Where is the Maremma in Italy?

The Maremma is a loosely defined area largely within Southern Tuscany but also extending further south along the Tyrrhenian coast into Lazio. Today it is a beautiful area with long sweeping plains, beautiful hilltop towns and plenty of Etruscan and Roman remains. But during the middle ages and the following centuries it was a marshland infected by malaria, and was only succesfully drained in the middle of the 20th century.

History of the Maremma

The Maremma, a strange and beautiful part of Tuscany, was a heartland for the Etruscans, whose drainage and irrigation canals on the coastal plain that runs south from Piombino headland turned this area into a land of huge agricultural potential. Populonia, Cosa, Tarquinii and Caere were the largest Etruscan hilltop towns, as well as several ports that handled Etruria’s foreign trade. After the Roman conquest, the Maremma was a popular area for Roman villas where the Roman nobility could go to escape city life, and the Romans developed the Etruscan commerce in ceramics and metalwork. Later, however, the canals were neglected and fell into disrepair and the population of the Maremma was reduced to pockets around the picturesque towns, and the once fertile fields returned to being marshes and were ruled by brigands.

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The beautiful village of Pitigliano precariously balanced on its knife-edge tufa ridge

Medieval Maremma

In the middle ages, feudal lords erected strongholds in defence against attacks, mostly from Siena and Orvieto. From the thirteenth century on, sieges, conflicts, pirate raids and malaria caused more destruction and depopulation until the local lords finally surrendered to Sienese rule. In 1555 Siena in turn fell to Florence and became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Poverty and illness within the Maremma increased, until Grand Duke Leopoldo II instigated new drainage schemes and introduced a crude health service in 1828.

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Umbrella Pines and sunflowers in the Maremma

The wild natural landscape of the Maremma today

Today, the Maremma presents some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable and is one of the most rewarding travel destinations around. Even in July and August there is a lush feel to the countryside. The many streams and rivers attracted settlements here even before the Etruscans arrived in the seventh century BC.

There are numerous unspoiled hill villages, often still very little more than medieval castles and their surrounding strongholds, built on the underlying rock and stone. Marked paths through the forested hills help the visitor explore the countryside with its castles, evocative Etruscan remains and beautiful waterfalls, while excellent local restaurants provide meals to impress even the most jaded palate.

Massa Marittima

Massa Marittima is the finest historical town of the Maremma. During the height of its glory it built some of the most beautiful monuments in Tuscany, and the Duomo with its Pisan travertine architecture and sculpture, set in an uneven piazza, is an experience not to be missed. Walking in the hilly streets of Massa today or sitting in the square, everywhere you can still see Etruscan, Saracen and Roman faces - figures in a spider's web of history.

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The striking Duomo of Massa Marittima in Grosseto

Cowboys of the Maremma

Part of the Maremmana plain is preserved as a National Park, known as L'Uccellina: it is home to rare plants, birds and animals. It can be visited on foot or horseback accompanied by knowledgeable guides. The famous "butteri" (cowboys), who tend the region's cattle and horses - ride with extraordinary skill, herding the free-ranging, long-horned Maremma cattle across the plains and hills. The "butteri" are still proud of the time they beat Buffalo Bill in Rome in 1911. Rodeos and shows are held throughout the summer at Gavarone and Albarese.

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The Butteri in the Maremma were the original cowboys - image by alexcap76, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Horned Cattle of the Maremma

The cowboys of the Maremma honed their skills herding the local striking breed of cattle, the Maremmana. Very large and with long curved horns, the origins of the breed are obscure, though some maintain that these cows are the descendants of the Bos taurus macrocerus, an Etruscan breed of which archeological evidence is preserved in the Etruscan remains of Caere and Vetulonia, later cross-bred with cattle brought into the Italian peninsula by the Attila the Hun and other invaders from the East.

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The striking Maremmana cattle

Photo by Lori Sorrentino of Travlinmad. Thanks, Lori!

Where to stay in the Maremma

Have a look at our selection of Villas in the Maremma