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Talamone, Tuscany

If the Bay of Talamone is good enough for the very picky location scouts with their unlimited budgets for James Bond movies then I would say that's a pretty good recommendation for a visit. However the 39 second clip below doesn't actually show the town of Talamone other than a brief glimpse from a distance because the villa he is heading to is actually on the other side of the bay, but in a James Bond movie nothing is ever quite what it seems. Commander Bond however was not the first British naval officer to visit the Bay of Talamone.

And I'm sure Ian Fleming would get a chuckle out of the fact that Daniel Craig has now been made a CMG in the Queen's New Year's honors list, an honor normally bestowed on diplomats. He was also appointed an honorary Commander in the Royal Navy, the same rank as Bond, so Daniel Craig would appear to be the spy who came in from the cold as it were.



Talamone itself has an ideal position on a rocky promontory. It was a perfect position for defensive purposes over the centuries and it’s a perfect position today for tourism. The spur of land also affords shelter to the Bay of Talamone making it a favored destination for water sports.

Before even the birth of Christ, Talamone was the site of many fierce battles and on at least one occasion the town was completely destroyed. By the time the Middle Ages arrived it was following the same pattern as the other Maremma towns. First, it was ruled by the Aldobrandeschi who built the fortress here in the 13th century and then it was conquered by Siena. But after that it was largely abandoned through many of the subsequent centuries and its recovery only really began in the 18th century. A not uncommon story in the Maremma.


Talamone

For such a tiny place it had the rare distinction of visits from two distinguished historical figures. The first was Admiral Nelson in June 1798. In the summer of that year Napoleon’s fleet had recently been assembled into a single force and Nelson was busy trying to find them. Talamone Bay was a likely refueling stop for the French as it provided sufficient protection for a large fleet so Nelson likely weighed anchor here briefly and probably roughed up a few locals for information. But it wasn’t until Nelson’s fleet reached Civitavecchia a little further down the coast that he obtained reliable information on the enemy fleet, learning that he was only 10 days behind them. The pursuit ended of course less than two months later with one of the most famous and crushing naval victories in history at the Battle of the Nile near the Egyptian port of Alexandria.


Talamone bay

I couldn’t find any surviving record in Talamone itself of Nelson’s visit and it’s probably unlikely that he would have come ashore himself given that the comforts of a British naval flagship in those days would have been preferable to a Tuscan malarial swamp, but the well-known military historian John Keegan describes in great detail the progress of Nelson’s fleet searching for the French and there is no doubt that the British fleet scoured this coastline and in fact skillfully navigated the very narrow passage between Pianosa and Elba, no small feat for the sailing ships of that era.


the rocks below Talamone

Garibaldi statue in Talamone

The second illustrious figure to grace Talamone was Giuseppe Garibaldi. He landed here on May 7th 1860 on his way to Sicily with his famous band of 1,000 red shirts (including Ippolito Nievo) to gather ammunition and supplies including a seventeenth-century cannon procured from the nearby fort of Orbetello which they had to adapt to a modern gun during the voyage south.


He spent a few days in Talamone trying to organize his band of volunteers into some sort of rudimentary regiment and this was the history-making voyage that resulted in Italian unification despite the plottings and intrigue of Cavour who tried to derail it to appease Napoleon III.


Talamone
The perfect summer lunchtime spot, unfortunately already taken

There is a third person whose story is more worthy than these outsiders because he is Talamone born and bred and has made an ecological contribution to his home waters that few people have ever even thought of let alone achieved.

His name is Paolo Fanciulli. Now 61 years old he became a local fisherman in his early teens and shortly afterwards became appalled at the impact of dragnet trawling on the local ecosystem and its deleterious impact on his own precarious livelihood. To understand the problem it is necessary to realize that these trawlers use nets weighted with chains which scour the sea bed uprooting the sea grass (posidonia oceanica) that is key to the Mediterranean ecosystem in which sea bream, lobsters, gurnards and many other species lay their eggs.

These trawlers catch more fish this way but destroy the natural habitat of the fish at the same time and even though within 3 miles of the coastline trawling of any kind is illegal, some of it is done under the cover of darkness. In 2006 the Tuscan government dropped concrete blocks into the coastal waters to provide an obstacle for these nets but they were too few and too far apart.


Talamone center

Then Paolo Fanciulli got angry and got busy in a very imaginative way. He decided to create an underwater museum in which the sculptures would also serve as impediments to the dragnets but by doing it this way he hoped to capture the attention of a wider audience.

He asked Carrara for a few blocks of marble and according to one report they gave him 100 (I find that hard to believe but clearly he got a generous response) and then the entire sculpture community came to his aid.

The top British sculptor and self -described environmental artist, Emily Young, now very much a local as she lives for part of the year in an idyllic setting in a former monastery in the tiny hilltop town of Batignano north east of Grosseto, has so far made 4 sculptures for Paolo’s underwater museum, each weighing 12 tons.

As an aside, not only have we not visited Batignano but we had never even heard of it before researching this article. We must have driven right by it many times but the population there is only about 750 so probably if you blink you’ll miss it. The Italian sculptor Massimo Lippi also contributed, gifting 17 sculptures representing the 17 contrade (medieval districts) of Siena, his home town.


The sea below Talamone looking towards Porto Santo Stefano
Somewhere under these tranquil waters is Paolo's sculpture museum

Paolo’s goal is to have 100 sculptures in his underwater musem but he has already won the battle, at least locally, because no illegal trawlers will come anywhere near Talamone these days. The bigger battle against weighted dragnet trawling continues however and coincidentally as I was writing this article we happened to be in a cheap and cheerful fish restaurant called Le Meraviglie del Mare in the fishing town of Martinsicuro on the other side of Italy on the Abruzzo coast.

The owner is a grizzled old local fisherman whose entire family works in the restaurant and he still goes out fishing in his boat every day. We had a long chat about the state of Italian coastal fishing and he confirmed first-hand the extent of damage that these trawlers do but he also said that at least the authorities had recently exercised more control over illegal close-to-shore fishing as well the use of illegal nets and other infringements during the annual fishing moratorium.


Paolo Fanciulli's boat in Talamone

Today in Talamone Paolo now takes tourists out for a full day on his boat (above) where he teaches environmentally sound fishing and as part of the 7.00 am to 3.00 pm tour he grills the freshly caught fish right on the boat and serves them for lunch on the open water. He also has a casual seasonal restaurant in Talamone with a one-sitting, fixed price menu where he barbecues fish and tells stories. The boat trip is definitely on our list to do one day and if you’re a scuba diver, Paolo’s underwater museum should also be on your list.


The castle at Talamone