You could so easily walk past the old olive oil mill in Seggiano and not even know it was there. But you should go. Down and down the steps of the unpromising medieval alleyway that takes you underground beneath the centuries old building above. And through its locked door.
But, you'll need the key...
Built at the end of the 19th century, the frantoio belonging to the Ceccherini family remained in operation until the mid 1950's when it's doors closed on what was, at its time, a technologically advanced cold press olive oil mill. Serving between four and five families in Seggiano and producing some of Italy's very finest extra virgin olive oil.
Until very recently its doors remained closed, as they had been when the key was turned for the last time. Life above continued for sixty plus years touching it only by the passing of decades of dust through the ceramic tiled floor of the palazzo building above onto the frantoio's rafters and equipment below. And the footsteps of an occasional passing rodent or two.
Everything remained untouched until its restoration a few years ago. And with great forethought, even that was a light touch for, conserving as much as possible of the environment that was found when the door was opened again a few years ago.
All of which means that if you walk down into the ancient Frantoio Ceccherini today, you will walk into a room in which time has stood still.
It is a museum. But there aren't any information boards, interactive screens for your kids to play on, and nor is there a cafeteria, or museum shop selling souvenirs produced in China.
All there is here, is the opportunity to literally walk back in time into the working environment of a Tuscany olive oil mill in the 1950's. A mill situated in the bowels of the tenth century heart of this medieval hill top town. A mill that ground olives from a rather special variety of olive tree. Which in turn grew on the slopes of a rather special extinct volcano. And which, at its hey day, was technologically way ahead of other frantoio's, not just here in Seggiano - for there were twenty-three others within Seggiano's defensive walls - but in the whole of Maremma and Tuscany.
The first steps down are these ever so smooth stones that show centuries of wear.
Looking back up into the daylight.
Turn the ninety degree corner and looking down to the first entrance.
Looking back up the worn stone steps.
Looking down to the next level.
Once inside this ancient frantoio it is the details that immediately strike you. And the incredible sense that, if you glanced away and then back, it wouldn't really surprise you to see a man the age of your grandfather or great-grand father at your side, in his overalls, busy at work.
The two huge and heavy olive mill stones once turned by donkeys.
The detail that I find fascinating wherever I go in Maremma.
The tiny circular door in the wall to I don't know where!
The old stone sink.
The three cold presses that channelled their extra virgin olive oil in copper pipes through the floor to the room below.
The room below. And the ceramic channel into which the oil poured.
It was in this second room that the expert olive oil mixer did his magic, alone, and produced Seggiano's exceptional oils.
A corner, still in the dark today...
The third level below, smaller still, where the oil was stored.
And, yes, the floor does slope - it isn't the angle of my lens!
Tours of the Ceccherini olive oil mill - that also include a tour of the Oratorio di San Rocco and the Olivo nel Cisternone - don't miss either of them! - the Antico Municipio (Old Town Hall), the (very damp and dark) church of San Bartolomeo, but with a notable 15th century wooden German crucifix, and the Chiesa di San Bernadino da Siena - are run by a local organisation, the "Fondazione Le Radici di Seggiano", established to help promote the town and its agriculture.
The Fondazione office is really easy to find in the centre of Seggiano: it's in the same square as the museum - the Piazza Umberto I - and its door is opposite the Chiesa of San Bernadino da Siena.
Piazza Umberto I, Number 16, 58038, Seggiano (Grosseto).
Tel. +39 0564 950972
Mobile: +39 334 5035334
The tours operate from Tuesday to Friday, from 08:00 to 13:00, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 14:00 to 18:00.
Tickets cost €5,00 for adults, and €3,00 for children between 6 and 10 years old. Under 6's go free.
Best to call/contact the Fondazione to book just to be sure there is someone there on the day you want to go.
As an additional extra during the tour, you can also opt for a tasting session of Seggiano's olive oils, including the unique Olivastra di Seggiano DOP ones.
Doing so is a peek window into a world of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Sommelier and an introduction to the language used to describe the flavours and the brief "piccante" highlights that marks the Seggiano oil as different from the more robust and inside of mouth "tickling" - as my young daughter describes - our own Maremma olive oil.
Tickets for the tasting cost €2,00.
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