La Maremma, 2

As is the case with so many small Tuscan towns, each has its own distinctive decoration for the house numbers.

Let’s start with a little more discussion about the largest town in Maremma:

Grosseto is both a city and a only comune in the central Italian region of Tuscany, the capital of the Province of Grosseto. The city lies 9 miles from the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the center of an alluvial plain on the Ombrone river. It is the most populous city in Maremma, with 82,284 inhabitants. There was once a marine gulf nearby, but by the 16th century, it had became a lagoon filled with marshes and cane thickets.

The towns from the Etruscan period such as Vetulonia and Roselle reveal the prosperity of the zone, a prosperity that continued under the Roman Empire.

Grosseto began to expand about 935, after the devastation Roselle experienced at the hands of the Saracens. The origins of Grosseto as we know it today can be traced back to the High Middle Ages. It was first mentioned in 803 as a fief of the Counts Aldobrandeschi.

Above: Palazzo Aldobrandeschi. Of medieval origins, it was almost entirely rebuilt in the early 19th century. It is now a Neo-Gothic edifice with ogival mullioned windows and merlons in the upper part of the walls. It houses the seat of the province of Grosseto. The architect was Lorenzo Porciatti.

Grosseto steadily grew in importance, until it was one of the principal Tuscan cities. Like many small city states in Italy, Grosseto would be beset by war with neighbors and foreign powers. In 1137, the city was besieged by German troops, led by Duke Heinrich X of Bavaria, sent by the emperor Lothair III.

In 1151, the citizens swore loyalty to the Republic of Siena, and in 1222 the Aldobrandeschi gave the Grossetani the right to have their own podestà, together with three councilors and consuls. In 1244, the city was reconquered by the Sienese, and its powers, together with all the Aldobrandeschi’s imperial privileges, were transferred to Siena by order of the imperial vicar. Thereafter Grosseto shared the fortunes of Siena. It became an important stronghold, and the fortress (rocca), the walls and bastions can still to be seen.

In 1266 and in 1355, Grosseto tried in vain to win freedom from the overlordship of Siena. While Guelph and Ghibelline parties struggled for control of that city, Umberto and Aldobrandino Aldobrandeschi tried to regain Grosseto for their family. The Sienese armies were, however, victorious, and in 1259 they named a podestà from their city.

But Grosseto gained its freedom and in the following year and fought alongside the Florentine forces in the critical and famous Battle of Montaperti.

Over the next 80 years Grosseto was again occupied, ravaged, excommunicated by Pope Clement IV, freed in a republic led by Maria Scozia Tolomei, besieged by emperor Louis IV and by the antipope Nicholas V in 1328, until it finally submitted again to its more powerful neighbor, Siena.

The pestilence of 1348 struck Grosseto hard and by 1369 its population had been reduced to some hundred families. Its territory, moreover, was frequently ravaged, notably in 1447 by Alfons V of Sicily and in 1455 by Jacopo Piccinino.

Sienese rule ended in 1559, when Charles V handed over the whole duchy to Cosimo I de Medici, first grand duke of Tuscany. In 1574 the construction of a line of defensive walls was begun, which are still well preserved today, composed of huge hexagonal ramparts. Cosimo I ordered the building of the walls in 1564, in order to replace those from the 12th-14th centuries, as part of his policy of making Grosseto a stronghold to protect his southern border. The design was by Baldassarre Lanci, and actual construction began in 1565. Until 1757, the exterior of the walls was surrounded by a ditch with an earthen moat. There were two main gates: Porta Nuova on the north and Porta Reale (now Porta Vecchia) on the south.

This area of the Maremma was also known as a swampy place, filled with malaria. Cosimo I began draining the swamps.

Above: Teatro degli Industri, located along via Mazzini, just beyond the palace of the Grand Hotel Bastiani but on the side facing toward the walls of Grosseto, it is an old building rebuilt in the 19th century. It is one of the main sites of the culture of Grosseto.

Grosseto, however, remained a minor town, with only 700 inhabitants at the beginning of the 18th century.

Under the rule of the House of Lorraine, Grosseto flourished. It was given the title of capital of the new Maremma province.

Below: Palazzo Tognetti, an Art Nouveau style building located at an angle along Corso Carducci just before Piazza Socci.

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