Montioni today is a tiny hamlet within Maremma Livornese, with a population of about fifteen people. Blink as you take the road to Suvereto from Maremma Grossetana and you wouldn't know that you had passed through it. But at one time it was the home of Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, and a thriving allum mining village.
It is situated in the centre of over 7,000 hectares of protected holm oak woodland - Il Parco Interprovinciale di Montioni - that:
The harvested "sughero" - cork in the hamlet
And it also resides within the "bosci di sugheri" - the cork woods - of the municipality of Suvereto (and the comune of the Province of Livorno) where the ancient practice of harvesting Cork Oak bark is still undertaken.
The village of Montioni was probably established in medieval times - the "Castello di Montioni" (the castle of Montioni) was well established by 1300 - and from the evidence available in ancient documents its name was taken from either the latin Mons Juni ("Monte di giugno" - Mount of June), Montemmum ("piccolo monte" - small hill), or simply just Montioni.
In any event, the villages subsequent history is dominated by that of the excavation in caves of the mineral "allume" - alum.
|Fabbricato dei Vetturini: the accommoation for the coachmen and their animals with Elisa Bonaparte's house in the background.|
The extent of the weath of alum deposits in the area was first discovered in 1474 by the then owner of the Castello di Montioni and Prince of Piombino, Iacopo IV Appiani.
But this discovery initiated what was to be decades of clashes with Pope Sisto IV, who owned the only other alum mine (Tolfa discovered in 1461) and hence the monopoly on its production.
The arguements even led to the discommunication from the church of the citizens of Massa Marittima, in whose jurisdiction at that time the alum resources resided and who were accused of selling the Castello di Montioni when it was not their to sell but the property of the church.
By 1550 the tensions with the church were resolved and major excavations were initiated.
|The old Fabbricato dell'Imposto: part storage for wood and allum and part accommodation.|
Mining continued under Cosimo I dei Medici and were then intensified for a short period by the first Duke of Tuscany, Francesco III di Lorena, but ceased entirely due to reemergent pressures from the Pope.
In 1747 the mines were closed completely when the "Stato Pontifico" - the Papal State - paid 12,000 "scudi" to the then owner Gaetano Domenico Buoncompagni-Ludovisi.
Although the mines galleries fell into rack and ruin, they quietly continued operating with a much smaller contingent of men.
In 1788 alum mining industry collapsed with the French discovery of artificial alum. But despite this, under the guidance of Maria Anna Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and Duchess of Tuscany, the village and its alum mines flourished.
In Montioni the "Ministero per i ben e le Attivita Culturali" information about Maria Anna (Marie Anne) Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi on the stand adjacent to the commemorative obelisk near her residence reads:
"On 18 March 1805 Napoleon granted the strategically very important State of Piombino to his sister Elisa and her husband Felice Baciocchi. It was the first time that the emperor had entrusted the government of a state to a relative of his.
Hence from 1805 Elisa was to be Princess of Lucca and Piombino. Then she became Grand Duchess of Tuscany from 1809 to 1814, the year of Napoleon's abdication.
Elisa had a very similar character to her brother, and devoted herself with great commitment to the government of her territories, to which she sought, also successfully, to bring the most interesting novelties from Paris in the field of arts and culture but also in infrastructures, health, production activities and agriculture.
|The well near the residence of Elisa Bonaparte with the more recent commemorative obelisk in her memory in the background.|
At Montioni, for instance, thanks to Elisa there was a revival of alum quarrying, which had long been interrupted.
The 'Commune of Elisa-Montioni', a tiny settlement in open countryside with a clearly commemorative name, was created.
In 1820 a building was put up to house the guards and Elisa's administration commissioned the project from the French architect Biennaime, who had already worked at the Napoleonic court in Paris.
Still today you can visit the remains of the alum quarries and the ruins of a thermal plant that was supplied by a spring whose waters were collected in a marble tub, where tradition has it that Elisa took a bath.
|The initial residence of Elisa Bonaparte|
In the countryside around Montioni the Princess set going important reclamation work, she revived agriculture, she introduced intensive cotton growing, for which she got some growers to come from America, she improved the cultivation of the olive tree, entrusting it to expert farmers from the Lucca area, and she had some high-quality vines like the Bordeaux and Champagne ones brought there from France."
With the end of Napoleon's reign, the mines returned to the government of Lorena and, in 1821 were rented to a private firm whose expertise improved the quality of the alum produced in Montioni and hence reinforced its competitive position in relation to artificial alum.
The old Dispenser building: a food store
In 1837 the mines were transfered to the "Minere del Ferro di Follonica", and a year later a rail track was built to connect Montioni to Follonica.
In 1860 the baking of the old and expensive boilers for baking the extracted alum were replaced with iron ones with resultant sunstantial increase in production.
Managed by SIMEC from 1930, the mines were finally declared uneconomical and permanently closed in 1938.
Tiny as it is, there is a place to stop for coffee, lunch or dinner in the hamlet: the family-run Bar Ristorante La Foresta. And many do. During the day workers and "cacciatore" (hunters) in the area stop by for a cafe and a chat and you will find them sat outside throughout the day (not the same people!) with the owner. At the weekends, the restaurants visitors tend to be families for lunch.
La Foresta offers a meat and mushroom based home-cooking menu, such as first course tagliatelle pasta with "funghi" (mushrooms) or "cinghiale" (wild boar), and second course meats such as "cinghiale con olive umido" (a wild boar with olives stew), "faraona" (guinea fowl) and "bistecca" (steak).
When chicken is on the menu I can vouch for its freshness, as I have often watched the cook (and wife) select a chicken from her hens and emerge from the back of the premises a little while later with a bucket of feathers!
For those of you who like a dessert, they are all home-made by the lady of the house.
If you just want a light snack, the bar also doubles as a small Italian deli, with cheeses and salami etc, plus a selection of chocolate bars and ice-creams.
Montioni holds another completely unexpected surprise for a visitor and one that I cannot help but find amusing given the number of hunters who frequent the La Foresta. If you visit in the early morning or early evening, you will find families of wild boar gathered together in the hamlet next to the bar, behind the cork store, or in the car park.
Living in the park, these boar are protected from hunting and so, sat just a stone's throw distance away (sometimes less), the local Maremmani hunters are unable to touch them!
The first time I saw a sounder of boar here, I thought that they must belong to the owners of the restaurant and be kept for the table. I asked and was told that they are wild, but have developed a habit of coming down into the hamlet in the search for food. No doubt encouraged by some locals who when dropping by for a coffee often offer up something of interest. I have even seen them being fed pineapple.
|Wild boar near the stacked "sughero" - cork from the neighbouring "bosco di sughero", Suvereto. If you visit, it is NOT recommended that you get this close: they are very dangerous animals.|
A word of caution: in the early morning and evening wild boar will venture out of their woodland homes into open countryside, along and across the roadside.
If you are driving in Maremma do take care as a collision with an adult boar will invariably write off the car etc.
If you would like to see some more wild boar pictures, the link will take you to a page of my photographs taken at Montioni.
And this one to my wild boar videos.
Want to know more about Maremma's wild boar, some of whom root for food right down to the edge of the pine woods along Maremma's spectacular beaches? Click on this wild boar facts link for the first of two pages with 175 facts - everything you ever wanted to know and more!
The wild boar sculpture in the car park
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