Set on top of a promontory of extraordinary beauty, the ancient Fufluna was one of the main centers of the Etruscan and Roman Civilization. We are at the Gulf of Baratti on the Tuscan coast. The archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia preserves the ruins of this unique example of an Etruscan city built by the sea.
Where is the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia
The archaeological park is located in a wonderful place, the gulf of Baratti. Exploring the coast of Tuscany you cannot miss a visit. You can easily reach it driving along the E80 highway / SS1 Superstrada, taking the exit San Vincenzo Nord coming north, from Pisa or Florence for example. Coming from south, Rome or Grosseto, the exit is Venturina.
Pisa is only 1 hour away by car. Florence approx 2 hours. You can add a stop to your Tuscan road trip to the wine region of Bolgheri and to lovely villages like Suvereto and Castagneto Carducci.
The port of Piombino to get the ferry to Elba Island is only 15 minutes away by car.
A bit of History of Populonia
The name Fufluna (or Pupluna) derives from Fufluns, the Etruscan God of the wine. Nowadays, instead, we know the village as Populonia. During the VI and the IV century BC, thanks to its strategic position along the Coast in an area rich in minerals, Populonia was the main site for iron and steel of the Mediterranean Coast .
Inhabitants processed the hematite coming from the close Elba Island and other minerals from the vein of Campiglia, to produce objects in iron.
These handmade products were then shipped by boat to the other civilizations of the Mediterranean Sea, like the ancient Greece and the North Africa.
Later, around the II century BC, Romans conquered Populonia because of the iron they needed, especially for military reasons. The rests of temples, paved streets, and the villa at the Acropolis inside the Archaeological Park prove that the city was rebuilt in “Roman Style”.
I guess that another reason why Etruscans decided to build a city here was the beauty of the area. The view from the top of the promontory is amazing. You can admire the gulf of Baratti, the islands, the horizon line, and beyond. The sea is like a huge blue mirror that reflects the rays of sunshine, leaving you breathless.
What to see at the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia
My first time at the archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia was years ago. I visited the park on a school trip when I was at the primary school. My only memories are a couple of big mounds and the fun I had with my schoolmate, running up and down on a field with a sea view. The big burial mounds are still at their place. But I discovered many other interesting things to talk about.
The history of the park
The archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia is one of the attractions of the complex of the Val di Cornia parks. It consists of two Necropolises, a center of experimental archaeology, and the Acropolis on top of the promontory of Populonia.
The archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia is quite vast. It has a magnificent sea view and some of the tombs are really impressive. It is very clean, family-friendly, and well organized. Dozens of panels gives lot of information giving you the chance to enjoy the park even without a tour guide.
You will have a unique perspective on the world of the Etruscan civilization that lived in the area thousands of years ago. In my opinion, the beauty and the care of the site are worth the money spent on the ticket.
The first archaeological remains were found around 1920 under meters of iron scoria. After almost two millenniums, the area next to the brown sandy beach of Baratti was still full of iron slag. So, locals started an activity of recovery. They brought ancient tombs and objects back to light. Unfortunately, many artifacts were smuggled. And the use of diggers and mechanical machines caused incalculable damages to the heritage just discovered. The Archaelogical park was born in 1998 after years of workings that brought back to life new ruins.
The Necropolis of San Cerbone
At the Necropolis of San Cerbone, you can admire the most ancient Etruscan tombs. The position is wonderful, set on a field with a sea view. You can do the visit on your own or following a guided tour. There are tours every hour in Italian And twice a day there are also in english. The passionate tour guides will tell you interesting stories about the Etruscans. They lead you inside the biggest burial mound of the park: the Tomba dei Carri, with its 28 meters in diameter. You can enter only following the guides for security reasons.
Inside, archaeologists found the rest of wheels, and decorations of ancient chariots in bronze and iron. This means that in Populonia lived a powerful Etruscan aristocracy.
Walking closer to the beachside, you will see different funeral architectures. You find the Tomba del Bronzetto dell’Offerente made in aedicule style, and sarcophagus made of stones and closed with liquefied lead.
The Necropolis of the caves
From the necropolis of San Cerbone, different paths bring you to the Necropolis of the Caves inside the forest. Here, dozens of tombs were dug under the ground level into the soft stones. The route is a bit uphill but the walk is really pleasant. The view to the Gulf of Baratti from the Belvedere is spectacular. The different shades of blue of the water and the green fields of the valley of the river Cornia. And also a tomb dug into the brownstone looking like a little Petra in Jordan.
The tomb belonged to a top-rank young lady of 18 yo. Inside, archaeologists found the rests of her body together with wine amphora, candelabras (symbol of light and life), and cans of crystallized honey. All these findings prove that probably this grave belonged to the priestess of Fufluns, the God of wine. Aren’t these stories exciting?
The Centre of Experimental Archaeology
Half a way of the paths connecting the two Necropolises, a loyal reproduction of an old hut of the Bronze Age welcomes visitors to the experimental archaeology center. Under the supervision of experts, adults but especially children can experience the ancient processing techniques. You can work with soft stones, wood, bones, and pottery to create everyday stuff. And know more about the daily life of the old inhabitants. Following another track, you can even reach the hidden ruins of the medieval Benedictine monastery of San Quirico.
The Acropolis of Populonia
If you are ready to hike a hard uphill path, you can reach the Acropolis by walk. Otherwise you can get by car. At the moment the visit to the site is possible only with a guided tour. They lead the tour in Italian but you can ask the tour guide to translate the main information for you. Ruins are more Romans than Etruscans. You can see foundations of three sacred temples, a paved street, and the rest of an impressive building with terrace and Loggia. Probably those are ruins of a villa or a thermal bath,
If you add a hint of your own fantasy, I am sure you will be able to imagine the splendor of the city at that time. At the acropolis of the archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia, you see archaeologists at work. Every day they make new important discoveries to rebuild the ancient city as it was in the past.
More info about the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia
You can start the tour into the history of the mysterious Etruscans in two places: starting from the Acropolis, on top of the promontory, from the Necropolis at the lower entrance.
Tickets and parking at the Archaeologica Park of Baratti and Populonia
There are three different kinds of tickets depending on the sites you wish to see and discounts for families. I suggest you to take the complete tour. Also because the validity of tickets is a week and you can choose to make the visit in more days.
Tickets also include the car parking at the Necropolises lower part. Instead, going up at the Acropolis of Populonia the only way to park is in a private paying parking. The park has a nice bar/restaurant where you can enjoy a complete lunch or just a sandwich. Especially during summertime with high temperatures, the shadow of this area helps you to recharge your batteries.
Most of the findings of the area are exhibited at the National Archeological Museum of Florence, and also at the Museo del Territorio di Populonia in Piombino. So, to have a complete sight of the Etruscan and Roman life in Populonia my last suggestion is to visit them.
The tour took me almost three hours for the Necropolises, and after a break at the restaurant, another hour for the Acropolis. So, consider an entire day for the whole visit. At the end of the day you are still in time for a swim in the sea. Or for an aperitivo staring at the sunset of the awesome Gulf of Baratti.