Itinerary: Pomarance, Larderello, Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, Sasso Pisano
Columns of white vapors rising from the ground, boiling water and an evocative panorama reminiscent of the lunar surface. This is the Devil’s Valley, where, for the first time in the world, geothermal energy, or heat coming out of the earth, has been exploited to produce electricity. The valley is so named because of the presence of boraciferous dandelions, famous already in the time of Dante, who was inspired by this landscape to describe Hell in the “Divine Comedy”.
When we talk about geothermal energy we imagine gray industries, huge pipes and smoking chimneys, mining wells similar to oil ones. A landscape largely altered by human hands. However, the fascination that geothermal phenomena, such as geysers and fumaroles, exert on the visitors of the Fumarole Park in Sasso Pisano or that of the Biancane in Monterotondo Marittimo, of the same Geothermal Museum in Larderello, the capital of geothermal energy, and gateway to the geothermal area. From here begins the itinerary that can be easily done even in a camper thanks to an area equipped for parking in the nearby capital of Pomarance.
News on geothermal phenomena date back to antiquity. A Roman military map of the 3rd century AD, indicates two important thermal establishments, in Volterra and Populonia, which represented the boracifera area with numerous hot lakes. Only in the eighteenth century, thanks to the work of the engineer Francesco De Larderel, a real industrial activity for the exploitation of geothermal waters bagan. First to produce boric acid, then, with the first experiment of 1904, to produce electricity.
The ENEL Museum of Geothermal Energy in Larderello, open all year with free admission, illustrates the various geothermal phenomena. The visit includes, in addition to the museum rooms, the model room (with slides illustrating the genesis of geothermal energy, from research to power plants), the covered lagoon, the thermal spring. Upon reservation, you can also visit a shower head and a geo-thermoelectric power station
Paradoxically it is not in Larderello that one must go to observe and fully appreciate the naturalistic aspects of the geothermal phenomenon, but in the Fumarole Park, in the small but pretty medieval village of Sasso Pisano, or in the Biancane Park in Monterotondo Marittimo where there you can witness a true explosion of natural manifestations.
Entering the Fumarole Park one is amazed by what might seem, at first sight, clouds of smoke originated from a human hand. Approaching, it turns out that in reality it is the earth that smokes, enveloping the hills with warm vapors.
A “must” is the experience at Vapori di Birra, the first brewery in the world that produces craft beer using geothermal steam as its primary energy source. Tastings are possible accompanied by products from local companies. For history buffs, a visit to the Etruscan Roman Baths of Bagnone, today the only example of Etruscan baths in the territory of ancient Etruria. For lovers of relaxation, take a dip in the Biolago bathing complex fed by hot springs from the surrounding area and cold water heated thanks to the geothermal district heating system.
Returning to Volterra, to finish with a flourish, do not forget to visit the village of Castelnuovo Val di Cecina, with its characteristic outline, composed of a low and a high part. In the lower part is preserved the ancient city walls, from which naturalistic paths depart like the one that leads to the bridge over the Pavone river or the panoramic one over the Val di Cornia.