Imagine. It is June 1544 and you are stood on the ramparts of the Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone fortress. Watching. Waiting. For a vast Corsair pirate fleet that a Constantinople spy has told you is on its way to attack Maremma's coast and inland castles. Mercilessly. You know that they must be within a breaths distance. But you cannot see them.
You're a paid soldier and, plied over the last few days with provisions and wine to keep you in good humour, you have stayed at your post. Whilst others, due to take-up station within sight down the coast at Orbetello have taken the money and run. But now, in the light of day and with the gossip running amok, the full extent of the barbaric force approaching has become frighteningly clear.
Despite your advantageous position and the fortresses walls, you know your fate at the end of the day will be death. Or worse. Slaughtered by a sword. Or, if deemed fit and strong, silenced and shackled.
Imagine again. This time you are no more than a boy on the cusp of becoming a man. It's May 1860. You are stood with three hundred other men who have secretly gathered in the Rocca from across Tuscany. Waiting to volunteer to stand alongside and fight with Giuseppe Garibaldi on his epic journey south to Sicily in two stolen steam ships. A journey that will change the face of Italian history.
Some of the men next to you have only old muskets. But no gunpowder. You and many others have no arms at all. But you are wearing your thin "Red Shirt" that Garibaldi has given you with pride. In eight days you will face in battle twice your number of well equipped, trained military. And then an army eight times your size. There is apprehension as night falls but someone starts singing and you whisper sweet words of love into the air to your mother to sooth the lamenting image of her in your head.
Fast forward one hundred and fifty-six years to 2016.
Today the Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone is one of the best picnic spots in the whole of Maremma.
Sat high up on a rocky promontory, it dominates the coastal skyline along Maremma's Silver Coast all the way to Monte Argentario. The view from its walls, with the sun shining on an endless emerald and blue seascape below, will blow you away and fill you with awe.
So much so that when it is time to move on, your feet refuse to budge. Not until both your heart and soul have had their fill and are overflowing with the magic of it all.
And if you happen to be there when the late afternoon is turning into evening and the theatrical show of the sunset over the ocean is starting, stay a while. Climb up to the tower walkway and watch. It will sweep your girl off her feet.
The path up to the Rocca from inside Talamone takes you up steps past gardens and then along a rutted path that is well worn and isn't kept in good condition. And the final "step" up at the base of the Rocca is a hike up. There is no way you will get a wheelchair up that way without carrying it the whole way.
The better bet if you do have a pushchair etc, is to take that scenic walk along the "Mura di Talamone" (the ancient city walls), that will bring you to the other side of the Rocca and its entrance door.
The original Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone was built in the middle ages by the nobility that ruled most of Maremma at that time, the Aldobrandeschi family. From which it takes it's name.
Its function was a lookout post against a sea attack and defence of the town's small port.
In 1303, the Republic of Siena acquired the town and it's fortress from the Aldobrandeschi counts. It is unlikely that the Aldobrandeschi had any choice in the matter, nor that it was the result of a desired sale. Most probably their loss of Talamone - a very strategic property indeed - formed part of the other losses they incurred to Siena as their power increasingly waned at the hand of year upon year of the Republic's machinations to control Maremma.
Nevertheless, the Republic didn't take possession with an intention of letting it rot. On the contrary, they had had their eyes on it for a long time. For they had plans. Big ones. And Talamone and its Rocca were at the crux of those plans.
It was going to do serious damage to the city of Pisa, its enemy. Economically. In particular its port, Porto Pisano.
Within two years a detailed plan for a new settlement, a new road connecting Talamone with Siena, a reinforced Rocca, and a new, much larger port, capable of handling a large volume of trading ships was ready.
The Rocca took on its rectangular form with four towers, one at each of its corners. Three of which were built of equal size, but its northern tower was built much taller as the principal look-out tower. And curtain walls, part of Talmone's new defensive city walls, flowed from it along the cliff top.
Then the Sienese played a strategic game with their new prize possession. With trade agreements signed, they handed over management of the new port to Firenze. The other of Pisa's rivals. Florentine merchants left Porto Pisano in droves and diverted all of their trade and customers to Talamone.
Firenze's fleet of ships patrolled the coast controlling all movements in and out of the new port.
The plan worked.
And, despite Siena's subsequent up and down changes in fortune, it continued to do so for fifty years. Until that is Firenze overthrew Pisa and became the owner of Porto Pisano. With need no more of Talamone. And her merchants returned to Pisa.
But still, the Republic of Siena continued to favour its progeny port and deployed military engineers to repair and modernised the Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone and the defence walls well into the 16th century.
On the night of May 7 1860, three hundred and thirteen Republican partisans gathered at the Rocca waiting for Giuseppe Garibaldi in his two stolen steam ships to arrive to collect them, water, and much needed fire arms on the "Expedition of a Thousand's" way to the port of Marsala, on the westernmost part of Sicily.
Where they landed four days later and the battles against the Bourbon army began.
Dressed in a simple uniform of red jacket and grey trousers, Garibaldi's volunteer "Red Shirts" were very poorly armed with insufficient and outdated muskets. But, even outnumbered by 2:1, they won their first battle at Calatafimi. And their second in a siege against 16,000 soldiers in Palermo, aided by local men and some two thousand prisoners released from the city's jails.
By the end of October it was all but over. Conquered, the entire "Regno delle Due Sicilie" (Kingdom of Two Sicilies) was permanently annexed to the Kingdom of Italy established on 17 March the following year.
World War II bombings in 1944 saw the Rocca - and much of the town - damaged.
Inside the stairs go down as well as up and the floors slope (that isn't my camera's angle!).
My helper! I wouldn't want to have lived down there: much to much of a closed-in feeling.
Looking up along the way to the fortress's battlements.
Out onto the walkway.
Looking back down into the Rocca's inner courtyard.
I'm in this photo too: well, my shadow is! I'm stood on the opposite parapet.
If you have little ones in your family, visit with some black eye patches, swashbuckling swords and some bags of gold with you to make the tower wall walk magical for them. For this castle, as strong and imposing as it is, was attacked on more than one occasion by Saracen pirates raiding Maremma.
In June 1544, the Corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa and his fleet arrived along Maremma's silver coast and devastated it and every living soul.
And, if you think they are brave enough to hear it without giving them nightmares, tell them of Saturday, 10 June 1544.
For on that day, even the Rocca couldn't save the men, women and children of Talamone.
Barbarossa's armada was moored around the Island of Elba. On Friday, 9 June 1544, Salih Reis, an Ottoman admiral working with Barbarossa, set sail to Talamone as vanguard with his sixty galleys. The rest of the fleet followed not far behind and were spotted that night by look-outs posted in the hill town of Montepescali. But no one knew whether they were headed for Talamone or Porto Ercole.
Talamone's men sent their women and children fleeing to Montiano and Siena with what possessions they could carry.
At about two o'clock on the afternoon of 10 June, Salih Reis arrived at Talamone and immediately began intense artillery fire on the town and the Rocca. Whilst five hundred of his men disembarked and circumnavigated the town. Talamone was then assailed from both land and sea.
But managed to repel the attack.
But the Corsairs were just warming-up before the big game.
Two hours later, the whole armada and Barbarossa had arrived. And in less time than that, the town was taken. And set ablaze. A fire that could be seen for miles and miles inland and out to sea.
Fifty or sixty or so men who had managed to avoid capture, sought refuge inside the Rocca. Making the count inside now a grand one hundred and fifty-six men.
The artillery attack on the Rocca continued but did little damage. Faced, however, with Barbarossa's full-force of six thousand soldiers and no hope of reinforcements arriving - the total number of men that had been paid or been dispatched to various points along the coast to defend Maremma was two thousand men - the Captain stationed at the Rocca and the castle's warden had no choice but to try and negotiate their surrender. Which they bravely did, leaving the fortress and walking into the enemy's den.
But Barbarossa wasn't a man known for niceties and refused to consider any terms. As the two men returned behind the Rocca's walls, his galleys turned their bows to land and began their cannon fire. All day long. Setting the Rocca alight to join the flames of the town.
Ceasing only at nightfall.
In the early hours of Sunday, 11 June 1544, the men inside the Rocca attempted to escape through breaches in the fortress's defences, but the Corsairs had eyes in the dark and took seventeen prisoners. Whom they swiftly put to death.
As dawn came, and in the face of the impossible, the Captain and the warden surrendered the Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone to Barbarossa. They were allowed to go free. One hundred and forty of the men inside were chained together. Their fate, a life sentence as galley slaves.
The Rocca and it's town continued to burn. No one was left alive. Not even horses or cattle.
In all, Barbarossa took 157 men and women at Talamone as slaves. They joined 1,289 others taken from Montiano - where the men and women of Talamone had fled two days before - Porto Ercole and the Island of Giglio.
The Ottoman fleet then set sail south, with plans to return home before conditions at the end of summer made the journey difficult for them to so do. They didn't stay around this time to enable their prisoners of wealth or those with connections to get message to family of their captivity and raise ransom monies for their release.
That would have to wait until the ships docked further south at Civitavecchia in Lazio.
But Talamone's experience was a drop in the ocean compared to the other Ottoman raids by Hayreddin that year. In just one raid he took 4,000 prisoners from the Island of Ischia, and then went on to enslave between two and three thousand inhabitants of the Island of Lipari.
But his fellow Ottoman, Dragut Rais, for whom he had that same year laid the Tuscany coastal city of Genoa to siege with 210 ships after his offer to pay a ransom was refused, was worse. Forcing the city to release Dragut - and Salih who had been captured with Dragut - Barbarossa secured his release for three thousand five hundred ducats.
Dragut and Salih had been captured in Corsica in 1540, whilst their ships were in harbour there being repaired. They had both been forced to work for four years as galley slaves in the ship of the man who captured them, before being thrown into a Genoa jail.
He gave Dagut Rais a flagship and command of part of his fleet and the horror immediately began.
Dragut landed in Corsica and took his revenge on Genoese property, and attacked the island of Gozo.
He had five thousand residents of Vieste beheaded. Without a second thought. And then transported the six thousand left into a life of living death.
For these pirates were systematic and ruthless. Taking only those living souls that were strong enough to survive the return journey to the Barbary Coast and could be sold into slavery at market for a good profit. Good looking boys and girls included. The rest were slaughtered.
It isn't hard then to imagine - as spine chilling as it is - the depth of fear that every man, woman and child living along and near the coast of Maremma must have felt when the Ottoman ships were spotted coming. If in fact they were. For, despite the coastal look-out towers along the Mediterranean coast built just for them, often as not they were on shore before anyone knew they had arrived.
The Corsair admirals were skilled sailors and strategists. Their journey across the Tyrrhenian Sea wasn't a long one. And their attacks weren't haphazard affairs. They were well planned and executed.
OK, enough. You can make-up a great ending where bravery wins for the day. Even if it didn't.
It is at sunset that the Rocca Aldobrandesca di Talamone's walls turn orange.
You don't need to be a millionaire or book into a luxury resort to WOW your girl big time and sweep her off her feet in this part of Tuscany. The best romantic moments all come free in Maremma :)
And then when the Rocca's doors are closing and you think the show is all over, take the path down along the restored city walls and look back at the lighthouse for the very last flames of the sunset.
You can walk around and picnic at the Rocca anytime of the year.
After many years of being closed to the public, the inside of the Rocca opened to the public again last summer (on the 27 June 2015).
It is open from June to October. Monday and Friday afternoons from 16:30 to 19:30. Saturday and Sundays from 10:00 to 12:30 and from 16:30 to 19:30.
When we went last autumn, entrance was free.
Within just a few feet of the Rocca Aldobrandesca are some tiny rocky coves to explore.
And a short drive will take you to the town's sandy, kitesurfing beach.
Explore some more...