Porticciolo di Marina e Piazza dei Grani

The small port of Marina and Piazza dei Grani


These two places represent the origins of the town of Piombino.  When in 809 A.D. Populonia underwent its final devastating looting by Greek Orobiti pirates, the inhabitants sought refuge in the natural harbour to the south of the Promontory, which they knew to be a plentiful water source. The village gradually expanded to take on the appearance of a town created around its thriving commercial port.

After experiencing the institutional form of a Free Town from the 1150s until 1233, Piombino joined the powerful Maritime Republic of Pisa. The Republic decided to build of the Church of S. Antimo sopra i Canali, whose bell tower ‘La Tarsinata’ was also performing the duties of sighting and control of navigation in the waters of the canal. After the advent of power of the Appiani, Jacopo III realised a major modernisation of the port facilities in 1470, which was followed by those of 1696, ordered by the Ludovisi, who then dominated.

Up to the 1930s the small port of Marina, as it has always been called, represented the nerve centre of the maritime trade of the town with all the Mediterranean countries, until the existing trading port of Porto Vecchio took over, because of its size and practicality. The Porticciolo is today a spot for pleasure boats and amateur fishermen who pass down local maritime traditions.


There was a large open space called ‘The Piaggione’ behind the Marina. This was closed to the marine panorama by the walls that joined the San Sebastiano corner of what is now Piazza Giovanni Bovio, to the Sea Door.

In 1853 the town council designated the square for the drying of grain. The area was levelled, drained, equipped with steps, paved with sandstone slabs and bordered by small columns of the same material. It was then that the area took the official name of Piazzetta dei Grani (The little square of grains).

Until the nineteenth century, the Sea Door was closed at night for security reasons, but this prevented the night-time water supply to the Fountain. A tank was built inside the Door itself to overcome this inconvenience, and until a few years ago it was still being filled with water from that Fountain.

The Sea Door, erected in the early thirteenth century, was coeval to the Torrione, and was located between the Piazzetta dei Grani and the Fountain. According to the drawings and photos in our possession, it was a massive wooden exterior door which defended a strong, nearly square-shaped, construction. The view of the harbour was assured by a loggia supported by cornices which appear, by their colour, to be made in travertine.

The Sea Door was demolished in 1897 to allow easy transit for freight traffic to and from the Marina. After a few years the wall met a similar fate and was replaced by an iron railing. So the Piazzetta dei Grani was opened up to the evocative seascape.

The place was the resort of fishermen who exchanged seafaring traditions and techniques. They repaired their damaged nets and spread them out in the sun to dry. It was also where people stopped to read, meditate and enjoy the warm sun of our climate.

The air raids of World War II brought serious damage to the whole of the existing building between the Square and the overlying via Cavour.  In 1967 the area was completely cleared and provisionally furnished with side bastions, a staircase and unsuitable paving! All this in anticipation of better suggestions and measures to restore the area to an acceptable urban decor.

Truth or fable?  The names of the two roads that go from the square up to the higher level, were via Sferracavalli (un-shoe the horses) and via Sferrasomari (un-shoe the donkeys). Tradition has it that on one side there were the stables for the horses, on the other those of donkeys and mules, and the steep slopes of the two roads caused the un-shoeing of their hooves.  Sferracavalli has kept its ancient name; Sferrasomari was replaced in 1839 by the more noble name of Via della Marina.