Populonia in the Gulf of Baratti in Tuscany

Populonia, the only Etruscan city facing the sea and the ancient world’s biggest iron and steel mill, was built here: a mighty metropolis capable of commanding a vast stretch of hills, plains, and coastal lagoons, islands, and whose port was a crossroads of crucial Mediterranean routes.

Populonia, established on a hill at the end of the Iron Age in the 9th century BC, was a huge iron and steel powerhouse known across the Mediterranean. The lower city has its productive regions and commercial port on the sea.

Modern Populonia is situated within a tiny section of the fortified acropolis of a massive ancient city that formerly occupied the whole north end of Monte Massoncello, a peninsula whose northern slopes slope down to the Bay of Baratti. The city was an industrial one, smelting copper ore from the slopes of the Colline Metallifere and iron ore from neighbouring Elba.

Soon it was realized that not only Populonia but the entire Val di Cornia, Valley of the nearby Cornia River, had been densely populated in Etruscan times.

Moreover, the Val had been populated continuously from Paleolithic times.

In recognition of the area’s importance to archaeology, a system of parks was created, the Parchi della Val di Cornia, with a key park being the Parco archeologico di Baratti e Populonia, the “Baratti and Populonia Archeological Park”, which covers the hill with the acropolis and the entire Bay of Baratti and its shores.

The port has long since been replaced by the city of Piombino on the southern slopes of Monte Massoncello, which is the departure point of maritime traffic leading to Elba and elsewhere.

Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia

After passing through the archaeological park that spans from the Gulf of Baratti to the slopes of the Piombino peninsula, cross the Via Aurelia at Venturina Terme, where the Etruscan and Romans knew the Bagni di Caldana and the Calidario lake.

There are some tombs outside the town, some of which, ranging from the Villanovan period (9th century BC to the middle of the 3rd century BC), were explored in 1908.

The remains of a temple, devastated in ancient times (possibly by Dionysius I of Syracuse in 384 BC), were also discovered, with fragments in it of Attic vases of the 5th century BC, which had served as ex votos.

Coins of the town have also been found in silver and copper.

The iron mines of Elba, and the tin and copper of the mainland, were owned and smelted by the people of Populonia; hot springs too lay some 10 km to the east (Aquae Populaniae) on the coastal high road —Via Aurelia.

The park, which provides free parking for tourists (with regulated entry to campers beginning in the spring), is separated into two viewing zones with full access: the necropolis, which has an entrance (and refreshment facilities) near Baratti, and the acropolis, which is located at Populonia Alta.

From the visiting centres – information and reception facilities managed by archaeological guides – marked trails lead to the discovery of the site in a stunning Mediterranean environment of scrub and wood, with enormous panoramas of the blue of the sea.

The S. Cerbone and Casone necropolis walk (about an hour) goes across tumulus and aedicule tombs, including the gigantic tomb of the Chariots * (7th century BC) and the cylindrical Ciboriums tomb (early 6th century BC).

The Delle Cave path (about 2 hours) leads to the sites of extraction of the stone (calcarenite, or bench stone) used to build the city and necropolis in the middle of the woodlands.

The necropolis of the Caves is dotted with Hellenistic age (4th-3rd century BC) chamber tomb entrances; from the panoramic point, the vista spreads over the Gulf of Baratti to the shores of Rimigliano and San Vincenzo.

You may continue down via delle Cave to the ruins of the Benedictine abbey of S. Quirico (2 and a half hours, magnificent but hard itinerary).

The Via del Ferro (around an hour and a half) takes you on a tour of Etruscan metallurgical companies.

The Passo della Romanella (about 2 and a half hours, tough, often closed) and a network of paths connect the necropolis region to the upper section of the city of homes and temples, which may be explored via the Via dell’Acropoli (50 minutes).

The Populonia Alta acropolis and the S. Quirico monastery are also accessible by road from the park’s boundary.

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