Today the visitor arrives at Suvereto from the coast, coming down the Costa degli Etruschi along the via Aurelia and turning inland at Piombino or Venturina.
Today the visitor arrives at Suvereto from the coast, coming down the Costa degli Etruschi along the via Aurelia and turning inland at Piombino or Venturina. The culture and traditions of the village are entirely rural, however, and the countryside surrounding it unmistakably that of the Tuscan hills – although indelibly marked as a Maremman landscape, that fascinating environment which reflects the delicate balance between Man and Nature.
Suvereto is an evocative medieval village with its circuit of walls still intact, situated but a short distance from the Etruscan city of Populonia. The village, which boasts a particularly mild climate, nestles among the foothills, where the Cornia valley descends from the Colline Metallifere – the “metal-bearing hills”. From the village the eye takes in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Gulf of Follonica and, beyond, the island of Elba. Inland, roads and tracks wind amongst the hills towards Volterra and Massa Marittima. The local landscape – rich in cork oak, olive groves and vines – mirrors a local economy rooted in agriculture, forestry and stock-rearing. Today, activities linked to craft production and tourism may be added to the list. The forests of cork oak characterise the area along with aromatic tracts of Mediterranean scrubland. The cork oak itself – in Italian sughero, and in the local dialect suvero – gave rise to the name of the village, and may be seen on its coat of arms together with a Lion passant. The saying goes that in the past this lion was rampant – as if to demonstrate the historical importance of the village. The lowlands around the bed of the Cornia river are dotted with farmsteads – an inheritance of the mezzadria, sharecropping system of agriculture. This is also true of the lower hillsides, but the slopes of Monte Calvi and the area around Montioni are almost entirely covered by woodland and scrub. These latter are highly valued environments for they are remarkably rich in numerous species of flora and fauna. In particular this is true of the extensive area around Montioni, which in recent years has become a Provincial Park, where paths and bridleways snake amongst natural resources and archaeological remains, making it a paradise for trekking and horse-riding (see the pages on the Park of Montioni and the Parks of the Cornia Valley). The recurrence of poggi – isolated hillocks – (Monte Peloso, Monte Pitti, Poggio Castello) further enriches the countryside of Suvereto with charming miniature landscapes and diverse natural and historically important corners waiting to be discovered and appreciated.
Today the territory of Suvereto houses some 3,000 inhabitants, half of these in the village itself and the remainder spread about the countryside and in the small centres of San Lorenzo, Montioni, Forni, Prata and Belvedere. The houses in the historic centre of the village, lovingly restored in recent decades, have taken on the colour of the local stone – a living stone similar in character to the Maremmans themselves, used to living in close contact with nature but at the same time open to, and curious about, any novelty.
The Cornia river courses through the valley at rhythms which vary with the seasons, sculpting new twists and turns, narrowing between steep banks or lazily flowing through wide beds. In all its variety the river forms a natural environment to be explored, a living axis around which past generations built their homes, farmed, gathered food and hunted. Along the length of the river lies the Val di Cornia area of Tuscany, where the integration of tourism on the one hand, and environment and culture on the other, has been most harmoniously achieved.
VISIT SUVERETO :
THE PALAZZO COMUNALE:
The Palazzo Comunale (or Town Hall) is one of the most important examples of medieval civic architecture in the Maremma.
Construction of the building began in the 13th century after the concession to Suvereto of the "Charta Liberatis" in 1201 by Ildebrandino VIII Aldobrandeschi, the feudal overlord. As the charter allowed autonomy, and so self appointed officials, to the community, a palace to house such a government was needed. Following the concessions of 1201, Suvereto had become the first free comune in the northern Maremma and its inhabitants had acquired a series of significant rights, such as those to buy and sell property, and that of allowing new settlement within the walls. The layout of the building clearly reflects the administration of such varied necessities, one of the most important of which was the holding of courts to settle disputes between the citizens.
The Palazzo Comunale is topped by an ancient tower which now houses a clock, but once housed the bell that was rung to call an assembly of the Town Elders - the Anziani - and also served as a lookout within the community. The entrance to the building is preceded by a short and steep stairway under an open loggia supported on columns. This was the loggia dei giudici from which judgement and sentence was pronounced.
The structure we see today is an agglomerate of centuries of use. Originally there would have been an older nucleus, prevalently in wood and most likely similar to the pilaster house of Pisan type known in the early decades of the 13th century.
On the ground floor traces of the early circuit walls of the castle were found during exploratory excavations by the University of Siena. These date to the second half of the 12th century and demonstrate the extent of the noble dominions within the township, which centred on the castle keep.
THE CHURCH OF SAN GIUSTO:
The parish church is consecrated to San Giusto, the Bishop of Volterra, who came to the Cornia valley in the 5th century, along with others from North Africa such as Cerbone, Fiorenzo and Regolo. The presence of these saints is remembered throughout the valley: Fiorenzo is the patron of Campiglia Marittima, whilst the cathedral of Massa Marittima is consecrated to Cerbone. The memory of Regolo lives on in place names near the sanctuary of Frassine.
The exact date of the church – which is thought to have been built over the remains of an earlier one – is not known. Two brevi dating to 923 and 924 are the earliest evidence that we have for it’s existence. These were signed by Bishop Uniclusius at the ecclesia S.Justi in the Cornino district, then the seat of the diocese. Recent research has confirmed that the Cornino district is to be identified with the modern area of Suvereto.
Thus the church of San Giusto will once have had the role of cathedral in an intermediary period during the transfer of the see from it’s original location of Populonia to the modern one of Massa Marittima.
The building as we see it today was finally completed in 1189 by Barone Amico and Bono de Calci, as an inscription in the left transept testifies. The church is a Latin cross in plan, with a single nave and apse. The façade has a fine portal with a rose window above. The tympanum is decorated with alternating strips of black and white masonry. Running around the building the windows are simple splayed openings. The Romanesque portal is composed of two jambs supporting a shelf, the first decorated with vegetal ornaments with a central protome in the form of a human head, and the second with geometric forms. Above these the architrave is adorned with vines issuing from the mouth of a centrally placed figure. Two lions feature on the side columns, each holding human figures in their paws.
Inside the building there is a fine octagonal font in sculpted stone dating to the 12th century. This is now placed in a room at the base of the bell-tower, which has been decorated with mosaics by the Vatican School of Mosaics (second half of the 20th century).
The pipe organ in the left transept dates to 1718 and is the work of Domenico Francesco Mazzoni. It was previously housed in the church of Madonna sopra la porta.
On the left hand side of the church is the rectangular bell-tower, not in perfect alignment with the façade itself. The belfry has a biforate window with ogival arch on the wider side, and a simple single window on the shorter.
The bell-tower was damaged by lightning in 1884 and restored by local craftsmen. This restoration work altered the appearance of the campanile by eliminating certain of the original Romanesque features.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT MICHAEL:
The church of Saint Michael, which today houses the collection of Religious Art, was built in 1881 by the Confraternity of Misericordia as the seat of the company, next to the parish church and on the area of the old burial ground.
After a short time the church was abandoned and at the beginning of the 20th century served as parish rooms.
The excellent restoration work carried out in 1999 returned the building to its original form and so offered a perfect setting for the Museum of Religious Art, which houses works belonging to the parish and others by local artists.
A series of paintings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, once distributed throughout the churches of the parish, are now housed in the Museum. The collection also boasts two splendid wooden statues showing the Angel and the Madonna in the scene of the Annunciation. These are attributed to Lorenzo di Piero, known as Il Vecchietta, the 15th century Sienese artist (1410-1480).
Although not strictly speaking part of the parish collection, Andrea Guardi’s marble bas-relief of the Madonna from the Fonte degli Angeli may be seen here. This masterpiece of the 15th century once adorned the tympanum of the fountain. Restored with the help of local businessmen in 1995, it has found an ideal home in this collection.
THE MONASTERY AND CHURCH OF ST FRANCIS:
The remains of the ancient monastery of St Francis can be found at the summit of one of the two hills which lie within the walls of Suvereto.
Founded in 1286 on land donated by the Aldobrandeschi Counts from Santa Fiora, the feudal overlords of the town, the monastery was consecrated by Fra Bartolommeo, the Bishop of Grosseto, as Rodolgo, historian of the Order tells us.
Historically, the Monastery was of a certain importance, but this did not allow it to survive the suppressions which were a feature of the Napoleonic period. In fact it was definitively closed and its properties redistributed in the early 19th century by Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Princess of Piombino and Lucca.
A curious fact belonging to the history of the community is that the bags from which the names of citizens chosen as civic administrators were extracted were jealously guarded within the monastery itself.
The cloister can still be seen today as an architectural unity. Square in plan, on each side there is a colonnade formed by five arches supported on pilasters. A cistern was originally to be found in the centre of the cloister, and it is from this that the modern name (la piazza della cisterna) derives.
A handful of traces of the façade are all that remain to remind us of the function of the adjoining building, once the church, and now transformed into holiday homes.
Entering the Monastery buildings – now private housing – the visitor may see architectural elements and inscriptions that testify to the original function of the site.
In particular, the old portal is worthy of note, finely ornamented, with the coat of arms of the Giannetti and the Angelieri families, and various funerary and commemorative inscriptions.
In the summer of 1313, on land near the Monastery, the remains of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg fue cotto. The Emperor had died at Buonconvento on 13 August of that year, and following his last wishes, the corpse was to given burial at Pisa, the most important Ghibelline city in Tuscany. The cortege arrived at Suvereto – an adherent of the Ghibelline League since 1237 – and it was decided to halt in order to preserve the body from decomposition.
Thus the mortal remains of the Emperor were ‘exposed to the flames’ in order better to maintain them. It seems that his body remained in the town for some two years awaiting the completion of his tomb in Pisa, and it is there, in the monument created by Tino da Camaino, that the Emperor reposes still.