But the Maremma’s real golden age was brought about by the calm and industrious Etruscans. Etruria covers much of the modern Maremma and was a beautiful empire that funded its existence through mining and selling metals and golds to the rest of the pre-Roman world. Archaeologists believe the Etruscans were incredibly cultured, loved music and dancing, had a frighteningly-modern system of government and shared their knowledge with the Greeks.
Unfortunately, they weren’t the best soldiers, so when the Romans came to take their land, the Etruscans were wiped out. The Romans wanted the Maremma for its minerals, its thermal springs and access to the sea. You can still visit Etruscan cities throughout the Maremma. The best two are Vulci and Roselle and both are open to intrepid tourists all year round.
From the glory of Rome, the Maremma collapsed into age after age of fear, religious zealots and war. The two shining figures of the Middle Ages were the Aldobrandeschi and Orsini families. Both incredibly noble, and at times brash, they divided almost all of the Maremma between them from the 10th to the 15th century. They built the fortresses that dominate almost every modern Maremman city today.
But their rule couldn’t last forever and the Spanish and Sienese Republic tore the province apart. The Maremmani hated their foreign rulers, but they had to endure them for almost 300 years. By that point, the province had almost been entirely abandoned. Large swamps and coastal marshes covered the fertile lands, rivers without dams flooded the woods and Mediterranean vegetation. Malaria killed everyone, including Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Lorraine – the Medici who liberated the Maremma from their foreign invaders.
As I sit here and write this history, it seems a little bulky and dry, but you have to understand that it’s this history that defines the modern Maremma. The province itself was only united in the 18th century along with the Republic of Italy. Its residents may no longer remember a time when the Maremma was separate, but those dividing lines are still a part of their lives.
The locals here might call themselves Maremmani, but what they really mean is that they’re Mancianese, Pitiglianese, Grossetani. They have their own histories, their own traditions, their own cuisine and sometimes their own dialect. When I first came to the Maremma, I fell in love with this independence and assertiveness. No matter how small the city, there is always something that makes it unique from even its closest neighbours.
For a tourist, every Maremman city is like its own world. Centuries of history and an infectious heritage that is just waiting to be discovered city after city.