Although the middle ages church of La Pieve di Santa Maria is today marked by ruins lying within the ancient walls of the town of Scarlino and in front of its medieval castle, it was a very special archaeological discovery home to a treasure of hidden gold coins.
The information provided on the site by the Comune di Scarlino and Parco Nazionale Technologico Archeologico delle Colline Metallifere Grossetane L'Evoluzione del Colle dalla Protostoria al Medioevo at the Rocca Pisana reads:
"The existence of a church among the ruins of Scarlino fortress is attested in written documents only in 1576, when, during the pastoral visit of the Bishop of Prugia in the Doicese of Grosseto, is the reported presence among the remains of the fortress ruins of a church dedicated to St, Andrea. The same, two centuries later, is remembered as the church of St. Andrea to Fortress, further confirmation of the presence of a religious building in the "Cassero" of Scarlino.
The real story of this building of worship has emerged only through the archaeological excavations, which led to light not only the walls of the church of St. Andrea, but below them, the remains of the oldest buildings dating to the Middle Ages. Thanks to archaeological data it was possible to reconstruct the events of the oldest church of Scarlino through the centuries, in parallel with what has been done to the nearby structures of the castle.
The remains of the first building of worship date back to early Middle Ages (IX - X century AD), when on the western tip of the plateau the first church was built in masonry, together with a second structure for which it was not possible to define the function. Although the title of this first church is unknown, it represents an exceptional discovery for understanding the evolutionary process that during the tenth century marks the passage from the early Middle Ages village in the first true castle, mentioned in written documents from 973 AD.
The remains today of the excavated middle ages church of La Pieve di Santa Maria at the Castello di Scarlino
This building was a modest single aisle house with one apse, decorated with some frescoes depicting human figures (probably saints) alternate with decorative elements, in some cases geometric in other of floral type. The structures discovered with the excavation, which at this stage had a mainly private function, appear in the early Middle Ages as the only masonry buildings among a village of huts made of wood.
The subsequent church that emerged during the archaeological excavation can be dated during the twelfth century, when the main buildings of the castle are rebuilt in the Romanesque style, with use of mighty stone walls, blocks with well-squared placed on horizontal lines and regular. The early church was demolished and replaced with a new basin apse. The building that flanked the church was rebuilt with the addition of a mezzanine floor, reachable through an internal staircase, with stone floors and a small drainage ditch, placed under a quadrangular base, also slabs of stone: these elements have been interpreted by archaeologists as the remains of a small baptismal structure. Such an interpretation would establish at least this time the new role played by the church in the castle of Scarlino and the transition from the initial private structure to a building with a specific public role in a relationship with the surrounding community. Besides the end of the thirteenth century is attested for the first time by a documentary sources the "Pieve di S. Maria di Scarlino" that some scholars had identified with the Romanesque building just described.
During the fourteenth century, when the rest of the plateau was involved by the building of the impressive Pisan fortress, the continuity of use of the church is attested by the development of the cemetery function, which leads to the spread of many tombs in front of the building.
The last extended transformation of the church dates to the fifteenth century, during the Lordship of Appiano: in the building of worship was rebuilt rectangular without apse, with in front an area paved with stone slabs and intended to cemetery area. Alongside the presbytery is built a new room and equipped with at least two floors. The entire area of the presbytery, however, is distinguished by a great arc across the aisle and an elevated level reached by three steps. The nave is paved with bricks arranged like a fish spine, while the presbytery, bounded by two wooden banisters (of which was identified to house the collection), presents a paving slabs of local stone.
The walls are plastered and decorated with frescoes and stucco, as shown by some fragments, dating from the late fourteenth and fifteenth century, unearthed during the excavation of layers of collapse. Finally in the east of the sacristy, at the baptismal structure of Romanesque, were built three new rooms, one used as a rectory, and the other two respectively used as stables and barns.
In a small niche cut into the wall of the stable, was discovered during the archaeological excavation a small jar containing 100 gold coins, concealed around in the first thirty years of the fifteenth century.
The church will remain alive throughout the fifteenth century, albeit with some partial renovation, and is likelt to be the remains of these walls that were visited in 1576 by the bishop of Prugia. Moreover, the archaeological excavation has collected clear signs of a last attempt at restoration of the church occurred several decades later (in the early seventeenth century) when the buildings on the sides asre finally abandoned and demolished."
If you would like to read about the development of the middle ages castle with which the history of La Pieve di Santa Maria was so tightly bound, this Castello di Scarlino link will take you to its page within this guide in which you will find photographs and directions on how to get there etc.
It is well worth a visit - not only to see the castle first hand and touch its walls... (I love castles!) but just for the spectacular panoramic views of La Maremma during the drive or walk up to the site and then when you are there. Looking for some special rest and relaxation?: take a book and sit and read in the grounds with swallows swooping over you, the valley below, the metalliferous hills and the sparkling blue of the Golf of Follonica. Enjoy!
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