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Visita il Mugello, culla dei medici, a due passi da Firenze e le bellezze toscane
 

Walking and Biking

 

 
 

The hot Amiata mountain

History and legend, thermal springs and frozen mist, stupendous landscapes and religious shrines, mountain goats and sulphur. A visit to the ancient extinct volcano that is Mount Amiata offers the visitor unforgettable experiences. And the most unusual of all is the pleasure of immersing yourself in water smelling of sulphur that enfolds your body in a warm caress, at Saturnia, Bagno Vignoni or Bagni San Filippo.

Immersed in a natural bathtub made of creamy limestone, look above the steam rising all around you at the imposing hulk of Mount Amiata, its peaks dusted with white. With your body caressed and protected by the hot water, feel the cool, fresh air on your cheeks.
Although this may seem the setting for an advertising spot it is instead a reality ever visitor should experience. All you have to do is stop at Bagni San Filippo, a little village known for its abundant hot springs flowing out of the rock at a constant temperature of 37 degrees C, one of the marvels of nature in the Monte Amiata area.
History and legend overlap at Mons Tunians, or Saturnia Tellus. The strategic location of Monte Amiata, between Rome, Siena and Firenze, has drawn to it for centuries personages, events and intrigues still perceptible in the patterns of an architectural fabric often in architectural fabric often intact: a land rich in villages that seem to grow out of bills eroded by time where the meandering of white roads winding among little farms, castles and forests comes to an end in sight of red-tiled roofs embellishing Medieval towns or spas famous since antiquity.

Arriving from the north, the massive hulk of Monte Amiata with its unmistakable profile shaped like the back of an enormous kneeling camel can be glimpsed already from Siena. The cones of its two peaks betray its ancient volcanic origin, bringing to mind eruptions, lava flows, explosions, and clouds of volcanic dust, images of a spectacle that took place thousands of years ago. With the passage of the centuries the volcanic activity has almost ceased the lava has solidified and has been covered by a thick blanket of vegetation. Here and there on the mountain, however, some white puffs if steam still rise and the smell of sulphur pervades the air.

This is because the subsoil here is like a gigantic sponge that absorbs enormous quantities of rainwater to redistribute it heated in a wide ring of hot springs located at 600 to 900 meters of altitude. Amidst the thick centuries-old forest of ash. In the chestnut woods and on the old lava flows, the villages, towns and castles that have grown up over the centuries are now fully equipped to welcome tourists making a visit to be entire area not only extremely pleasant but also rich in historical and naturalistic interest. As regards the latter, truly unforgettable is the rare phenomenon of galaverna of frozen mist, a natural omen that occurs in autumn and in spring sometimes breaking tree trunks and causing severe damage. But more often these icy needles brought by the cold wind offer only moments of unforgettable emotion to excursionist. And a ray of sunshine is enough to make the galaverna vanish as if by magic, transformed into simple drops of water.

There are many ways to discover Mount Amiata. One of the most interesting is by train, arriving from Siena at Torrenieri and then continuing by bicycle. Pedal through a week to discover an area of Italy pressing a very special beauty of its own, not yet sufficiently appreciated which also offers appointments with art and architectural history, such as the Portico of St. Catherine of Siena surrounding the great 14th century pool at Bagno Vignoni, the harmonious octagonal cistern of Rocca d’Orcia, the 16th century monastery of Piancastagnaio, and the Benedectine Abbey of Abbadia S. Salvatore which dates back to the 8th century and is a rare example of Germanic architecture in Italy.

These are the precious remains of a remote past, when Monte Amiata with is silence and peace was dedicated above all to places of prayer and mediation for important monastic orders. The mountain still conserves intact the mysterious fascination of the Etruscans who first inhabited it and of the Medieval travellers who passed through it by the thousand along the Via Romea or Francigena, the roads taken by pilgrims. After having visited Roccalbegna the itinerary makes a stop at the Etruscan-Roman walls of Saturnia to find thermal springs again, hot water in which to relax and feel rejuvenated. For the Romans it was Saturnia Tellus, where Saturn father of the Goddess Juno and the God Jove, driven from his celestial throne, found refuge, protected by the fumes of the abundant hot waters. Even in the Middle Ages the Roman habit of frequenting public baths remained in fashion here. In 1292 the magistrate of Siena concerned about the promiscuity favoured by the baths issued an “ordinamentum balneorum” or regulations to discipline the use of the baths which did not stop at verbal prohibitions but even went so far as to erect partitions dividing the bathers. Through this region passed the Via Francigena, one of the main thoroughfares of the epoch for travellers who coming from the north and passing through Siena were headed for Rome in Lombard territory. On their way to the Holy City entire caravans stopped to rest in the area, using the pools of Bagno Vignoni for hygienic and therapeutic purposes.

Pope Pius II writer and protector of artist, Lorenzo dé Medici and St. Catherine of Siena came here to treat their illness with the waters of the “thermae”. dell’epoca per chi dal nord attraversoAfter a period when the custom of “passing the waters” feel into disuse visitors in a recent years have flocked to the hot springs of Amiata in search of the peace of other ages. From village along the rare paved sections of the Medieval Via Francigena, to the visitor still experiences the feeling of sinking into the folds of history : ready to meet at any moment one of the figures from the past, a merchant a solder or a pilgrim.

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Text and pictures Gianfranco Bracci
Translation: Jeremy Carden

 
 
 
   
 
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