History of Massa Marittima

The story of the town of Massa Marittima in Tuscany

Massa Marittima

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History of Massa Marittima

San Galgano and Montesiepi

Church of Saint Augustine

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The territory of Massa Marittima covers 283 sq km through a hilly zone at the southern extreme of the Colline Metallifere, in the Alta Maremma of the province of Grosetto. Massa Marittima was the seat of a diocese and the capital of a small republic in mediaeval times and was Vicariate Seat under the Lorena. The communities of Follonica and Monterotondo Marittimo were originally within its borders but they were split off in 1920 and 1961 respectively to form autonomous municipalities.

Authentic Tuscany - the Tuscan Maremma

The Maremma is a large and diverse area of southwestern Tuscany and northernmost Latium, encompassing the Tyrrhenian seashore, coastal plains and inland hill towns. Click here to learn about the Maremma beaches, hot springs, nature reserves, Etruscan ruins and great places to stay.

Prehistoric finds confirm human occupation of the territory of Massa Marittima from the last phase of palaeolithic era into the bronze age. The settlements consolidated in the iron age and continued their development in the Etruscan and Roman eras. The oldest written reference to Massa Marittima goes back to a sale contract dated December 746, when the locality was taken into the diocese of Populonia which was in turn incorporated into the territory of the Dukes of Lucca. It was this transfer of the Episcopal Seat, after the devastation of Populonia by the Greek and Saracen pirates at the beginning of the 9 C, which conferred on Massa Marittima a new economic and social importance and the designation "City". The temporary dominion of the Bishops over the diocese, its outlines confirmed by Gregory VII in 1074 and subjected to the metropolitan jurisdiction of Pisa by Innocent II in 1133, was severely limited by the presence in the area of noble families from Lucca, Volterra and Pisa, and by the influence exercised over them by the municipality of Pisa, which soon began to assert its political control. The Episcopal authority prevailed, however, with greater vigour over the city centre, of which the Bishop remained temporal Lord to all intents and purposes until, in the first decade of the 13 C, a diverse assortment of residents and immigrants attracted by the mineral riches of the area began to determine the composition of the municipal authority. The predominance of the new form of organisation of power was fairly rapid and was facilitated by the submission of the city to Pisa, stipulated by a Bishop, oppressed by debts, in 1216. Less than ten years later, in 1225, the Massa Marittima municipality acquired full political autonomy.

At the same time there was a considerable urban expansion and strengthening of the fortifications (new wall belts in 1206, building of fortified houses and towers, including the tower of the Candlestick in 1228), while the castles of the territory became progressively incorporated into the municipal jurisdiction. By the middle of the century, the traditional tie with Pisa and the influence of the Aldobrandeschi Counts, concessionaries of Imperial rights over Massa Marittima in the 12 C and 13 C, were replaced by new alliances and treaties of “special friendship” (the first in 1241) with the Republic of Siena. Furthermore, the political clashes between the Massa Ghibelline and Guelf factions allowed the Siena municipality to set itself up as guarantor of the internal peace of the city. It was thus that in 1276 an alliance was set up in which it was established, among other things, that Massa Marittima should be governed by Siennese citizens for twenty years. Siena’s interest was amply justified by the riches of the Massa Marittima mineral district and was reconfirmed in 1307, with a new privilege alliance. Only in 1331, when the supporters of Pisa regained the upper hand in the Massa Marittima municipal government, was this alliance interrupted. After military hostilities with Siena followed by an attempt at mediation by the Florentines, a popular revolt in September 1335, promoted by the supporters of Siena, determined the definitive establishment of the political dominion of Siena. The consolidation of the Siennese authority, however, coincided with the beginning of a long period of economic crisis. In 1396 the mineral industry ceased all activity and in 1408 tax relief measures for the Massa Marittima municipality reflect the demographic regression of the city, reduced to only 400 residents. A partial revival, consolidating towards the end of the 15 C, was irreversibly compromised by new disasters: the epidemics of 1522-23, the Spanish occupation in 1530, and the attacks and raids during the Siena war (1554-55). This decline continued under Medicean dominion as endemic malaria took its toll. Only in the 19 C, with the land reclamation of the Scarlino marshes, promoted by Grand Duke Leopoldo II di Lorena, and with the reopening of the mineral mines, did a new phase of prosperity begin.

Massa Marittima

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