Il Castello di Scarlino (castle of Scarlino) is one of Maremma's imposing middle ages castles. Sat on the ridge of a hill covered in Mediterranean macchia, with its medieval village clung to the hillside below, it was once a stronghold of the city of Pisa.
Today, still commanding a spectacular panoramic view of the coastline and inland hills, it is a powerful reminder of the political and family feuds that dominated medieval life in Maremma. And is the site of a costumed medieval festival each year.
If you are staying along the Tuscan coast in Maremma Grossetana near the Gulf of Follonica for your holiday, then castle is only a short drive inland (about seven kilometres from the port and beach at Puntone di Scarlino) and makes a great place to visit for a break from the beach that won't have the kids moaning about the time spent in the car to get there.
|View of the Castello di Scarlino showing all three towers: the south-west watchtower, the south-east spur tower and the later Pisan round tower joined together by curtain walls.|
Il Castello di Scarlino - Scarlino castle - is also known as "La Rocca Aldobrandesca" or "La Rocca Pisana" and is unusual in that it has an irregular design of five sides and three different shaped towers.
Apart from a relatively brief period under the control of the Counts Alberti of Prato and Mangona, it remained in the ownership until early in the the twelfth century of the powerful medieval Aldobrandesca family that ruled over much of Maremma. Hence the use of the name "La Rocca Aldobrandesca" - the fort of Aldobrandesca. Its return was strategically secured, as land and wealth has been throughout history, via an arranged marriage between the two families.
In 1164 the castle and its lands were conquered by the city of Pisa. The castle was subsequently dramatically fortified into a military fortress in order to provide the city of Pisa with a stronghold in this part of Maremma and control not only over her rich metalliferous hills, but also a large portion of important Tuscan coastline. Hence the Castello di Scarlino became known as the Rocca Pisana.
The history of Castello di Scarlino in detail:
At the castle the information provided by the Comune di Scarlino and Parco Nazionale Technologico Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere Grossetane L'Evoluzione del Colle dalla Protostoria al Medioevo reads (corrected - a little - for the English):
"The castle of Scarlino presents today the common aspect of many rural settlements of southern Tuscany, located on a hill and formed from progressive building developments around an old nucleus, which in this case is still witnessed by an esplanade dominated by the massive military fortress, built in the XIV century by the city of Pisa above the ruins of a medieval castle.
On this plateau, starting from the summer of 1979 and until 1983 was conducted by Prof. Riccardo Francovich of the University of Siena an important archaeological excavation, initially designed to define the times and ways in which was built the fortress that dominates the top of the hill. However, the discovery under the walls of the Pisan fortress of much more ancient archaeological remains pushed to extend the excavation project to a wider object: the archaeological definition of how a medieval castle was born.
The archaeological excavation of the plateau made it possible to recognize for the ancient castle of Scarlino continuity of centuries-old life, in which the structures of La Rocca - the Rock - and the medieval castle fit within an evolutionary process of long duration, developing almost without interruption by the late Bronze Age to the nineteenth century AD.
The north side of Castello di Scarlino facing inland towards the metalliferous hills and Maremma Livornese
So the first traces of a permanent human presence on the top of Scarlino hill even go back to the late Bronze Age (X - XII century BC), when at least on a part of the plateau was built a small village of wooden huts surrounded by a boundary wall. The houses were made up of low walls of stone and pressed mud and plants, flanked by wooden stakes inside.
In various areas of the top of the hill were discovered traces of houses and small structures to store the main food. The end of this small village occurred, probably because of a fire, during the tenth century BC, when was starting the development of neighbouring proto-urban centers Vetulonia and Populonia. Indeed, during the first Etruscan Age, archaeological traces on this hill are very few; there seems to be born not a real settlement, but rather a small site for metal activities linked to Isola d'Elba hematite processing (seventh to sixth century BC).
Castello di Scarlino: a round tower within the surrounding city walls
Only during the fourth century BC, the archaeological data allow us to place the birth of a new extended occupation of the entire plateau, characterized by the construction of a large masonry fortress, with walls and interior residential rooms. The foundations of these walls and the defensive wall that surrounded them, built with dry masonry with large stones not worked, are still visible today among the corridor of the successive medieval fortress. We can assume that the birth of this fortified settlement during the fourth century BC was a reaction by the local Etruscan population to the Roman expansion that in those years was beginning to threaten this stretch of Tuscan coast.
With the advent of the Romans, the distribution of the population in these lands follows a new scheme and also Scarlino hill showed only traces of a marginal employment, with archaeological remains that date until the middle imperial age (III century AD). But are the ruins dating from the seventh century representing the first major result of the archaeological excavation of Scarlino: we can reconstruct the formation of a new large village built on a hill in the early Middle Ages, characterized by huts of wood and stone.
This is the archaeological evidence of how the history of a medieval castle starts in reality long before the oldest documentary quotation of Scarlino, which dates from the end of the tenth century. At this point the investigation of Prof. Francovich made it possible to reconstruct the entire sequence which has resulted from the village of huts to the first expressions of the new feudal society of "Curtis", including the church and mansion until the new village with houses made of wood and masonry, identifiable with the first real castle of Scarlino (X - XI century).
Remains of these structures have been discovered both on the end of the eastern plateau (under the fortress) and on the sides of the hill behind the western limit, where was brought to light an ancient church.
Castello di Scarlino: the south-west square watchtower and Bandite di Scarlino wooded hills beyond. This tower is the tallest of the three.
The walls currently visible in the sides of the plateau relate to the subsequent reconstruction of Romanesque (XII XIII century), when Scarlino begins to become a big town and when the area of the ancient castle becomes "Cassero" and along the ridge of the hill began to develop the existing village. Among these walls we have to point out the remains on the side that looks towards the coast, characterized by good making high walls and a floor of slabs of stone, probably related to one of the residences of "Cassero".
The structures of the massive Rocca placed on eastern boundary are related to the next historical period, when the centre of Scarlino, like other castles in the Maremma, clashes with the powerful political and military expansion of the city of Pisa, which in the second half of the XIII century permanently imposes its authority along this coast. Between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth, this control manifests itself physically with the construction of a military fortress, which causes the demolition of the main residences of Scarlino aristocracy.
On this occasion, in the center of the esplanade was set up a large construction site, where there were also many homes to accommodate the workers engaged in the construction of the fortress. The excavation has found, in fact, the remains of small houses dug into the rock and earth walls, with interior brick hearth and stone flooring. In the rooms were found the remains of pottery and utensils dating back to the beginning of the fourteenth century, abandoned after finishing the building yard.
The last great constuctive activity that left traces even today is attributable to reconstructions of the fifteenth century, when Pisa sells the property of the ancient "Cassero" of Scarlino to the "Signori di Piombino" - Lords of Piombino, the Appiano family. Under the new lords, the area of the fortress had a further and deep restructuring with the creation of a second boundary wall around the previous fortification, outside of which is dug a deep moat, which still divides the fortress from the rest of the plateau."
|Castello di Scarlino: the western crenelated external defence walls with gate. Originally a drawbridge traversed thea ditch to the inner courtyard and castle beyond.|
Located in front of the castle are the ruins of a medieval church that are a rare and special archaeological find. They enabled archeaologists to trace the evolutionary process of the passage of an early middle ages village to the construction of the true first castle.
And it was during the excavations of the site that a hundred gold coins hidden in the early years of the fifteenth century were found. To find out more go to the middle ages church of the La Pieve di Santa Maria.
View of Il Castello di Scarlino from the south
Even if medieval castles aren't really your thing, the drive or walk up to Il Castello di Scarlino and the views from its grounds are spectacular and not to be missed.
The whole of the valley of the river Pecora is laid out before you, as is most of the coastline of the Golfo di Follonica. In the distance other important medieval towns such as Roccastrada and Gavorrano can be seen on the peaks of the metalliferous hills. And looking south there is the thick Mediterranean macchia covered hills of the nature reserve of the Bandite di Scarlino.
A visit leaves you in no doubt just how strategically important Castello di Scarlino's position was and why the city of Pisa sought to have control of it for so long.
|The panoramic view from Castello di Scarlino of the valley of the River Pecora and Maremma's metelliferous hills in the background. The 14th century church of San Martino - "La chiesa di San Martino" - in Scarlino can be seen on the ridge in the foreground on the left. The development in the mid-ground is the town of Scarlino Scalo.|
From the bottom of Scarlino hill, drive up the narrow road and about half way up take the right turn signposted for the castle. Continue to follow the signs for the castle which will take you on a scenic route right to the base of the castle and its (free) small car park.
Or, alternatively, don't take the right-hand turn, but instead carry on up the hill to the outskirts of Scarlino and park the car alongside the towns external medieval wall. Then on foot, enter the town making your way up its steep and twisting medieval streets to the castle. (Access by car in the centre is restricted and, if you do find yourself there by chance, you will find yourself having to do a 360 degree turn in a tiny piazza - believe me, I know!).
Having first visited the castle via the latter route - and it was great to do as the scenery unwinds below you as you ascend the hill - whenever we visit now (which is frequently with friends and family) we choose to start at the castle and work our way down the streets into the heart of the town for a cafe or ice cream. Then one of us makes the route back up the hill to fetch the car and collect the rest of our party outside the towns medieval walls... It is invariably me that does the trip, but I reckon it allows me a grande gelato!
Entrance to the site is free, but as yet and despite many visits, I have yet to find the internal part of the castle open! I am determined to find out and will update this page when I do.
UPDATE: I have now visited the inside of La Rocca Pisana! Click on the link for the information, opening times, and more photos.
(A Note for Mum's and Dad's with small children: I know I worry too much, but in the warmer months, just be aware that there may be snakes in the longer grassed parts of the site.)
If you would like to see the archaeological finds from the excavations described above - including the gold coins found hidden in the church - then a visit to the nearby Territorial Archive Centre for History and Archaeology would be of interest.
The Centre was established to house and display the rich finds from the excavations of the hill and castle and also provides information about the other main archaeological monuments and sites in the local area.
Admission is free.
Opening times: Tues, Thurs and Sat from 09:00 to 12:00.
Address: Via della Rocca, Scarlino.
On the 19th August of each year the town and castle become the setting of a day of races, archery contests and costumed events to mark the abrubt - believed to be due to a supernatural intervention - ending of a cholera epidemic in 1855.
The whole town is decorated and each street becomes a theatre... To read more go to Carriere del 19.
With a view of the castle from its position nestled in Mediterannean macchia and a perfumed garden on an adjoing hillside, this bed and breakfast Il Giardino dei Sugheri - Garden of Cork Oaks - is a very special place to stay in Maremma.
Explore some more...