The only Etruscan burial site ever found by the sea, the necropolis at Baratti was also for three centuries one of the most flourishing centres of iron smelting and trade in the whole of the Mediterranean.
From the 7th-4th cent. B.C., the ancient Etruscan settlement of Fufluna, set on a promontory of the Etruscan coast of Tuscany in the Gulf of Baratti, was the main trading and iron producing site on the Mediterranean coast. In this spot, the only example of an Etruscan city built along the sea, minerals from the rich mining vein near Campiglia and hematite from nearby Elba Island were processed to produce objects of iron that were then shipped to Greece and North Africa.
Conquered in the 2nd cent. B.C. by Romans who coveted the prolific ironworks, the city developed temples, paved streets and a Roman-style villa on its Acropolis. Fufluna (or Pupluna), named after Fufluns, the Etruscan god of wine, later became the medieval village of Populonia which sits high over the Gulf and still draws visitors for the beauty of its panorama and the charm of its walled hamlet.
Much of what is known of this area's past is thanks to the initial dedication of locals who in the early 1900s found archaeological remains under the meters of iron slag which had accumulated over two millennia. Although somewhat rudimentary in their technique, they uncovered ancient tombs and precious objects. The Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia which exists today was born in 1998 and is presently a fascinating open-air museum with temples, ancient industrial works and monumental tombs of various forms and all accessible.
The vast Park with its stunning sea view consists of two Necropolises and a centre of experimental archaeology as well as the Acropolis located near Populonia. Visits to the park can be done on one's own or with a guide whose stories help make the Etruscan era come to life. Throughout the park there are tombs varying from the circular mounds to small temples, from stone sarcophagi to tombs dug into soft stone walls. On a trail past a reproduction of an old Bronze Age hut the Centre of Experimental Archaeology allows adults and children alike the hands-on chance understanding the science of archaeology and the culture it unearths.
Objects found in the settlement include the stunning silver amphora and gold earrings, now in the Archaeological Museum of Populonia in Piombino, attest to the wealth of the city's aristocrats.
Of course, as long as you’re there, you might as well take a towel over to the Gulf of Baratti across the road, where the water is calm even when the sea is rough, or head up to the medieval fortress and upper Populonia for lunch.