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Saline di Volterra

The salt mine in the Saline di Volterra, Italy

Right in the heart of Tuscany, even geographically, there is a small hamlet of just over a thousand inhabitants, which has survived and prospered more or less since Etruscan and Roman times around a single product. We are talking about Saline di Volterra, a hamlet of the more famous Volterra, and the product on which the fortunes of the small community are based is salt. The purest salt in Italy, even 99 per cent pure. Today, salt comes to us by putting together a highly technological modern industrial process that, however, derives directly from the oldest salt processing techniques: recrystallisation.

When the Etruscans discovered the salt mine, the settlement that we now call Saline di Volterra became a village. Then, with the Romans and the endless loads of mules that carried the precious cargo to every corner of the empire along the Via Francigena, it became a sort of ante litteram industrial village, a place where everyone had a home and a job at the mine, and everything revolved around this principle. On which the history of Saline di Volterra was consolidated for centuries. Until the Grand Dukes of Tuscany in the second half of the 16th century decided to increase and improve production and the living conditions of the workers by working on the project to build the first “industrial” plant in 1789.

Improvement after improvement led to the passage to the State Monopolies, which until 1973 were the managers of this good salt with all the advantages of being part of the State, such as the arrival of the railway that connected Salina di Volterra to Cecina. And then privatisation. But once again there is a magical moment in the history of this place: the construction in the 1960s of the pavilion by architect Pierluigi Nervi. Twenty-two metres high and 100 metres long, it has a wooden floor because if it were made of anything else, the salt would eat it, even the cement. The salt falls inside – because it is a warehouse – and, depending on the moment, can form a cascade of up to 15 metres of pure, dazzlingly white salt.

All of this can be visited because the people at Salina di Volterra know how to do it and have understood that everything can be told and exhibited: there is the Salt Museum and Emporium, and there is a guided tour of the mine on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. An extraordinary opening of the Salina di Volterra plant is part of one of the 150 events of the Festa della Toscana – held on the last day of November – desired by the regional presidency to celebrate the fact that on 30 November 1786, by decision of the then Grand Duke Leopold, Tuscany was the first state in the world to abolish torture and the death penalty.

by Eduardo Lubrano