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The isle of Giglio is the second largest island in the Tuscan Archipelago. Situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea, it is about 11 miles west of Mount Argentario. The island is granitic and its ellipsoidal shape is very similar to the isle of Capraia. The morphologic elements of the island are mountainous with the presence of beaches within bays and a diversification in structure between the west and east coast.
The highest relief, 496 meters, is Poggio della Pagana, which provides breathtaking vistas of the incredible landscape of the Tuscan Archipelago. There are some flat areas as well, now significantly cultivated with vineyards: Fontuccia, Pentovaldo, Mortoleto and many others.
As a result of the steep relief, deep incisions have been formed by millennia of runoff water from the winter rains, carving out paths to the sea, descending to the floodplains of granitic rocks smoothed by erosion over thousands of years.
There are also many natural and manmade cisterns and basins, covered or open, used to collect rainwater in the vicinity of cultivated fields, vineyards and shelters for livestock.
Natural springs, some of them of considerable scope, are also used for the water supply of the island’s towns. Desalinization plants provide the rest of the water supply and are the exclusive source of water for Giannutri.
Rain is scarce, reaching a peak in the winter months and with a mean value of about 336 mm per year. The almost constant wind is typical of Giglio’s island climate.
The original evergreen oak forests were cut down centuries ago to make way for cultivated terraces. Viticulture has always been one of the main agricultural activities on the island. The maritime pine forests are now dense and numerous, but the habitat they provide is inferior to that of the old oak forests.
Geographically, Isola del Giglio is part of the province of Grosseto in the region of Tuscany.
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On the face of the inner wall of the last of the three gateways there is a marble slab bearing the insignia of the Medici family, who reinforced Giglio Castello after the destruction caused by the Saracens. The magnificent walls from the Medici family were built from those destroyed in the eleventh century. In the heart of the village, at the square in front of the church, it is still possible to admire the ancient cistern built in 1700 by the Medici, designed to solve the city's water-supply problems.
The village's narrow streets are intersected frequently with arches and external stairways used to access the upper floors of houses. Piazza XVIII Novembre is located at the historically important Rocca Aldobrandesca, a massive defense structure that makes Giglio Island a fascinating place to visit. Giglio Castello is considered to be and has won awards for being one of the 100 most beautiful medieval villages in Italy.
The church of San Pietro Apostolo dates from at least the fifteenth century, and it was restored in the 1700s in the typical late-Baroque style. Within its quiet sanctuary, there is an impressive ollection of relics and works of fine art: two Corinthian pedestals from the second century B.C. that support basins of holy water, two busts depicting San Mamiliano and San Pietro from the 1700s, the fifteenth-century altar of polychrome marble, relics of Pope Urban I and Pope Urban VIII, ecclesiastical furnishings of Pope Innocenzo XIII (whose secretary was a native of Giglio), three paintings by Nasini, the sixteenth-century ivory crucifix attributed to Giambologna, the revered forearm-bone relic of Castello's patron saint, San Mamiliano, dating back to 1724, and two sabers and one gun with elegant inlay work abandoned by the pirates during the last attack in 1799.
Today, the historic structures may be visited together with the local shops and quaint restaurants, and it is possible visit Giglio's local wine cellars, home to the amber-colored, 15%-grade Ansonaco: Giglio's own special wine.
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Unlike Giglio Castello and Giglio Porto, Giglio Campese's history is quite modern; until recent times it was almost completely uninhabited. Its first building, the Campese Tower, was built in the sixteenth century and was built as a lookout tower to spot ships arriving from the west side of the island. This tower is noted for its role in resisting pirate invasions, the last being in 1799, which was a victory for the Giglio inhabitants.
After the unification of Italy in 1861, the tower was sold to private owners, amongst whom was the famous Captain Enrico Alberto d'Albertis, who enjoyed resting in the tower in between his voyages. Presently, the tower is privately owned and in fact is now a holiday retreat for tourists.
Campese was only sparsely populated until around 1900, and it experienced an economic expansion with the opening of a pyrite mine in 1938, where many local families were employed. Extraction of minerals lasted until 1962, when the mine closed due to adjustments within the owning company, Montecatini Società Generale, as required by the mining and chemical industry.
In the following years, Campese directed its economy toward increased tourism and the village steadily expanded with the construction of apartments, shops and restaurants.
Its geographical location on the western side of the island allows a longer sun exposure and breathtaking, fiery sunsets.
The magnificent bay at Campese boasts the largest beach on Giglio, and it remains a favourite of beach-loving tourists.
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Throughout history, Giglio Porto has been abandoned and repopulated several times and was frequently under unrelenting attack by pirates; consequently, it started to really develop only in the eighteenth century.
Tuscan Archipelago National Park
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Happily for all nature lovers, Isola del Giglio is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, established on 22 July 1996, with an area that extends for 17.887 hectares of land and 56.766 hectares of sea. It is the largest protected marine area in Europe. In addition, the island of Giglio is also a site of regional interest (SIR) and a Special Protection Zone (ZPA).
The Park includes the isles of Gorgona, Capraia, Elba, Pianosa, Montecristo, Giglio and Giannutri. The isle of Montecristo has been a natural reserve since 1971. Geologically, all the islands are different from each other.
Giglio and Elba are a mixture of granite and limestone; the origin of isle Capraia is volcanic; Montecristo and Gorgona are granitic; while Pianosa and Giannutri are nearly completely calcareous.
FOR AUTHORIZED PARK TOURIST GUIDES Click here (some of the site is in Italian only)
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Some enchanting smaller beaches and wonderful coves are accessible only by boat or on foot along the pathways.
It is possible to rent boats both in Giglio Porto and Campese; alternatively, taxi-boats are at your service during the day and can transport you to your favourite destination and back, according to whatever schedule you may arrange.
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The well-trodden footpaths once crossed by countrymen, quarry workers and miners, and now by modern hikers, provide the means of exploring the world of geomineralogy. Specialised equipment is unnecessary: a hand lens, binoculars, a hat, and a great amount of curiosity and time are all that is needed.
It is not even necessary to walk the whole length of the footpath: sometimes it is enough to proceed only a short way to start to discover the secrets of the rocks.
The starting point for all three routes is Giglio Castello, the village of stairs, the ancient fortified hamlet which seems almost born directly from Giglio granite.
1) The quarry path
On arrival at Giglio Porto, we first stop by the ruins of the Foriano quarry, opened by the Romans more than two thousand years ago and active at least until the second half of the nineteenth century, and then descend directly to Giglio Porto to observe the wharf built by the Grand Duke Leopold II to encourage the commercial trade in granite, and the small quarry at Scalettino del Porto. We then retrace our steps to the fork in the footpath and head for Bonsere, following along an easy route where we can observe the interesting texture of the granite before we reach the quarries at Bonsere and Cannelle.
We then take a boat south towards Cala degli Alberi (Bay of Trees) to admire the ruins of the ancient quarries and tumbled rocks that once were the quarry workyards. We return to Giglio Porto and then climb uphill towards Monticello, from where we descend towards Arenella Bay to admire Piccione quarry, one of the last active quarries, and to contemplate the exquisite minerals this mine once produced.
2) The miner's path
Descending the footpath, we see on our right Colle del Castellare, the hill just above Campese, where the first miners in our history, the Villanovans, established in 800 B.C. a thriving trade in the pigment known as red ochre.
After this, we descend to Campese to visit the brucione, the massive accumulation of red ochre of the Pozzo Santa Barbara mining operation, and we can still see the ancient ovens used to process pyrite. Proceeding toward the sea, we spot a small cave with a multitude of stalactites.
We then proceed along the Ortana Valley. This is where the island's granite and limestone substrates come into contact, resulting in the formation of pyrite. The extensive deposits here have provided a wealth of raw material for the experimental development of mineral science: in fact, synthetic pyrite was first created in Italy during the early days of Italian unification. As we walk along the path, we can see the change in the flora, evidence of the rich minerals in the soil. Reaching Allume Bay, we find cavernous limestone cliffs (similar to the rock at the Faraglione), deposited by the primordial lagoon present before the underlying granite rose to the surface. On our left are the rocks of Scoglio Nero (Black Rock), Isola della Cappa (Hood Island) and La Vena (the Vein) that witnessed the birth in the mid-seventeenth century of the Grand Duke's dream of liberation from the heavy duties imposed on iron imported from Elba. Descending to the Allume, we find on our left, directly in front of one of the mining tunnels, the ferrous vein that originates from the main deposit; on our right, we see another mining tunnel and the beach where the ore was loaded onto transport carts. Returning to Campese, we board a boat to discover the cableway pylons, two on the seabed and a third still intact, visible evidence of a cable-driven cargo system—cutting-edge technology in its time!
3) The seekers' path
Back at Castello, we set out along the paved road—for this outing, we won't stop at the marcasite quarry described by Pecci in the mid-eighteenth century. On the left, the surface of the granite is yellowish and powdery, crossed by visible yellow veins of pegmatite and white veins of aplite. On our right appear the ancient structure of the "Dolce" and the magical wild colours of the Porte and Cote Ciombella, huge blocks detached from still-cooling rock masses of a primordial epoch. Proceeding towards Castelluccio, we admire the series of "poggi" (hillocks) which are like the granite spine of the island. Now Capel Rosso appears and Giannutri Island appears, smiling at us. As we descend along footpath No. 28, our eyes are treated to the sweet morphology of the granite: at first, the thousands of colour shades of pegmatite, then the bright white of the aplite veins and at last the light yellow of the pegmatite veins. Once we arrive at Capel Rosso, the impact is astonishing, to say the least: the sea has eroded and shaped the friable that were rocks compressed for millions of years and only recently, in the scale of geological time, were released, stretched, and crushed, and on these rocks we clamber back to the footpath. Returning along the paved road, we can see the morphology of the coast, with its hills and rocks carved by the waves. Back at Castello, we take a bus to Campese to check out the flat rocks by the Tower, now laid bare but millions of years ago were covered by debris, of which fragments are still visible today. Between the rocks, mineral veins continue to demonstrate their energetic presence, silent witnesses to the heated waters freed from semi-molten rock. This area is best viewed from the sea: by taking a boat, we can admire the morphology of the Faraglione, the Saline, the green pilaster of Mezzofranco, Punta Penna and to finally stop near the Corvo, a natural cave created by the erosion of granite cracks. One final stop further to the south brings us to Capel Rosso and its exemplary marine cave.
When you return to terra firma you will well be overwhelmed by emotion, arising from the opportunity of having experienced the unveiling of an entire microcosm.
Prof. Alessandro Fei
Director of the MMGG
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There are not many animals on the island. Certainly the most common are wild rabbits and mouflon sheep. Lizards and non-venomous snakes are also common, and the absence of vipers ensures the safety of walkers enjoying the wild nature of Giglio Island. The most common bird is the royal seagull; also quite common are birds of prey such as the kestrel, the buzzard, the peregrine falcon and the imperial crow. Barn owls and horned owls may be seen at night.
The list below may be helpful to birdwatchers:
Mammals: the presence of mammalian species on Giglio Island is not impressive; however, it is very common to see wild rabbits, mouflon sheep, common bats and Schreiber’s bats, rats and mice.
Amphibians and reptiles: along the footpaths and while walking through the pine forests, it is quite common to see lizards and the Tyrrhenian painted frog (Discoglosso sardo). A subspecies of Sicilian wall lizard, Podarcis sicula tyrrenica, is a reptile endemic to Giglio and to the nearby island of Giannutri. Frogs present on Giglio Island can also be found on Sardinia, the other islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, Corsica and the islands of Hyères near the Cote D’Azur.
Insects: Among the many insects living on the island of Giglio, one finds the Potoria oblunga, a rare and curious scarab beetle, typical of the Iberian Peninsula but also present on Giglio.
The underwater world: In these crystal clear waters, it is possible to view numerous species of fish and other marine creatures such as: black chromis, red chromis, dolphins, groupers, swordfish, moray eels, sea bream, amberjack and rockfish.
There are many shellfish species as well, including octopus, cuttlefish and the giant bivalve Pinna nobilis, the “noble pen shell,” once very common in the Mediterranean and now severely endangered.
Flora and plant species
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There are around 700 different species of plants on Giglio Island, and some of which are quite common, e.g. lemon, fig, orange and chestnut trees, olive groves and vineyards.
The studies of the botanist Stefano Sommier in 1900 led to the discovery of the presence of previously unknown plants such as the Kefalonian thistle, Capraian Linaria, milkvetch, corn salad, Gladiolus dubius and tree wormwood.
For those with a serious interest in the flora of Glglio, the following is a list of the most easily identified plants on the island:
Beach broom (Lotus creticus)
Blue bindweed (Convolvulus siculus)
Broom (Calicotome villosa)
Bunchgrass (Brachypodium ramosum)
Campion (Silene negletta)
Common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
Common hazel (Corylus avellana)
Common myrtle (Myrtus communis)
Common smilax (Smilax aspera)
Cork oak (Quercus suber)
Corn marigold, wild chrysanthemum (Coleostephus myconis)
Curry plant (Helichrysum italicum)
Cyclamen (Cyclamen repandum)
Downy oak (Quercus pubescens)
Elm (Ulmus campestris)
Erica (Erica arborea, Erica multiflora)
Evergreen honeysuckle (Lonicera implexa)
Evergreen oak (Quercus ilex)
Field maple (Acer campestre)
Gray’s sedge (Carex grayi)
Hypocistis (Cytinus hypocistis)
Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus)
Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus)
Kefalonian thistle (Cardus cephalanthus)
Capraian Linaria (Linaria capraria)
Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster)
Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus)
Montpelier cistus (Cistus monspeliensis)
Mustard (Sinapis procumbens)
Navelwort (Umbilicus pendulinus)
Orchid (Orchis insularis)
Paperwhite (Narcissus tazzetta)
Phoenicean juniper (Juniperus phoenicea)
Ragwort (Senecio lividus)
Rock rose (Cistus incanus)
Romulea (Romùlea ramiflora)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Salvia cistus (Cistus salvifolius)
Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum)
Sea fennel (Crithmum maritimum)
Sessile oak (Quercus sessiliflora)
Sickle-fruited hypecoum (Hypecoum procumbens)
Silver ragwort (Senecio cineraria, Jacobaea maritima)
Spanish broom (Spartium junceum)
Statice (Limonium virgata)
Stock (Matthiola incava)
Stone pine (Pinus pinea)
Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)
Thorny broom (Calycotome spinosa)
Tree germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Tree wormwood (Artemisia arborescens)
Turkey oak (Quercus cerris)
White willow (Salix alba)
Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
Wild lavendar (Lavandula stoechas)
Wild madder (Rubia peregrina)
Wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis)
Yellow hornpoppy (Glaucium flavum)