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A brief history of Maremma: from marshland to important wine-growing area

A brief history of Maremma: from marshland to important wine-growing area

Maremma: historical region between Tuscany and Lazio

The vast historical region of Maremma extends for about 5000km² between Tuscany and Lazio. Over the course of time, it has experienced major changes in its history. Its historical image—still a reality in the early 1900s—is of the silences of vast swamplands reflecting the clouds carried in by wind, herdsmen driving their horses, rustling expanses of grass, marshes, seasonal workers that ventured into the grand estates, overwintering flocks of birds, charcoal burners in the forests, and the invisible but fatal presence of malaria.

The origins of the name Maremma

Today, we use completely different words to describe this very same territory: crescent-shaped beaches in front of pine forests, Mediterranean bushes and trails winding through the headlands, olive trees, holm oak and cypress, ancient signs of the Etruscans, and walled medieval villages. The toponym “Maremma” has two possible origins: according to some historical accounts, it comes from the Latin word maritima, others say that it comes from the Castilian word marismas, which means “swamps”. This last hypothesis is not farfetched, because in the Middle Ages the rising coastal waters created stagnant ponds out of the river waters, miring the lower part of the territory in swamps and leading to an abandonment of the lands.

The territory, which was once so thriving with life in the Etruscan and ancient Roman times that it was called the “breadbasket of Etruria”, fell into a crisis. Four emblematic examples of literature testify the depths to which Maremma had sunk: the famous triplet from the 13th canto of  “Inferno” by Dante (“No holts so rough or dense have those wild beasts / that hate the cultivated tracts / between Cecina and Corneto”); “Discorso sopra la Maremma Toscana” (Discourse on Maremma Tuscany, 1737) by the Archbishop Sallustio Bandini; the popular song “Maremma amara” (Bitter Maremma, from the first half of the 19th century) by an anonymous author; and “Studii di Archeologia Forestale” (Studies of Forest Archaeology, 1863) by Adolfo di Berenger.

The great reclamation of the Maremma

On April 27, 1828, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopoldo II issued the State-funded edict for the reclamation of the land of Maremma. Work began at the end of 1829, involving about five thousand workers who came from all over Tuscany, Italy, and even from abroad. They worked under the direction of the horseman Alessandro Manetti, supported by the duchy. But one person was even more fundamental than Manetti in this project: Giuseppe Mazzanti, the so-called “Bolgheri farmer”.

Though by no means an expert in engineering or hydraulics, as he studied entirely other subjects during his life, his experience and observation of the natural movements of rainwater led him to close the useless Seggio Vecchio canal and dig another, named the Seggio Nuovo. This turned huge swaths of once-swampy land into fertile territory.

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