Grosseto, the Tuscan city surrounded by medieval walls - Bellarome

Grosseto, the Tuscan city surrounded by medieval walls

Grosseto is an Italian town of 82.436 inhabitants, capital of the homonymous province in Tuscany.

From the urbanistic point of view, the city is one of the few capitals (with Ferrara, Bergamo, Lucca) whose historical center has been completely surrounded by a circle of walls, as a whole intact, which has kept its appearance almost unchanged over the centuries.

Grosseto

 

Grosseto has an interesting historical and cultural center. Over the years, however, the walls lost their strategic importance and, once demilitarized (18th century), were destined for public use and embellished with tree-lined avenues and gardens that still allow today to take long walks on ramparts, once a bulwark of Grosseto.

The archaeological finds recovered in the north east area testify that the first traces of a small town in the city of Grosseto date back to the Etruscan era.

The name of the city, however, is found for the first time in a parchment from 803 AD. where the written evidence of a settlement “in loco Grossito” appears, which, in 973 already appears to be a fief of the Aldobrandeschi.

Thus began the “dominion” of this powerful family from Lucca who transformed Grosseto from a castle to a court and subsequently, in April 1138, into civitas, in conjunction with the transfer of the episcopal see from the ancient Etruscan – Roman city of Roselle to Grosseto.

In 1151, as the first ideas of the Municipality began to emerge, Siena began to lay the foundations for expansion in this part of the Maremma and thus the first loyalty agreements were signed. The domination of Grosseto by Siena lasted for a long time.

In 1421, the city statute was issued; the municipality of Grosseto, to be included as “dominated”, however maintained a certain autonomy, especially in the administrative area. The first period of the Sienese submission was literally dramatic. In Grosseto, as indeed throughout Europe, the Black Plague raged (1348), in this area also the swamping of the land, depopulation, malaria, and other epidemics, mowed down the population which in 1369 had reduced to a hundred of families.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the history of Grosseto was linked to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic rule and the restoration that brought the Lorraines back to the throne.

Finally, with the plebiscite of 15 May 1860 the fate of the city followed those of the unification of Italy.

Let’s begin our virtual tour in this Tuscan city rich of charm and history!

 

The Cathedral

Entitled to the patron saint of Grosseto, the cathedral of San Lorenzo is the most important monument in the city. As evidenced by an inscription located on the right end of the facade, the cathedral was built from the end of the thirteenth century under the direction of the master Sozzo Rustichini, who also participated in the construction of the facade of the Cathedral of Siena. The works – interrupted by the onset of the war between Grosseto and Siena – were resumed around 1340.

Inside the Cathedral, there are some works, including: a font from 1506; a baptismal font by Antonio Ghini; the two stained glass windows designed by Benvenuto di Giovanni depicting the first Isaiah and Micah, the Annunciation, the saints Peter the Apostle and Jerome, the saints Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalene, the second the Faith and Hope, the saints Michael the Archangel, Giovanni Battista, Bartolomeo apostolo, Ludovico, Lorenzo and Sebastiano; a polychrome wooden crucifix from the second half of the 15th century; two candelabrum-holding angels by Domenico Arrighetti; finally, the venerated Madonna delle Grazie, in the left chapel of the transept, the central part of a panel by Matteo di Giovanni, dating back to 1470.

Many of the works of art originally located in the cathedral are now preserved in the sacred art museum of the diocese.

In the sixteenth century, a series of interventions, due to the Sienese architect Anton Maria Lari, affected the interior and the facade, which was profoundly remodelled even during the nineteenth century.

The atmosphere created by the beams of light coming from the richly decorated Gothic windows on the right wall is very suggestive.

 

Grosseto Walls

The walls of Grosseto constitute the defensive system of the historic center of Grosseto.

They are one of the rare examples in Italy of walls that have come almost intact to the present day.

The construction of the ancient medieval city wall began simultaneously with the foundation of the city of Grosseto, starting from the XII century and were destroyed and rebuilt several times over the following centuries.

Much of their current appearance was conferred by the redevelopment works carried out between 1574 and 1593, designed by the architect Baldassarre Lanci, who received the assignment directly from the Grand Duke Francesco I de ‘Medici.

The defensive wall develops along a hexagonal perimeter, with corners defended by polygonal bastions, with guard posts placed at the outermost corners of the bulwarks. Until 1757 the city walls were surrounded by an external moat and an earthen embankment. In 1855 Leopold II demolished most of the guard posts located on the ramparts, softening the appearance of the entire wall circuit which was transformed into a tree-lined public promenade and made available to the citizens of Grosseto.

During the Second World War, a bombing destroyed the last remaining sentry box, called the casino of the balls, inside which some frescoes were kept. Recent restoration work has brought the entire wall circle back to its former glory.

Following the walls you will find Porta Vecchia, the oldest city gate that led from Via Aurelia into the historic center, the Bastione Cavallerizza, Porta Corsica, the Bastione Molino a Vento, so called because originally there was a windmill and today it houses a citrus garden.

The walls also include Bastione Garibaldi, Porta Nuova, Bastione Rimembranza, Bastione Fortezza, an imposing complex that includes the Cassero Senese, the Piazza d’Armi and the Chapel of Santa Barbara, which constituted the fortified citadel of Grosseto. And also the Porta di Santa Lucia, the Bastione della Vittoria and the Bastione Maiano, the oldest of all, built in 1566, almost a decade before the Medici renovation of the walls.

During the nineteenth century, the entire wall was completely transformed into a public city park with a path that winds along tree-lined avenues. Once the redevelopment work was completed, the Porta Nuova was demolished and the surrounding area was flattened to allow the extension of Corso Carducci; a gate was placed in place of the pre-existing door which was then definitively removed in the first half of the twentieth century.

Also in the first half of the twentieth century, a new lowered arch door, called Porta Corsica, was built along the stretch of the walls between the Bastione Cavallerizza and the Bastione Molino a Vento. For some years, restoration works have been underway on various sections of the walls in order to restore the monumental walls to their former glory.

 

The Archaeological and Art Museum of the Maremma

The Archaeological and Art Museum of the Maremma (MAAM) is a museum located in the historic center of Grosseto, in Piazza Baccarini, set up jointly with the diocesan museum of sacred art.

The museum was born in 1860 on the initiative of the canon Giovanni Chelli, who created a sort of antiquarium in Grosseto, with an exhibition of ancient objects, and presumed such, together with the institution of the library, housed in the premises of the Palazzo Vescovile. On 21 August 1862, the priest wrote to the minister of public education to declare the museum governmental with a decree, and after various insistence by Chelli, on 6 March 1865 the donation of the library-museum was made to the Municipality of Grosseto: the official editorial staff of the deed was held on March 30 of the same year in the council hall of the Town Hall.

The most relevant piece of the Museum is certainly the bucchero bowl with graffiti alphabet from the 6th century. B.C. The next section is dedicated to the largest archaeological center in the Grosseto area, Roselle, an Etruscan city founded at the end of the Iron Age, conquered in 294 BC. from Rome and bishopric documented since the end of the fifth century. It is therefore the city of which historically and ideally Grosseto is the heir starting from 1138, the year of the translation of the episcopal see. Each phase of the city’s long life is documented in the museum.

The stele of warriors come from the necropolis of the archaic age (6th century BC); from the Roman forum two important statuary complexes, one linked to the imperial cult (around 50 A.D.), and the other, which reuses older statues, dedicated to an important family of the second century A.D .; in the paleochristian church, first and oldest cathedral, were instead the architectural decorations of the Carolingian age. The second floor, with section 3, collects the archaeological documentation of the Maremma. The Eubo crater from Pescia Romana, attributed to the Painter of Cesnola, (about 730 BC), orientalizing Etruscan outfits from Vetulonia and Marsiliana, amphorae and anchors documenting the Etruscan traffics of the archaic age, and, starting from the third century. B.C. the manifestations of Etruscan cultural persistence (language, writing, funeral uses) alongside the innovations introduced by the conquering Romans (votive deposits, rustic settlements).

Finally, the reconstruction of the African wreck of Giglio Porto (III century AD) with its load of oil amphorae is one of the many reasons of interest in this section. On the third floor the Museum of Sacred Art of the Diocese of Grosseto is a museum in the museum: it is due to the Bishop’s foresight with the Chapter of the Cathedral, the Superintendency and the Municipality of Grosseto if the Diocesan Museum is combined with the Archaeological Museum based on an agreement that has always been renewed since 1975. Of great value is the collection of works from the churches of the Diocese, mostly attributable to Sienese artists working for the Maremma center.

The last rooms of the museum introduce the history of the city of Grosseto.

The exhibition rooms dedicated to medieval and modern finds from various centers of the Maremma close the exhibition.

 

Piazza Dante Alighieri

Piazza Dante Alighieri is the central square of Grosseto and is home to many important buildings in the city. Formerly known as Piazza delle Catene, it is characterized by the typical trapezoidal shape.

The square, with its characteristic trapezoidal shape, consists of two areas that rejoin each other, without interruption, in front of the churchyard. The main area of the square is included between the southern right side of the cathedral, the main facade of Palazzo Aldobrandeschi and the arcade of the arcades which is articulated seamlessly on the southern and western sides.

At the center of a slightly raised area, under which there was a cistern, there is the monument to Grand Duke Leopoldo II of Lorraine, which stands at the point where in the past centuries the well of the corresponding cistern below must have been present. The area that encloses the underground cistern is delimited by a series of columns and chains, which led the Grossetani to call this section of Piazza Dante “Piazza delle Catene”.

The other space in the square is delimited by the churchyard, the Palazzo Comunale and Palazzo Alben. Corso Carducci, which is the main street of the city, begins in the northern part.

Piazza Dante Alighieri sees its origins in 1222 when it was intended as platea communis. With the move of the city from Roselle to Grosseto, the headquarters of the institutions were moved to the buildings of this precise place by order of Pope Innocent II.

From 1292 it was decided to follow the approach of each Tuscan city and to bring all the most important municipal buildings of the city to the main square. During the submission of the city to Siena, Piazza Dante Alighieri was home to all the major representatives of it.

During the 1430s the presence of many commercial activities in the square are remembered and in this period the perimeter is completed bringing it to what it is today.

In 1465 work began on a well that does not exist today. During the Medici period, the city fell into disuse and the intervention of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany under the Lorena family had to wait, which began renovations, which were certainly not the last to accompany the square to the present day.

After the war,  the square was named after Dante Alighieri. In 1956 Piazza Dante underwent substantial changes: the stone stones, chains and benches were eliminated, the pavement was replaced, and a parking lot was built in the center of the square, which developed radially around the statue of the Grand Duke.

Only in 2002,  an important redevelopment work was carried out: the square was brought back to the nineteenth-century aspect, with columns and chains, so much so that today it is again known as Piazza delle Catene.

 

Church of Saint Frances

The church of San Francesco d’Assisi in Grosseto, originally dedicated to San Fortunato, was ceded by the Benedictines to the Franciscans in the thirteenth century together with the adjoining cloister.

In the following epochs the complex has undergone various restorations: the bell tower that rises on the rear right of the church was destroyed by lightning and raised in 1926 by the architect Lorenzo Porciatti.

In 1964 Adriano Celentano and Claudia Mori got married in this church; the mass at dawn (to escape the photographers) was celebrated by the Franciscan father Ugolino Vagnuzzi, a friend of the couple and for many years a spiritual adviser to nationally renowned artists. The church, which is one of the most important in the city, has a simple façade with a portal characterized by a lunette with a fresco, in turn dominated and protected by a wooden tabernacle, above which there is a rose window.

The interior has a single nave in Gothic-Franciscan style, with a gable roof, and preserves various works of art including the famous crucifix on wood made by Duccio di Boninsegna towards the end of the thirteenth century. Inside there are also frescoes dating from the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The cloister of the convent develops on the left side of the church and is characterized by a portico supported by octagonal columns; the cloister gives access to the sacristy, the church and the convent premises. At the center of the cloister stands the sixteenth century Pozzo della Bufala, flanked by two travertine columns on which rests a fine crown: below it is the cistern for collecting rainwater.

On the square in front of the right side of the church and the bell tower there is another well that collected rainwater in the cistern below to distribute it to the various houses in the area.

The construction of the Medici walls, starting from the end of the 16th century, brought about a reduction in the size of the Franciscan convent attached to the church, and consequently the reorganization of its spaces.

The most important intervention on the building was the seventeenth-century addition of the chapel dedicated to Sant’Antonio da Padova, frescoed by Francesco Nasini, while in 1623 the bell tower was rebuilt which, ruined in 1917 by lightning, was later rebuilt in style.

 

Church of Saint Peter

The church of Saint Peter is the oldest religious building in the city of Grosseto. The church is located along Corso Carducci, the main street in the historic city center, near the crossroads that leads to the nearby churches of Bigi and San Francesco. Cited for the first time in a document dated 1188, the church of San Pietro had considerable importance in the early medieval history of Grosseto. From the Middle Ages onwards the church was officiated continuously, unlike many of the oldest churches in Grosseto which were abandoned until they disappeared (San Giorgio, San Michele, Santa Lucia).

An excavation intervention, aimed at restoration (2004-2005), allows today to read a longer and more complex history that dates back to the early Middle Ages and closely links the events of the church to those of the city.

The early medieval church appears entirely contained within the current building and slightly divergent in orientation. At the end of the ninth century the church was renovated and enlarged, erecting a new apse about 2 m from the previous one. In the XII century the early medieval structure was shaved to build the present Romanesque church; the date could be after 1138 (translation of the episcopal see from Roselle to Grosseto). The slight rotation of the building compared to the previous one was attributed to a possible change in the road layout, also linked to the urban renewal of Grosseto after the translation.

The gabled facade is original up to about 4.50 m in height, with the portal framed by pilasters and the lozenge-shaped hollows, inspired by Pisa, which contained pottery now lost; higher up the mullioned window and arches can be attributed to the heavy restoration of 1911, probably the work of Lorenzo Porciatti.

Four reliefs are inserted in the facade: it is a palmette frieze, a running dog, an eagle and a San Leonardo dating from approximately the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and according to some to the Cathedral or in any case to other buildings in the historic center. The bell tower was built in its current form in 1625 using the foundations of a previous bell tower or, in any case, of an element in phase with the late 9th century church.

Inside, the restorations eliminated the rough interventions of 1952, and in particular the lining of the walls.

Some façade restorations were carried out in 1911 by Lorenzo Porciatti, while in 1952 some gross interventions were reported in the interior which were then eliminated during the last cycle of restorations carried out between 2004 and 2005 by the architect Alberto Vero.

Roselle

Roselle, also Bagni di Roselle or Bagno Roselle if only the modern part is taken into consideration, is a fraction of the Italian municipality of Grosseto, in Tuscany.

Founded before the seventh century. to. C., it was one of the twelve Etruscan city states. The archaeological site is very interesting: the overlapping respectively of the Villanovian, Etruscan and finally Roman civilizations has brought to us remains of exceptional value: from the walls, to the amphitheater, from the Domus of the mosaics, to the temple of the Flamines Augustales, the basilica , the portico, the tabernae, the thermal district, the decumanus, the forum and the necropolis

The ancient city of Roselle stood on an elliptical rise comprising two hills separated by a median valley, the heart of the political and religious life of the community in all eras. Although traces of frequentation during Prehistory and Protohistory are attested, Roselle was urbanized by the Etruscans in the seventh century BC.

The choice of this area for an organized settlement was not accidental. In fact, the elevated position allowed the natural possibility of defending the place and the control of the current plain of Grosseto, formerly occupied by Lake Prile, a large lagoon communicating with the sea.

The Etruscan city was conquered by the Romans in 294 BC, by the consul Lucio Postumio Megello. The historian Tito Livio (X, 37, 3) thus recalls the conquest: the army was transferred to the territory of Roselle and here the countryside was not only devastated, but the city was also conquered; more than two thousand men were taken prisoner, a little less were killed around the walls. In the 1st century A.D., about three centuries after the Roman conquest, Roselle was affected by an intense building and monumental activity, determined by the Augustan protection and the munificence of powerful local families.

In the late imperial age,  it was subject to the decline that affected the Roman cities and in the Middle Ages, although it was a bishop’s seat, it was reduced to a modest center, with a reduced extension compared to that occupied by the Roman city, whose structures were often reused. In 1138 a bull of Pope Innocent II decreed the transfer of the diocese to the nearby center of Grosseto.

From this moment,  Roselle was subjected to a progressive abandonment and was reduced to a wild solitude of stones and thorny bushes – den of the fox and the wild boar, of the snake and of the lizard – visited only by the herdsman and the shepherd –  as described by George Dennis, 19th-century English diplomat and scholar, on the occasion of his visit to the Maremma in search of Etruscan antiquities.

The Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany, from the sixties of the last century to today, has continuously conducted research and restoration and enhancement interventions in Roselle.