allowed the thieves to break in.
In 1914 the shortage of iron to use for war purposes during the First World War led the local industry to use the slag that had been covering the necropolis. Thanks to this such an archaeological wealth has been discovered.
The flourishing state of Populonia, which lasted about a century and a half, was due to its position in the gulf, well sheltered by a long reef and not too far from the Tyrrhenian islands. Thanks to its position the town was included in the
Tyrrhenian sea routes and was a port of call in the Eastern ones. In order to found colonies in the upper Tyrrheanian Sea the Greeks ventured as far as this area. However, the Etruscan people, entered in alliance with the Carthaginians, opposed them. Another armed conflict occurred in the Sardinian seas between the Phocaen fleet on the one side and the Etruscan and Carthaginian one on the other side. The Phocaeans won, but they had to leave Corsica, where they had settled down. Later on, the Etruscans fought against the Syracusans, who in 474 BC ventured as far as Cumae, taking possession of Campania. From here they spread all over Northern Tyrrhenian Sea and attacked the Etruscan coasts in 454-453 BC and in 384 BC, when Dionysus invaded the Etruscan ports and took possession of Corsica and Elba.
The description of the town done by the classical authors refers to the period when its fortune was falling into decay.
Populonia was besieged during the war between the Gaul and Romans in 282 BC and, then, during the war between Mario and Silla in 80 BC. As a result of the victory of Silla, his allies broke into Populonia, massacring the people and spoiling the town. Later on they besieged Volterra, which they starved out.
Alaric, the king of the Visigoths, after having invaded Rome, in 412 AD devastated the Etruscan territory too along his march through the northern territories, towards Gaul. A short time later, Populonia recovered thanks to Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, who helped the recovery of the activities of the port, mines and trade. This economic recovery was followed up by a considerable Christian spiritual and religious life, as the setting up of a bishopric testify. In this period a Bishop of Populonia, Asello, signed the deeds of the Synod called in Rome by Pope Gelasio I, in 495 AD, and those of the Synod called in 501 AD by Pope Simmaco. In 546 AD Populonia was invaded and sacked by Totila, king of the Goths, and in 570 AD underwent the attack of the Longobard Gummaruth. After attacks by the Saracen pirates, Populonia was definitively devastated by Greeks or Moors in 809 AD. The Bishop of Roselle, who sent a priest and two deacons, supported the few remaining inhabitants of Populonia. From 1044 there is information about the Church of San Quirico. This church rose on the promontory of Piombino, as a baptismal church, and then became the cathedral of Populonia, owned by its Bishop. As the Church of San Quirico owned the hill where Populonia rose, therefore the Bishop of Populonia was a landowner, until some centuries ago. During the first half of the 11th century, this Church became a monastery when the bishopric was moved to Massa Marittima, which included the Maremma and the isles of the archipelago. From the beginning the monastery was beneficiary of many donations, especially from the Della Gherardesca and Aldobrandeschi families. During the 12th century the Monastery went through a period of decay and, by consequence, its possessions passed to the monastery of Montecristo and around the middle of the century remained only an abbot and a monk. So the Bishop of Massa, Ruggero, in 1259 gave the monastery to the hermits of S.Guglielmo (St. William), who, some time later, left it.
The monastery became an Abbey and in 1400 Stefano Manetti, vicar-general of the bishop of Massa, was appointed abbot. Afterwards the Abbey was abolished and the parson of SantAntimo in Piombino had the title of abbot of S.Qurico and the church estate. Little of the original church structure remains today in the pine forest.
In the 15th century, by order of Iacopo II in the upper part of Populonia the Castle was finished being built as a fortress against pirates assaults. In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci, during his visit to Piombino, studied some methods to recover and improve Barattis defence. But, nothing of these projects remains. By a further intervention in 1504, Leonardo devised a plan not only to strengthen Piombinos fortifications, but also to allocate an area for military purpose in the Gulf of Baratti and to reclaim the marsh. But, these projects too werent realised.
At this point, we take the liberty to talk about the historical reality of Populonia. For this purpose we refer to the writings of the poet Rutilius Claudius Namatianus, who in the 5th century AD visited Populonia. He was struck by the desolation of the town and inferred that Populonia had never got over the Romans occupation.
We know that in its prosperous time, Populonia was a village of about twenty-five thousand inhabitants, who decreased, as a result of the decline, so much that in 1833 they were 108 and so on up to now, it is nearly uninhabited.
As Indro Montanelli writes "It has been rarely seen in the course of history a people disappearing from the face of the earth and another one (the Roman people) wiping its traces off in such a fierce way".
The archaeological research began in 1840 thanks to Alessandro Franšois, who in two localities called Le Grotte and Le Buche delle Fate found some hypogeum tombs dating back to the 4th century BC.
In 1897 Isidoro Falchi brought to light again the tomb known as dei Letti Funebri, in the San Cerbone farm.
In 1908 tombs and graves, dating back to the villanoviana age, had been unearthed, no more by private archaeologists, but thanks to government plans.
In 1914 some burial ground were found in the area of San Cerbone and Poggio delle Granate. During the same year, in the San Cerbone farm, the dig of the largest tomb of the necropolis (Tomba dei Carri) began and continued in 1921.