Populonia - A city and its territory

Populonia - A city and its territory Ingrandisci

Guide to the Archaeological Museum of Piombino

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  • Autore: a cura di Giandomenico De Tommaso
  • Anno: 2004
  • Formato: 13,5 x 21 cm.
  • Pagine: 144 pp., il

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Populonia is one of the most enchanting places in Italy.

Anyone who looks out on a clear morning from the walls of the acropolis over the wooded coastline, towards the archipelago, can comprehend the magic of this promontory, which extends towards Elba and Corsica, from whence, perhaps – according to an ancient legend – the city’s first inhabitants came. It has always been a destination for Tyrhennian sailors, who found safe harbor there before setting off into the sea towards Liguria, marked, in the distance, by the Apuan Alps.

Two routes intersect at Populonia: one which led from the southern Mediterranean towards Gaul, Spain and the interior of the continent, and another which, running east to west, connected the peninsula with the large islands towards Africa, along those sea and sky routes that migratory birds have always followed, making this very promontory a stop on their route.

Populonia has been synonymous with metallurgy since prehistorical times, when the nearby coast was the natural spot for the working of metals from Elba and for their diffusion throughout the Mediterranean world; this continued to be the case in the Etruscan, Roman and Medieval eras, and down to the present day. The modern iron-and-steel industry developed in Piombino, in step with the massive industrial reclamation of the mountains of ancient ferrous slag heaps that had changed the look of the Baratti plain over the centuries, which prompted the first stage of archaeological research into the ancient necropolises buried by those slag heaps. And a crisis in the iron-and-steel industry later contributed to a process of constructive re-thinking of the relationship between city (Piombino), territory (the promontory of Populonia) and economic activity, which led to the area’s productive conversion into a cultural site.

Despite the radical changes that Populonia’s historical and archaeological heritage underwent as a result of the reclamation of the metallurgic slag heaps, our lovely peninsula, where visitors can experience the timeless visions of the first navigators along an apparently primeval coast, has not remained intact merely by chance. It is the product of the inter-relation of man and nature, but also the result of a political miracle – one of those cases in which good local administration, with the aid of the best of Italian urban planning (beginning with the exceptional efforts of Italo Insolera), has been able to guard an incomparable patch of the nation’s soil from all sorts of appetites.

The territory of Populonia is today the focus of a new phase of research, because its site constitutes an archaeological manifestation of absolute national relevance, even though, despite its historical importance, the ancient city is still littlerecognized for its urbanistic and monumental aspects. In fact, recently-begun archaeological investigations have involved the port area and the inland part of the promontory as much as the acropolis, where digs are proceeding accompanied by an ambitious revitalization plan.

After a first phase of research concentrating on the grand Etruscan necropolises of the Baratti cove, Populonia took its place in archaeological manuals thanks to its splendidly preserved tombs, which are today part of the archaeological park, the destination of tens of thousands of visitors each year. The park is managed, on concession from the Ministry for Cultural and Environmental Assets, by the Val di Cornia Parks Society, which promotes the enjoyment and appreciation of archaeological areas, the safeguarding of natural environments and the development of a cultural tourism aimed at economic diversification and increased employment, galvanizing the synergies necessary to ensure that such enjoyment and appreciation are supported by research and conservation.

Having passed under the control of Rome during the III century B.C., Populonia continued to maintain itself through metallurgy and through its port. Its monumental patrimony must have been very significant, and investigations currently underway are aimed at understanding the nature of a huge intervention to renovate the acropolis – probably occupying a large sacred area dramatically set on several terraces – conducted when the city was still an ally of Rome but formally free.

Populonia was not as strongly impacted by the political and military hegemony of Rome as it was by its definitive insertion into the Roman State, and by the civil wars which, at the time of Mario and Silla, led in 80 B.C. to the destruction of the city, struck down with ferocity by the victorious Silla leaving only blackened earth behind. When, little more than a century later, the geographer Strabone described the city, he depicted it as a still-vital town in the port area, but semi-abandoned on the acropolis, where only the ruins of the ancient temples remained to suggest the monuments of the past. Four centuries later, a Roman aristocrat, Rutilio Namaziano, contemplating the ruins from the sea, took Populonia as a symbol of the fact that “even cities can die.”

The city’s long history is recounted in the rooms of the Archaeological Museum of the Territory of Populonia, inaugurated in July 2001 in the area where, at the end of the fourth century, the Appians constructed their citadel. Brought into being by the joint efforts of the Municipality of Piombino, the Val di Cornia Parks Society, the Archaeological Superintendence of Tuscany and the University of Siena, the museum illustrates the vicissitudes of human settlement on the Piombino promontory from prehistoric times to the present day. Organizations with diverse statutes and aims have thus demonstrated their ability to create, on an operative terrain, an efficacious coordination in the field of the management and enhancement of archaeological patrimony and research; their shared goal is the integration of visits to the museum with those to the Archaeological Park of Baratti, created in 1998 following up on the 1996 inauguration of the nearby Archaeological-mining Park of San Silvestro.

The museum, therefore, constitutes a complement and at the same time an introduction to the park, and is intended to carry the visitor back to the slopes of the acropolis of Populonia, allowing him to walk the roads outlined by Hellenistic architects, and giving sense to the ancient shapes – today dissimulated by the centuries – in order to favor the insertion of the promontory into a high-quality tourist circuit, which in itself is a further guarantee for the safeguarding of the site, and at the same time a flywheel for new resources to invest in awareness. In this sense as well, museum and territory are closely complementary: the museum explains the park and the park, with its archaeological research in continual evolution, enriches the museum’s collections. Because research – which in Populonia continues under visitors’ gazes – is not only compatible with the management of the area, but represents a further attraction, a factor in cultural dynamism, which is yet another motivation for public interest.

  • Autore a cura di Giandomenico De Tommaso
  • Anno 2004
  • Formato 13,5 x 21 cm.
  • Pagine 144 pp., il