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 CASTLE-KEEP OF THE ALDOBRANDESCHI:
"The castle of Sughereto or Suvereto is situated in the foothills, almost at the foot of a knoll, which dominates towards the south a large, fertile and pleasant plain…… at the present day, the castle of Sughereto is enclosed by walls with two gates and a keep".
Thus Agostino Cesaretti described the castle of Suvereto in 1788.
The beginnings of the castle, are closely linked to the history of the central keep, placed "on the highest part, towards the north".
Archaeological excavations carried out by the University of Siena in 1989 brought to light a series of post-holes inside the later stone keep, which, dating to the 9th century, are the earliest traces of settlement on the site.
The earliest stone structure on the site is the tower, most likely built around 1164 on the orders of the Aldobrandeschi Counts, notwithstanding the fact that at the time they were in a close rapport with the Pisan republic.
It was the Pisan Republic itself that was to build the walls of the village and the strong defensive keep on the northern side. These works were linked to altered defensive needs, along with new political ideas regarding the management of the territories of the state. The building programme was completed in 1308, as an inscription placed on the entrance to the walled enclosure bears witness. Thus there was a walled area roughly trapezoidal in form extending away from the tower and furnished with two gateways. The buildings and other amenities necessary to house the garrison of Pisan troops were placed inside this area.
The castle underwent various alterations through time until it was definitively abandoned as a defensive structure around the year 1600.
In the 19th century the building was adapted to serve as housing, a three storey building being added onto the side of the tower, within the fortified area.
Towards 1950 this building was in turn abandoned and at the end of the 1980’s the area came into the ownership of the Town Council. Following the excavations of 1989-90, a programme was put in hand to restore the complex to its ancient state.
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.
THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS:
Flanking the Convent of St Francis, the church was built in the 16th century as seat of the Company of the Holy Cross which had, amongst its other work, the duty to honour the patron saint of Suvereto – Santa Croce – the Holy Cross.
Formed of a long single hall with apse, from the outside this small church seems a sober unadorned edifice, almost a hut. The recently restored interior is also characterised by such austerity.
The church houses the sacred image of the patron, a carved wooden crucifix dating to 1420 and attributed to Domenico dei Cori. Until a few years ago, this crucifix was still carried in the annual procession to honour the saint.
THE CHURCH OF THE MADONNA SOPRA LA PORTA:
First built in 1480, this church was altered and enlarged in 1772 to commemorate a miracle which happened in 1767. In that year the populace risked death by drowning, for heavy rainwaters were trapped inside the town, the gates being closed and the drains completely overloaded. When all seemed lost, the gates opened inwards, notwithstanding the pressure of the water, which could thus drain away. The next morning when the garrison housed above the gates went into their chapel to pray, they noticed that the floodwaters had just touched the hem of the Madonna in the painting housed on the altar. The decision was taken to build a sanctuary to house the miraculous effigy.
The painting of the Madonna and Child, which dates to the 16th century, is placed in the centre of an altar built of wood, plaster and marble. Behind the altar the original wooden choir stalls can be seen, whilst the frescoes on the vault and in the apse date to 1858 and show the Holy Family, the Assumption of the Virgin, the Immaculate Conception and other theological scenes.
A lunette above the doorway – which in all likelihood was taken from the earlier church – has been attributed by many historians to the hand of Vittorio Ghiberti. The bas relief shows the blessing of the Redeemer, and almost certainly dates to the 15th century.
THE CHURCH OF THE ANNUNCIATION:
Whilst this church is to be found well beyond the domain of the Castle of Suvereto, it more than merits mention in this guide for its particular value.
The church is situated in a wooded valley near to a natural spring, on the provincial road which links Suvereto to Sassetta. The interior of the building, which is private property, is bare, and the whole is unfortunately at present abandoned and in a sorry state. Such a complete lack of attention severely compromises the future of the church – an important monument to the history of this area.
Questions are still asked as to why the church was built where it is – and for what reasons. That which we do know is that it was linked to a hospital, and that the upkeep of the building was entrusted to a workman directly employed by the local community. Legend would have it that the church was erected by the express wish of Matilda of Canossa as the ninety-ninth (and numbering from zero) the last of the hundred churches she had vowed to build in order to gain the right to hold Holy Mass.
The roof of the building is a divided barrel vault, separated by an arch supported by half columns integrated in the side walls.
THE FOUNTAIN OF THE ANGELS:
This fountain was for time immemorial one of the principal water sources for the community of Suvereto. Found along the main street for Monterotondo, but a short distance from the town walls, the complex was completely rebuilt in 1582 by Jacopo VI Appiano, the Prince of Piombino.
The fountain is constituted by two rectangular basins, one next to the other. Behind these is a raised wall decorated with two marble rosettes, with waterspouts in the centre. The side of the fountain is formed by crenellated walls.
The centre wall now houses a copy in marble paste of the Madonna della Fonte degli Angeli by Andrea Guardi (the original may be seen in the Museum of Religious Art). Beneath, we can see the coat of arms of the Appiani family, Princes of Piombino, this having been restored in 1998. The inscription commemorating the work of Jacopo VI is placed by this latter. On either side there used to be two marble plaques carrying the coat of arms of the town itself, but these went missing many years ago.
THE PARK OF MONTIONI:
The Park of Montioni is a vast area of forest and scrub – a true island of green hills set around the hamlet of the same name. This is found on the via provinciale di Montioni, which begins immediately after the bridge over the Cornia on the road for Monterotondo Marittimo. Spreading over territory in the provinces of both Grosseto and Livorno, it is the only inter-provincial park amongst those managed by the Parks of the Val di Cornia. Counting some 5,000 hectares, the park is one of the largest in Tuscany and offers a harmonious blend of the natural habitat along with archaeological remains dating to various different periods. It encloses the hilly woodland which, thrusting inland from the coast of the Gulf of Follonica, forms the watershed between the Cornia and Pecora valleys.
A complex network of paths, once used by shepherds and charcoal burners, allows the visitor to wander deep into the park, where the evergreens typical of the Mediterranean scrub intermingle with deciduous trees of the forest itself. The woodlands offer a valuable source of food and refuge for both microfauna, and for birds and mammals. At the heart of the park, it is possible to visit the remains of the alum quarries and the mining village founded by Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, the much-discussed sister of Napoleon and wife to the Prince of Lucca.
Entry to the Park is free of charge, and hostel accommodation and well-equipped rest areas are available. The paths are easily covered on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. Guided visits may be arranged through prior booking (Parchi di Val di Cornia – tel. 0565.49430, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
). At the time of writing, construction work is underway on further reception buildings.
For information contact:
Parchi Val di Cornia, tel 0565.49430, fax 0565.49733.
Associazione Progetto Verde, loc. San Lorenzo, tel 0565.845087.
Foto di Escogitando Comunicazioni & Servizi - Venturina