If you are going to visit Roccatederighi. And you should :) You should do so during the summer months. That isn't to say that this medieval Maremma hill town doesn't warrant a visit any other time of the year. It does. For it's historical centre - built on and around an exposed rock - is well worth a visit with its preserved medieval streets and narrow alleyways. And there is the panoramic view, nothing less than stupendous.
But that during the summer, something magical happens. It is called the Mostra La Rocca. It transforms the medieval heart into an outdoor art gallery with surprises to delight all ages around all of its corners.
Don't be put off by the fact that you will probably be the only foreign visitor there. Maremma's ancient hill towns including Roccatederighi, are still mostly secret places that make you feel that you are the only one to have discovered them.
And the locals are very friendly if you fancy striking-up a conversation; even with those of an altogether different sort!
Your children will love this place: posing next to lizards on rocks, next to huge spider webs, and fables in papier mache.
You'll find black and white portrait photograph of local residents on the walls of the streets, and if you fancy having yours join the rolling collage of visitors that is projected onto one of the walls, just put your feet on the painted feet on the street around the corner from Piazza and press the button on the cord.
And the next day your face will join the show!
Open doors lead to rooms converted into art galleries of local artists paintings, marble sculptures, and "odd" installations: something for all tastes.
Chairs are hung on street walls bedecked with tins holding fresh flowers.
There are nude horse-riders and wine lovers in wheelbarrows!
Red ribbons stream in the breeze atop the rock. And a red run of knitting runs through the alleyways.
You are invited to sit under a porch and pick up the knitting needles and red wool and add to its length: many people do, young and old as the summer progresses and the length of knitting extends further around the medieval streets.
And as you reach the summit of it all you will find Rapunzel's hair let down from the church tower with a ticket machine dispensing numbers for a turn to be pulled up!
And just when you think it is all over and walk along the footpath beside the church of San Martino Vescovo, the garden alongside reveals wooden sculptures, and then there is the VIEW.
Turn around to face the church and the final surprise are two marble heads on stands looking at you. And that view.
The whole show takes on a different air in the evening, when a night route is lit up under buildings and down very dark and dank alleyways. With concerts. Live music. And a programme of astronomic star, galax,y and nebula gazing with telescopes, that takes you through the evening.
The Mostra La Rocca starts in mid-June each year and runs until the end of July. Click on the link below for more photographs, the dates and programme for this year.
The Mostra La Rocca in 2016 has a whole new set of installations to see...
These boots aren't part of the art exhibition, but belong to a house with a porch of vines beneath the rock :)
It was for sale during the summer.
When - as I always do - I spoke with one of the locals, it turned out that he was one of the organisers of the summer transformation of Roccatederighi. He asked me where I was from and whether I had seen the view from the top of town.
When I told him that I lived near Massa Marittima, he acknowledged that the view from there was a special one. And it is, one of my very favourites in Maremma. Then, in a completely uncompetitive way, informed me that the view of Maremma from Roccatederighi was very "particulare" (particular) and that I should not miss it.
And, oh boy, is he right. On a clear day, it is nothing less than stupendous.
And even on a misty September evening.
You will need to walk to the very tip of Roccatederighi, to behind the church of San Martino Vescovo to see it.
The town hasn't always been called Roccatederighi: that came in 1239 with the recognition that it was ruled - and had been for some time - by the Tederighi or Tederigoli family, vassals of the much larger and powerful dynasty in Maremma, the Aldobrandeschi family.
Rocca + Tederighi, where "rocca" in Italian means rock or fortress. In this case both, as, as is the case with nearly all of Maremma's ancient forts and castles, they were built on the highest points of the land, on and around bedrock outcrops. In the case of Roccatederighi, that of volcanic rhyolite massifs.
And it had two ancient castles in its time, not just the one.
It was originally known as Rocca Norsina: records go back to the year 952 and a document dated 29 August 1110 involving a Rinaldo di Tederigo.
In 1294, the ruling nobility began selling in parts the castle and its rights to the city of Siena. The last sale took place in 1323, when Tora di Bolgaruccci, wife of Boccio d'Inghiramo, Count of Biserno, sold their last remaining part of the castle and its mineral mines.
The city of Siena gave control of the castle and the town to the rich and influential Sienese family, the Salimbeni, who judged the location to be ideal for controlling traffic through the all important trade route of the Merse valley and so established their headquarters there.
The Salimbeni rule wasn't without its troubles and in 1404 they lost it all when the local population concluded a deal they had been negotiating for some time with the Republic of Siena to become a free city in exchange for complete submission.
Amongst other notable events in its subsequent history is the most dramatic and damaging one: the castle and town's complete destruction - with the exception of the gateway entrance and two tower houses - in 1553 by the army of Marquess of Maragliano during the Italian War. The Republic of Siena fell months later in April 1555.
Summer festivities in Roccatederighi continue after MostraLaRocca with a town-wide and popular medieval festival that sees the historic centre streets transformed into the middle ages over an early August weekend - the "Medioevo nel Borgo". (The 2014 dates were 8, 9 and 10th August.)
With locals in medieval costume for the three days, street theatre, acrobats, buskers, minstrels and magicians, and medieval food (ancient recipes that is not the original found in an archaeological dig!) served from taverns set-up for the event in corners of the town, the whole place comes alive with colour and smells!
An old lady I have met has told me that her alleyway is completely transformed into a huge kitchen and that the piazza next to her house is laid out with tables and chairs and the "rocca" all decorated beautifully. But that this summer, the decorations were all literally swept away one night during a torrential downpour that soaked Maremma.
The artisan and food stalls lining the streets and in the medieval market won't take your money! Instead you will have to exchange your Euros at the once double and impressive "porta" gateway as you enter the walled centre, for Roccatederighi florins :)
The evenings see the streets lit with torches and home to wine bearers, witches and wizards, the perfume of cooking food and the sound of ballads :)
And then on the 14 August each year, the town holds its donkey palio, the "Palio dei Ciuchi".
The first ever palio took place on 14 August 1295: the year which witnessed an important marriage that brought with it the sovereignty of the city of Siena over the town, that between Binda the daughter of Mino di Bindoccino, and Bartolomeo di Nuccio, the son of Lord Aldobrandino Saracini of Siena.
The event starts with a blessing and a parade, then the allocation of a donkey to each of the jockeys representing the towns five districts; the Corso, Nobili, Torre, Tramonto and Ventosa. They race through the streets of the town for the chance of winning a much revered hand painted cloth.
And in accordance with local tradition, the winner and his district celebrate well into the night (and the rest of August!) whereas the streets of the other four districts remain dark.
If you happen to be heading to Roccatederighi from the Ribolla road, when you arrive at the main junction of the Strada Provincial - SP - 32 with the SP 152, the signs will tell you to take the left via Montemassi to Roccatederighi.
And the road will do just that along a main route road, albeit along a slightly longer route than the alternative.
But if you have Google maps, you will have seen that there is also what appears to be a more direct route if you turn right at the aforementioned junction and then very shortly afterwards take a left - the second one, the SP 89, signposted for Sassofortino.
And it is a more direct route, but a minor, twisty, and narrow road.
But it is this road that you should take for it is a beautiful drive through vineyards and then woodland, that takes you up and up into chestnut tree altitude. If you are anything like me, you'll be joking that with your children or passengers in the back of your car that you will have to let them out to walk the rest of the way up in order for you to make it!
When you reach its summit, turn left (rather than right into Sassofortino) and just a couple of kilometres along with great views, will bring you into town.
But if you arrive at Roccatederighi from the north, or have taken the main via Montemassi route, don't worry that you have missed out, because this road is even better drive coming down! We love this drive.
NOTE If by chance you take the first left after the junction of the SP 32 with the SP 152, which is signposted as a wine route, you will still arrive at Roccatederighi. In the centre of town in fact. But it is is much narrower road and will give the less confident of drivers amongst you a few nerves. You'll think you are lost on more than one occasion!
My advice: stick to the SP 89 at least on the first time you visit. If, on the other hand, you are staying in Roccatederighi and taking day trips out, then this route will make for an exciting exploration!
If you do take the main signed route past Montemassi, be aware that when you enter Roccatederighi, the first right road on your right along which you will see the centre of town, is a one way street out of town and a no entry. But it isn't signposted as such (or if it is, I didn't see it!). So you will need to continue up the hill a little to a junction and turn right, which will bring you into the more modern part of this Tuscan hill town.
Finding a parking space in the centre of town is usually easy, even during the summer. The historic centre is pedestrian access only (unless you live there and have grown-up maneuvering an Ape in your sleep!)
If you are lucky you might just spot a rare nocturnal gentleman - a "Falena" moth - whilst wandering the streets as we did.
Not far from Roccatederighi, on private land hidden by trees, are the hidden remains of an underground vaulted Romanesque crypt that once belonged to the Benedictine abbey of San Salvatore di Guignano. You will need to descend a wrought-iron ladder into its depths to explore it.
Unusual places to visit in Tuscany don't come more hidden than this! The crypt of Abbazia di San Salvatore di Giugnano.
Explore some more...