If you don’t feel some excitement when you first approach Magliano in Toscana then you’re in the wrong country because this is Italian history in the flesh largely unblemished by modern disfigurements. Obviously Hollywood doesn’t know about Magliano because otherwise they could shoot any number of period films here without really needing to change the scenery. Hopefully there are no location scouts reading this because that's the last thing I would wish on this place.
Even after almost nine years traveling around Italy I still marvel at towns like Magliano in Toscana. There’s something fascinating about this small town on a hill more or less in the middle of nowhere and part of its appeal has to do with its surroundings and the very pleasant drive to get here.
You don't pass any of the palatial estates that you see in the Chianti countryside where landowning wealth goes back centuries but nor is this a poor region today. It is prosperous and fertile farming country with a good mix of agriculture and plenty of neat rows of vines, olive groves and sunflowers, all looking magnificent in the endless sunshine of the Maremma.
Thirty minutes is all it takes to drive here from Grosseto, along quite decent country roads where you barely see a house or meet a passing car so this is the pure unadulterated and unpopulated southern Maremma with just rolling hills and bucolic countryside. And the reward at the end the short drive is to arrive at Magliano in Toscana. Even coming straight from Rome or Pisa it’s no more than a couple of hours, so it hardly classifies as remote.
When we entered the town through the old castle entrance of Porta San Martino (above photo) on a baking hot Sunday in summer, Magliano was completely deserted giving it something of the atmosphere of one of Sergio Leone’s iconic spaghetti westerns but you won't find any tumbleweed or whitewashed flat roofed adobe buildings here, they’re all in Spain where those films were shot.
Instead there are magnificent old city walls built in the early Renaissance style, high but quite narrow. They pre-date the invention of the powerful siege artillery of the late 15th century which caused Lucca among others to construct their walls lower in height but with much thicker bases.
The first walls here date back to the end of the 11th century when there was also a castle to defend. In 1323 the walls were effectively rebuilt and enlarged by the powerful local Aldobrandeschi family, only to be badly damaged a few years later by the conquering Senesi when this town, like many others in the Maremma, came under the control of Siena.
In 1448 the walls were again re-fortified, this time by Siena, as Magliano was not far from the southern border of the Republic of Siena at that time and therefore in a strategic location between the sea and Pitigliano, another fascinating fortified town further east towards the mountains.
The walls of Magliano in Toscana have 3 entrances and 9 towers and after major refurbishment work in recent years there is now an accessible walkway (above photo) all along the top of the southern and western sides of the walls that provides dramatic views, much more so in fact than the Lucca walls because here there are absolutely no obstructions and you are much higher up because the town itself is also elevated.
For somewhere that most people coming to Italy know nothing about (and long may that continue) this is an experience that is frankly much more enjoyable and evocative of Italy’s past than standing in Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo in the middle of summer surrounded by thousands of tourists with their ridiculous selfie sticks.
The Maremma has a rich vein of Etruscan archeological sites and around Magliano in Toscana there are several necropoli; many of them are closed to visitors but there is nothing here on the scale of the Etruscan sites in Populonia or Tarquinia.
The largely forgotten English explorer and self-taught linguist and Etruscan scholar, George Dennis, visited Magliano in 1844 during his extensive travels in the Maremma and described the town as follows: “Magliano is a village without an inn, of three hundred souls, at the foot of a medieval castle in picturesque ruins.” He must have arrived thirsty and needing lodging if the first thing he noticed about the town was the lack of an inn and that would have been my first thought too if I'd arrived here at that time.
Dennis was a complete unknown with limited resources when he hiked around the Maremma for several years, mostly sleeping rough, during the period when it was an unpopulated wilderness plagued by malaria and bandits, but the result was his 1,100 page magnum opus The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, published in 1848 by the British Museum. Years were to pass before it was rightly acknowledged as a scholarly masterpiece and its relevance is undiminished today for Etruscan researchers.
Several years later in 1882 a lead disk was found here, known as the lamina plumbea di Magliano, containing 70 Etruscan words that played an important role in helping scholars decipher the Etruscan language.
Magliano has one other claim to fame, which is the presence here of one of the oldest olive trees in Italy, perhaps the oldest anywhere in central Italy because it is mostly Puglia and Sardinia that are famous for their ancient trees. The tree here is called L’Ulivo della Strega (the witch’s olive tree) and you can find it just outside the Magliano walls behind the church of Santissima Annunziata. It’s now surrounded by metal fencing to prevent it from being further vandalized by souvenir hunters.
This tree is yet another example of all the garbage written by casual bloggers on the internet because every search result for this tree will take you to a blog or an article that simply repeats the lie that it’s estimated to be 3,000-3,500 years old.
It was the early 18th century satirist Jonathon Swift who first coined the phrase (that ironically now has many incorrect attributions) “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” and this applies in spades to the internet and social media.
The reputable Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica, had an article on the tree not too long ago and the author, being a proper journalist, quoted the Italian scientific research organization Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei stating the tree’s age at around 1,000 years. That sounds more reasonable from a purely common sense standpoint because the fact that the tree is in a church courtyard would make it quite unlikely that it pre-dates Christianity. Some of the oldest trees in Italy are often found near churches; these are the ones that survived the cultural changes of the various barbarian invasions because olive branches and oil were used for religious purposes.
After you’ve spent a pleasant afternoon in Magliano in Toscana you’ll realize why one of the most famous and beloved singers to come out of Naples in the last 40 years decided to live just outside this tiny Tuscan town. Pino Daniele loved this area of the Maremma before he died prematurely in 2015 and even requested to be buried here instead of in his home town.
It’s easy to imagine yourself living just outside the walls tending to your vines and olives and I would certainly pick this area over the the more popular Chianti hills or Val d’Orcia or perhaps even anywhere else in Italy.