The Etruscans on Elba

The natural mineral wealth of the Tyrrhenian Tuscany and its archipelago, which is proved by the modern museums of Campiglia Marittima, Rio Marina, Rio nell'Elba and Capoliveri, was one of the main reasons that made the fortune of the Etruscans since the end of the Iron Age (ninth - eighth century BC). In fact, it was thanks to the trade of raw and processed minerals that the Etruscan aristocracy accumulated exceptional wealth, which also included treasures from the East. Most likely Elba, that was famous since ancient times for the abundance of its mineral deposits, represented in the first centuries the main place for ore processing. The furnaces built on the island were running day and night to fuse minerals, generating impressive high flares, so much that, as Aristotle said, it was known and called Aethalia (spark) by Greek sailors and by Hellenic world.

Even nowadays, the traces of this ancient industry can be recognized in several places, as evidenced by the small archaeological museum of Rio nell'Elba which, together with the modern reconstructions of Etruscan ovens made by the Experimental Park of Portoferraio, gives you an opportunity to recall every step of this activity. The large amount of timber needed to run the blast furnaces caused a rapid deforestation of the island. To avoid the timber's transport costs from the mainland, it was decided, therefore, to transfer the processing plants on the continent. In particular Populonia, became during the sixth century BC one of the main processing sites of Elba's iron ore; this is proved by the presence of the industrial district of Porcareccia which is part of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia.

Elba was not, however, the only metal resource of ancient Etruria. In fact, there were abundant deposits of copper in the area of Volterra, Arezzo, ​​Tarquinia and Cerveteri (the latter two also rich in iron), while the district of Metalliferous Hills (Colline Metallifere) provided the area of ​​Vetulonia a wide range of important minerals (such as galena and chalcopyrite, both argentiferous metals). Of this area the best known and most widely investigated mine village is the one of Accesa which, together with the Archaeological Museum of Massa Marittima, offers an interesting insight of the Etruscan society which over the centuries had been strongly influenced by mining and metallurgical activities.

Elba, the Etruscan fortune

Indeed, Elba made the fortune of the Etruscans , the most sophisticated among the Italic civilizations. Since ancient times the island has looked so rich in minerals that it has always been known as the legendary island of endless mineral resources. For centuries the abundance and purity of Elba's hematite has marked the progress of its civilizations, until October 1981, when the last iron mine in Elba Island was closed.

After centuries of intense exploitation, Elba's mines are no longer frequented by miners, but by collectors and mineral researchers. Actually, even the old "cavatori" (quarrymen) knew the "iron tricks" (scherzi del ferro). They referred this name to those crystals with the most extravagant and unusual colors. Elba micaceous hematite with its characteristic rosette crystals is exposed in every respectable mineral museum. In the seventeenth century, N. Steno, discovered the laws of modern crystallography while studying hematite and quartz of Elba .

Today, the five centuries of Etruscan hegemony have left the traces of several necropolis, a few remains of furnaces and many "hill villages" located into incomparable sceneries.

The successors of the Etruscans

The first stable inhabitants of Elba Island were the Etruscans, who exploited the huge mineral resources; in 453 BC, Romans succeeded to the Etruscans. Thanks to their sophisticated organizational skills, the Romans were able to exploit the most out of Elba's resources by building mines on the island and then melting in the furnaces along the Maremma coast. When the Roman Empire was in decline, Elba was invaded first by the Lombards and later by the Duchy of Lucca; then exposed to Greek, Norman and Saracen pirate raids who ruled in the tenth century, until the advent of the Pisani family (in the eleventh century) that lost the island after the defeat of Meloria (1284).
Subject to the rule of the Appiani (1399), Elba was exposed (first half of the sixteenth century) to the raids of Khayr al-Din, which helped the Medici family to conquer Portoferraio. Annexed to France in 1802, from May 1814 to February 1815 Elba was reigned by Napoleon during his exile. In 1815 the island was assigned to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

Forno Etrusco di Capo Pero

Forno Etrusco di Capo Pero

Ancient Etruscan furnace situated in the Capo Pero near Rio Marina

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