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The iron industry in the Pistoia Mountains, a visit to the Maresca ironworks

San Marcello Piteglio

 

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Art and culture

Even though lacking in iron - an essential raw material in the iron and steel industry - the Pistoia mountains were chosen thanks to their abundance of woodlands and water which were used for fuel and motor power.

In very few areas of Tuscany can we find such a rich heritage of industrial history as the one here in the Pistoia mountains, which since the 14th century was the most important iron and steel centre in the former Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The numerous ironworks all over this area were supplied with raw material from the iron deposits found on the Isle of Elba, known and exploited since Etruscan times. The iron was then converted into blocks of cast iron in the ovens of the towns of Follonica, Valpiana and Cecina, and then sent to the factories in Pistoia.

As proof of the importance of the Pistoia mountains as a productive centre closely tied to the working of iron, nowadays in Maresca you can visit the Ferriera Papini – the Papini Ironworks. Dating back to the 14th century, they were one of the oldest in Tuscany and continued to work up to the 1980’s.

 

The museum preserves the metalworkers’ tools, the historical hydraulic and mechanical machinery, such as wheels, axles and shafts, power and trip hammers, as well as an innovative system for the production of compressed air. Inside the ironworks, you can also carry out experiments in manufacturing, for educational purposes.

The Papini Ironworks are an integral part of the Itinerary of Iron – one of the routes of the “The Ecomuseum of the Pistoia Mountains” which finishes at Pontepetri. You can visit the Museum of Iron and the Garden of Renewable Energy where a plant has been built which utilizes hydraulic energy to move two large wheels and a trip hammer, used in ironworks and windmills. These bear witness to the once thriving iron and steel industry in Pistoia and represent today an extraordinary journey through the history that has moulded the collective memory of this area and that is well worth remembering today.