Along the Etruscan Coast of Tuscany, set on top of a promontory of extraordinary beauty in the Gulf of Baratti, the ancient Fufluna was one of the main centers of the Etruscan and Roman Civilization. Today, the archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia preserves the ruins of the only example of the Etruscan city to be built along the sea.
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, Populonia becomes the main iron and steel site of the Mediterranean Coast thanks to its strategic position along the Coast in an area rich in minerals.
Here, the inhabitants processed the hematite from the close Elba Island and the other minerals from the vein of Campiglia, to produce objects in iron. Then, these handmade products were shipped by boat to the other civilization along the Mediterranean Sea, like ancient Greece and North Africa. Later, around the II century BC, Romans conquered Populonia because of the iron they needed, especially for military reasons. The rest of the temples, paved streets, and a villa at the Acropolis of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia prove that the city was rebuilt in “Roman Style”.
I guess that another reason why Etruscans decided to build a city here it’s because of 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. At the time of elementary school, I visited the park on a school trip. My only memories were a couple of big mounds and a lot of fun with my schoolmate running on a field with a sea view. The big burial mounds are still at their place but I have discovered many other interesting things and I want you to talk about them.
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 and consists of two Necropolises, a center of experimental archaeology, and of the Acropolis close to the medieval village of Populonia on top of the promontory. 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 with dozens of information panels, which allow you to enjoy the park even on your own without a tour guide. Moreover, it offers 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 close 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 park as we see it today was born in 1998 after years of workings that permitted us to discover new ruins.
The Necropolis of San Cerbone
Set along a field with a sea view, you can take a look at the most ancient Etruscan tombs at the Necropolis of San Cerbone. You can do the visit by yourself or follow a guided tour that is scheduled every hour (for the moment the tours are in Italian and only twice a day there is an English tour). The passionate tour guides will tell you interesting stories about the Etruscans and bring you inside the biggest burial mound of the park, the “Tomba dei Carri” which is 28 meters in diameter. I strongly recommend you follow the guides otherwise you won’t be allowed to enter the mound for security reasons. Inside, archaeologists found the rest of the wheels and decorations in bronze and iron of ancient chariots, a symbol that in Populonia lived a powerful Etruscan aristocracy.
Closer to the beachside, then, you will see different funeral architectures with 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. Once reached the Belvedere you will be astonished by a spectacular view of the Gulf of Baratti with its different shades of blue, the valley of Cornia river, and a tomb dug into the brownstone that seems like a little Petra in Jordan.
Inside this beautiful tomb, they found the rest of a top-rank young lady of 18 yo, 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 that connect the two Necropolises, a loyal reproduction of an old hut of the Bronze Age welcomes visitors to the center of experimental archaeology. Under the supervision of experts, adults but especially children can experience the ancient processing techniques, work with soft stones, wood, bones, and pottery to create everyday stuff, and know more about the daily life of the old inhabitants. Out of the center. Following another of the natural tracks departing from the Necropolises, 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 the car. At the moment it is possible to visit the site only with a guided tour (in Italian but you can ask and the tour guide will translate the main information for you). Ruins are more Romans than Etruscans and you can see foundations of three sacred temples, a paved street, and the rest of an impressive building (probably a Villa or a thermal bath) with terrace and Loggia.
If you add a hint of your own fantasy to the remains and to the information received by the guide, 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 park…
You can decide to start this trip into the history of the mysterious civilization of Etruscans with the Acropolis on top of promontory or with the Necropolis from the lower entrance along the gulf. There are three different kinds of tickets depending on the sites you wish to see and discounts for families. I suggest you do the complete tour, even because tickets are valid for a week so you can choose to make the visit in more days. Tickets also include the car parking at the Necropolises lower part, while 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 in Florence, and at the Museo del Territorio di Populonia in Piombino. So my last suggestion is to visit them if you have time and will, to have a complete sight of the Etruscan and Roman archaeological park of Baratti and Populonia. Personally, 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, and at the end, 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.