Tuscany is the fifth largest region in Italy. Wedged deeply like a triangle in the heart
of Italy, it constitutes a transitional, area between the Po Delta and Liguria, which are
highly industrialized, and those Italian regions which are still principally agricultural.
It stretches over the western side of the Apennines and includes the islands of the Tuscan
archipelago. It lies on the sea to the west and south-west and borders with Liguria to the
north-west, Emilia-Romagna to the north, the Marches and Umbria to the east, and Latium to
the south-east. Its limits are clearly defined to the north but less evident to the east,
crossing the main ridge of the Tusco-Emilian Apennines and taking in the upper Val
Tiberina, becoming even more uncertain to the south-east and south where they appear to be
justified only for historical, linguistic and generally cultural reasons.
The Natural Environment
This area has a varied and complex morphology; ranges of mountains and hills alternate
with intermontane basins and strips of plain, scattered in an apparently irregular
distribution. The true Tusco-Emilian Apennines can be distinguished from the mountainous
and hilly groups of the Preapennines, separated by an imaginary line linking Montecatini
Terme to Chiusi.
The highest chains along the watershed strip, the Pratomagno group (1,592 m.), the Chianti
mountains and the southern chain, which stretches between Casentino and Val di Chiana to
the west and Val Tiberina to the east, are part of the Apennines; the Apuan Alps (1,945
m.) branch off from the ridge on the inner side. The trachyte massif of Mount Amiata
(1,738 m.) and the Colline Metallifere belong to the Tuscan Apennines. The intermontane
basins are of particular interest, especially for their settlements; the largest and best
defined are Lunigiana, near the upper Magra valley, Garfagnana (upper Serchio basin), the
basin of Florence, Mugello (upper Sieve valley), Valdarno Superiore, Casentino, Val di
Chiana and lastly, the upper section of Val Tiberina. The most extensive plains are
Valdarno Inferiore, Versilia (at the foot of the Apuan Alps) and the coastal plains of
The rivers in Tuscany are irregular in size, torrential and winding, for they have adapted
to the morphology of the region. With the exception of the upper courses of the Reno,
Santerno, Lamone, Marecchia and Foglia, which enter the Adriatic, all the other Tuscan
rivers flow into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The most important are the Tiber (only a stretch of
its upper course in Tuscany), the Arno with its tributaries, the Sieve, Bisenzio, Greve,
Pesa, Elsa and Era, the Magra and the Serchio, respectively flowing through Lunigiana and
Garfagnana; the Cecina, the Ombrone and the Albegna, which flow through the Preapennine
The climate is temperate but there are considerable zonal variations depending on the
distance from the sea, altitude and the position of the mountains. Generally speaking, the
temperatures decrease from the Maremma coastal areas (to the SW) towards the Apennines (to
the NE). Precipitations fall mainly in spring and autumn. The wettest zones are those of
the north-western Apennines and Pratomagno, the Catenaia Alp, the Chianti mountains, the
Mount Amiata group and the highest parts of the Colline Metallifere, while the driest are
the coastal belt, the plains and the intermontane basins.
The mantle of natural vegetation has been greatly modified by man though various
characteristic aspects still exist. Common along the coast is the Mediterranean scrub, an
underwood of aromatic evergreen shrubs, which spreads though, increasingly sparsely, into
the Arno Valley as far as Florence. There are still beautiful pinewoods on the coast as
well as holly woods and cork trees. Inland, up to approximately 900 m. grow white oak and
chestnut woods; higher up lie beautiful mountain forests of beech and fir, and beyond
1,700 m. wide alpine pastures. Tuscany has far more woodland than any other Italian region
(866,211 hectares). Most of these woods are coppices of low trees which are felled at
intervals to provide logs and charcoal.
There are, however, tall forest trees providing timber for building, such as the conifer
forests of Abetone and Vallombrosa: most common, however, are chestnut groves which make
Tuscany the fourth Italian region for chestnuts.
One of the most important mountain areas is that ot the Casentinesi Forests, on the
boundary with Emilia-Romagna (one third lies in that region), where the nature of the
ground and the high humidity level provide excellent conditions for growth: towering
silver firs, majestic centuries-old beeches and a whole variety of other trees ranging
from the mountain maple to the European aspen, from the lime tree to the smooth-leaved
elm, from the Turkey oak to the common hornbeam. The lower areas are full of white oak,
chestnut and in the damper zones alders, willow and laburnum.
Another characteristic and beautiful mountain area is that of the Apuan Alps, an
extraordinary chain of mountains which winds for more than 50 km, towering over travellers
along Lunigiana, Garfagnana or Versilia like brilliant white marble and which from a
certain distance resembles enormous snowfields.
Beside the woods of evergreen oak and Corsican pine, hornbeam, beech and chestnut, there
are extremely rare species such as an austral fern.
Little wildlife survives, however marmots and pine voles are present, and the rich variety
of birds includes the European partridge and the raven; interesting amphibians include the
Apuan and the Italian newt.
The Maremma lies on the south Tuscany coast, one of the outstanding environments on the
peninsula, still well conserved and with a rich variety of scenery, plants and
characteristic animals. The flora is typically Mediterranean, with thick mastic and
strawberry bush scrub and various heathers and junipers. Here the evergreen oak is in
shrub form, but a splendid tree farther inland; the cork trees too grow to majestic
heights. There are strips of riparian and mixed vegetation as well as interesting rare
survivors such as the dwarf palm. The characteristic Maremma wildlife abounds: wild boar,
roe deer, badgers and porcupine. Birdlife is plentiful and varied including birds of prey
such as the harrier.
Of the Italian regions, Tuscany, together with Sardinia, has the most interesting mineral
deposits. There are seams of cinnabar (Mount Amiata), iron ore (Island of Elba), pyrites
(Grosseto area), lead and zinc, antimony, rock salt (Volterra) and lignite (San Giovanni
Valdarno). The most characteristic of the Tuscan underground resources are the borax
geysers at Larderello, violent continuous jets of steam at high temperatures gushing from
deep holes bored in the ground. These are used in producing boric acid and generating
electricity (geothermic energy).
Population and Economy
The population of Tuscany is not uniformly distributed: high- density areas contrast
sharply with those where the density is markedly lower than the national average, for
example the mountain or agricultural zones which, especially after the Second World War,
suffered a population drain towards the industrialized areas or the lowlands, the
Provinces of Grosseto, Siena and Arezzo being those most affected. As a result, the
population is heavily concentrated along part of the Tyrrhenian coastline (from Carrara to
Leghorn) and in the lower Valdarno, from Florence to Pisa where local densities of 500
persons/ sq/km are recorded. The Tuscan dialect, articulated in various offshoots such as
those of Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Arezzo and Val di Chiana areas and Florence, belongs to the
large family of Central Italy dialects.
The standard of living is generally little higher than the national average though there
are certain zonal differences. The areas with high industrial concentration and the best
communications networks (lower Valdarno, Florence, Lucca, Versilia, Leghorn) have an
advantage over the rural and mountain areas (Maremma hinterland, countryside around Siena,
As regards the economic sector, agriculture has in recent decades suffered from a high
rate of redundancy, caused by mechanization of production and drift from the countryside.
The Tuscan primary sector has two different farming systems: smallholdings, sometimes
still with mixed crops (wheat, vines and olives), mostly in the north of the region, and
the large farms to the south, especially in Maremma, where land has been reclaimed; these
farms cultivate cereals and vegetables. The principal agricultural products are wheat and
wine, the latter mainly from the Chianti area. Qualitatively speaking, olive cultivation
is also excellent (around Lucca, Maremma hills). Vegetable production is also worthy of
note: Tuscan artichokes (from the Pisa, Leghorn, Empoli areas) are well known as are
cauliflowers (Pisa area). Nursery gardens round Pistoia and floriculture at Pescia and
Viareggio are traditional forms of cultivation, but apart from sheep, there is little
livestock, though the area does have several native breeds of cattle (Chianina, Pisana,
Maremma). With regard to industry, mining, though sharply declining compared to a few
decades ago, is still of some importance: pyrites in the Grosseto area (used in the
production of sulphuric acid), lignite (Valdarno), lead (Campiglia Marittima), alabaster
(Volterra) and notably marble (Apuan Alps). The iron ore seams (Island of Elba) and
mercury deposits (Mount Amiata) are no longer worked.
Some electricity is produced, nearly entirely of thermal origin, more than one third of it
from the exploitation of borax hot springs (Larderello). Industry includes the
metallurgical (Piombino, Leghorn, Florence, S. Giovanni Valdarno), engineering (Florence,
Pontedera, Pistoia, Arezzo), chemical (Rosignano Solvay, Leghorn), textile (Prato,
Florence, Empoli), food (Sansepolcro), printing (Florence), tanning (S. Croce sull'Arno)
and glass, making (Empoli) sectors. Craft industries flourish all over this region
(faiences, lace, rush-weaving, wrought-iron). In the services sector, banking (Siena,
Florence) and especially commerce and tourism (the Versilia seaside resorts, many art
cities) are important.
The road and railway networks are well developed for regional circulation (facilitated by
the wide valleys and the broken nature of the Tuscan Apennine groups) as well as national
communications. Important highways and motorways (Autostrada del Sole, Florence-Pisa,
Genoa-Leghorn, Parma-La Spezia) and main railway lines (Bologna-Rome, coastal line
Genoa-Rome) cross this region. The only busy ports are Leghorn (lines to Sardinia, Corsica
and the Tuscan archipelago) and Piombino (linking the nearby Island of Elba). The major
domestic airports are Pisa San Giusto and Florence Peretola.
Tuscany is one of the regions in Italy that attract the highest number of tourists, this
as a result of its excellent position on the peninsula and satisfactory hotel and other
facilities, and most of all to the great variety of environmental, scenic, artistic,
cultural and historical attractions. The area is dotted with charming and often old
villages, whose intrinsic merits merge with those of the environment. Starting from the
north, peaceful green valleys lie close to the Apennine ridge: Lunigiana with Pontremoli,
the home of booksellers, and Fosdinovo, with its Malaspina beautiful castle (14th
century); next, separated by the `marble' Apuan Alps, lies Garfagnana, where Castelnuovo,
Barga, with the nearby village of Castelvecchio (home of Giovanni Pascoli, the poet), and,
not far from Lucca, the Romanesque Pieve di Brancoli, all deserve a visit. Towards the
east, lies the wooded Pistoia mountain, with a host of summer holiday centres, such as S.
Marcello, Gavinana and Maresca, and winter resorts, such as Cutigliano and especially
Abetone. Having reached Florence, one can go up the Mugello (Sieve valley) where a visit
should be made to the Renaissance Francescan monastery of Bosco dei Frati, with a wooden
crucifix attributed to Donatello, the Medici villa of Cafaggiolo (15th century) and the
centres of Scarperia, with the 14th century Palazzo Pretorio, and Romanesque Borgo S.
Lorenzo with the church of the same name. Once over the Pratomagno ridge (on which the
picturesque village of Vallombrosa is perched with its interesting monastery) the visitor
reaches Casentino (upper Arno Valley) and Stia, Poppi and Bibiena, villages with a wealth
of art and architecture - but especially with an intensely mystical beauty, amidst
majestic forests. The Eremo di Camaldoli conserves the characteristic cells (11th century)
occupied by the hermits; the Verna monastery, with its 14th century church of S. Maria
degli Angeli and Basilica (14th-16th century) contains many relics of the life of S.
The traditional image of Tuscany, of gentle hilly slopes covered with olive groves and
vineyards, must be sought in the heart of the region, for example, in the upper Era basin,
where one finds splendid Volterra, of ancient Etruscan origin, a town whose ancient intact
structure conserves important monuments such as the Romanesque Duomo, 14th century Palazzo
dei Priori and an extremely interesting Etruscan museum. In the upper Elsa valley, between
Florence and Siena, lies another small town, nestling in the peaceful green countryside,
of equal environmental and cultural interest: this is S. Gimignano, famous for its many
towers, the Collegiata (12th century) with a fine interior, Palazzo del Podestà
(12th-13th century) and the Romanesque Gothic church of S. Agostino. Nearby and worth
visiting are Colle Val d'Elsa, with Palazzo Campana, an example of Mannerism (16th
century), and Monteriggioni, with fine twelfth century walls. Past the so-called `Crete
Senesi', stands the solitary magnificent abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (14th-16th
century) decorated with frescoes by L. Signorelli and Sodoma (Stories of St Benedict);
farther on lie Montalcino, of medieval appearance with its beautiful Collegiata (12th-13th
century) and Pienza, built by Pope Pius II (1459-62) in the purest Renaissance urban
style. Proceeding south, one reaches Radicofani and the tranquil, picturesque holiday
resorts at the base of Mount Amiata (1,738 m.): these are Castel del Piano, Arcidosso, S.
Fiora, Pian Castagnaio and Abbadia S. Salvatore. Another interesting itinerary starts at
Arezzo, descending the Val di Chiana, touching Monte San Savino, with its Renaissance
Loggia dei Mercanti, and the medieval hamlet of Gargonza; Castiglion Fiorentino and
Cortona, a city of art, with a medieval centre; lastly Montepulciano with its
late-Renaissance architecture. Not to be missed, lying at the foot of the Colline
Metallifere, between Siena and Grosseto, are the solitary abbey of S. Galgano, partly in
ruins, one of the most important examples of Gothic-Cistercian architecture in Italy, and
the beautiful town of Massa Marittima.
Farther on, towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, one enters Maremma, a protected area in the
Maremma Natural Park, including the small coastal chain of the Monti dell'Uccellina, which
has typical Mediterranean scrub, the ideal habitat for an extremely rich and varied fauna.
Tourist movement Tuscany is also linked to the seaside resorts, starting from those of
Versilia: Marina di Massa, Marina di Carrara, Forte dei Marmi, Marina di Pietrasanta, Lido
di Camaiore, Viareggio and continuing with Tirrenia, Castiglioncello, Marina di Cecina, S.
Vincenzo, exclusive Punta Ala, Castiglione della Pescaia, Marina di Grosseto, Porto S.
Stefano and Porto Ercole - these last two on the Argentario headland. Not to be forgotten
is the Tuscan archipelago, especially the Island of Elba, with a jagged coastline, a
particularly mild climate and excellent tourist facilities. Other islands which tourists
can visit are Isola del Giglio and Isola della Capraia. Internationally renowned health
spas include Montecatini, near Pistoia, with waters suitable for the treatment of the
liver and digestive tract, and Chianciano, in the lower Val di Chiana, whose waters are
used for liver complaints.