In the 15th century the ever growing menace of Turkish power became one of the main worries of western sovereigns, as piracy was part of the sea policy of these populations. Pirates were, in fact, obliged to divide the booty with their government, and therefore this activity represented one of the most profitable ways of earning. It must also be pointed out that the pirates would not only assault ships, but also would raid dry land. These incursions lasted until the 19th century, despite the fact that they did not happen with the same strong intensity.
There are news of what happened in an attack by the pirates, described in a letter written by Ambrogio Colombani, Captain of the troops in Grosseto, in 1536. In this letter he tells he was warned by a soldier, who was sharing the same barracks in Castelmarino, of the imminent incursion as this man had seen the enemies in the Collelungo bay. The letter is a detailed description of how he organised the attack against the pirates and of the suffering and the pain both him and his men had to endure, due to lack of food and the fever caused by the long ambushes in the thick woods, probably in the forest of Giannella.
Another example of raids and robberies is the one described by Flaminio Nelli, Governor of Grosseto, in the 1560 letter to the Grand Duke. It tells the incursion in Porto Ercole and Orbetello during, as it frequently used to happen, some people were abducted.
The most effective defence, in use since the Roman period, was the sighting towers, not many of which, however, during the Sienese domination had been built in this area.
In Spanish territories, initiatives of defence against piracy had been promoted, since the war between Charles 5th and Francis 1st.
In 1532 Don Pedro of Toledo and Viceroy of Napoli decided to have new sighting towers, built to defend the coasts and issued an edict concerning this matter: the project however did not come to anything.
After the defeat of the Spanish fleet near Tunisi in 1560, a new way of intervening on dry land was also taken into consideration. In 1563, in fact, the Viceroy and Duke of Alcala’ Don Perafan de Ribera issued an edict with precise regulations of how to act on land. In the territories of the Grand Duchy, instead, new sighting towers were only built when Cosimo 1st, in agreement with the new Spanish dispositions, sent his military engineers to Maremma. At the end of the period characterised by the incursions of the pirates, these sites started to be used to check on smuggling activities which were recurrently occurring on the coast. The towers, 10 or 15 meters high, were built in small dimensions, as they were not subjected to attacks and did not therefore have to defend the territory, and at a distance not superior to three miles from each other. Consequently the garrison was reduced to the minimum with often only one Castellan and a soldier. As for the building topology of this period all the towers, except only a few, were in stone and with square shaped foundations, and covered with a roof or terrace supported by stone slabs. The entrance door was facing the dry land, as this was the most protected area. The only openings were little loopholes placed on strategic points. Inside, simple wooden ceilings would divide the floors and outside the furnace and the stables would be included in a fortified enclosure. After the political and military fall of the last years of the Medici government, in 1737 Francesco Stefano of the Lorena family took charge of Tuscany and all the forts which had been so far under Spanish control. He started to organize in the Austrian way, the inefficient army. In the period of time between 1741 and 1745, to face external attacks, a new regiment of national bands was also founded in Sienese Maremma. In the most important strongholds on the coast the Castellan was accompanied by a dozen gunners, while in the smallest ones there used to be a tower man and five or six soldiers.
In 1767 some defeats that these areas had experienced convinced the reformer and illuminist spirit Pietro Leopoldo of the importance of the dismantlement and sale of all the forts that were not particularly used or too expensive for the budget of the Grand Duchy, and consequently gave the normal authorities the maintenance of the public order.
This policy was highly criticized in 1793 when Pietro Leopoldo’ successor, Ferdinando 3rd, decided to patrol the Tuscan coast and realized that it was uncontrollable because it was divided into areas controlled by different princes and because it was completely disarmed. This error was fatal for the Grand Duke who, in 1799, had to seek refuge in Austria. The Lorena were succeeded by the Borboni of Parma and immediately after Tuscany was annexed to the Napoleonic empire as the Kingdom of Etruria. There is an important document concerning this period entitled “Le brigantage” dans le Departement de l’Ombrone 1808-1814, which describes the continuous contacts between the Prefect of the Ombrone area and the central authorities in Paris. This document was mentioned in the article of Vittoria Ardito, in 1985. In the cartography of the area, between the Uccellina Park and southern borders of Tuscany, the main coastal towers, with the exception of those ones not in use any more, are listed. In the Grosseto District, near the mouth of the Ombrone river, one can come across the tower of Trappola and the Ridotto di Bocca d’Ombrone and, going southwards, towards the mountain areas, the towers of Castelmarino, Collelungo and San Rabano. This last one being part of the monastic complex. In the District of Magliano in Toscana it is possible to see the towers of Cala di Forno, Bella Marsilia, and Torre Bassa, historically part of the property of the Marsili family. The area belonging to the District of Orbetello was defended by the towers of Poggio Raso, Cannelle, Capo d’Uomo, Mulinaccio, and Talamonaccio which, although not included in the area of the Park, contributed to the defence of the Talamone bay.
In the District of Monte Argentario, walking on the headland, the visitor can find the towers of Peschiera, Santa Liberata, Calvello, Lividonia, Caccaiarella, Cala Grande, Cala Moresca, Cala Piccola, Capo d’Uomo, Maddalena, Cannelle, Ciana, and Avvoltore. By following the coast it is possible to go back to the territory under the District of Orbetello where, on the Poggio di Ansedonia, are located the two towers of San Pancrazio.
The two Puccini towers are in the Capalbio District, near the Etruscan Tagliata, and in the same District it is possible to find also the tower of Buranaccio on the Burano lake and the tower of Selva Nera.
San Rabano abbey
The complex of San Rabano Abbey, situated between Poggio Lecci and Poggio Alto, was indicated at the time it was being built, at the beginning of the 17th century, as Monasterium Arboriense or Monasterium de Arboresio or Alberese.
The etymology of the name is uncertain; the name of the abbey could come from the words arbour (tree), or albarium, referring to the whitish stone of the Uccellina Mountains. In the first document that we know the name seems to have been changed from the previous one of Sancta Maria de Arboresio, whilst later it is simply indicated as domus et loci ordinis Sancti Benedecti de Arboresio. Even if well spread, the hypothesis that the current name derives from a solitary hermitage on the valley seems little probable, and therefore the theory that the name San Rabano was the improper and arbitrary use of San Rafani Praeceptor is considered more valid. He was the last abbot of the abbey, as pointed out by some 1700 documents, and also the man who wanted the Church of San Rabano to be built in Alberese. The construction work of the Abbey terminated in 1587. The complex, dated back to the beginning of the 11th century as a Benedictine settlement, reached the highest point of development during the following century by the Benedictine Cistercians. The choice of the location was in relation to a plan of territorial control, of utilization of the resources, and economical development. Not far from the Abbey was the Queen’s road, which linked the old Aurelia and the sea. The neighbouring area underwent many important changes and was later deforested and terraced to allow the cultivation of plants like olive trees and grape; the oak for cork was probably introduced, and a village, of which only a few ruins are left under the overgrown vegetation, was developed. The first document concerning the abbey which we know is dated the 7th of April 1101 and it is the resolution given by the Pope of a disagreement between Roselle Bishop and the Abbot for what concerned the collection of church tithes from the first on the territory of the second. On this document the monastery is indicated probably as a building that was still being built, and not yet completed. The growth and importance of the Abbey have developed after 1101: in the successive years, San Rabano reached the maximum development and Pope Innocenzo 2nd gave the abbot the control of all the reformed monasteries on the Lazio borders. During the XII century the Benedictine order had a period of crisis which led to the abandonment of many monasteries. San Rabano was likely to have had this crisis, but the lack of documentation does not allow to know for certain what happened to the Abbey during these particular years. On the 30th of January 1303, Pope Bonifacio 8th ordered Pisa Priorate of the Jerusalem Knights to vigil, look after, defend, and administrate the lands and the monastery in Alberese (in the original Italian: “ vigilare, custodire, difendere, amministrare le terre e il monastero di Alberese”). In a document dated the 30th of January 1307, the place is still called monastery, while in a successive document of the 18th of October 1336 the Fort is used for the first time. The fortification, now visible as the raising of the brickworks with battlements, is therefore likely to have occurred at same point between the two dates. Considering that for a short period between 1321 the monastery was under the domain of the Abati Family, tyrants of Grosseto for a few years from 1312, historians tried to find who had started the building work: from an accurate analysis of the construction methods, the fortification seems to be the work of the Knights of Jerusalem. In the 14th century the domain of the fort was cause of disagreements between Siena and Pisa and in 1438 Siena, which was now the absolute owner of the area, dismantled the abbey and moved the seat of the Priorato to the new structures of Alberese in 1475. The architectonic complex is composed of a church with a monastery and a sighting tower called “Uccellina”. For the restoration works there were two main shipyards. Part of the building material was reclaimed and the building itself is likely to have been based on the pre-existing structures, although there is no real evidence of this. The first shipyard can be referred to the end of XI century, while the other to the second half of XII century. The church had a cruciform base with tie beams and vaults in the transepts. The cross-shaped vault of the nave is dated back to the second shipyard, as well as the tower bell and the dome. Particularly interesting is the covering system, partly fallen down, of the central nave, which is considered one of the ancient examples of vaults in Tuscany.
The heavy covering is built in stones and supported by big slabs which lean directly onto the walls of the nave through capitals. Very beautiful was also the “alo tiburio” of the dome which some historians said to be of Byzantine style although made during the Romanic Lombardo time. There are also different opinions regarding the exact period and date of the engraves on the arch of the portal and apsidal window: some people believe them to be high-medieval and others of later periods. Stylistic doubts remain also as for the string course of the architrave of the portal. The part facing East is composed by a central apse and two smaller ones at the sides, engraved with suspended arches immediately below the ceiling. The tower-bell string course is definitely Romanic Lombardo, but some alterations have certainly occurred above the mullioned windows with two lights, due to the raising of that part of the building, which might have taken place during the fortification of the whole complex. The interiors are particularly suggestive and comprises a flight of stair, which goes up all along the walls with six flight of stairs leaning onto the arches supported by columns and pillars. Only the first flight of stairs is original, whilst the others have been altered during the restauration work in 1972. The monastery has not been preserved in good conditions and only recent excavations have allowed historians to understand what the whole complex would have been like in the past. It is possible to see the ruins of a central courtyard with cistern, a big driveway and a small one, and an area with furnace near the Uccellina tower, considered the oldest centre in the complex and completely included in the successive brickworks. A few traces in the woods are left of the surrounding inhabited area, along with some cisterns and walls. Along the path which would is used by the visitors to come back from the route A1, there are treces of a spring, now dry, in a wooded area which is known as the “Tre Fonti”.