Culture in Tuscany as well as on Giglio is everywhere and has its roots in antiquity. It has been inhabited since the Iron age and has a millennial history; from the discovery of prehistoric settlements to the finds of the mysterious Etruscan civilization, up to the domination of the Romans and then the Middle Ages and piracy in the Mediterranean, the traces of which remain in the splendid village of Giglio Castello.
Perched upon a hill 400 meters above sea level, the Castle is unique in its kind; it is in fact the only medieval Italian village surrounded by walls on an island. From there, the panorama ranges from the Argentario, to the islands of Giannutri, Elba, Montecristo and Corsica. It was built by the Pisans in the 12th century and over time it gradually came to belong to the Abbey of the Tre Fontane, to the Aldobrandeschi, the Piccolomini, the Medici and finally to the Lorraine (Grand Duchy of Tuscany). During the Middle Ages the village was the object of raids by “Saracen” pirates, the most feared of whom was Ariadeno Barbarossa, who in 1544 deported almost all of the castellans and then repopulated the castle with families brought in mainly from the Siennese countryside. The raids ended on November 18, 1799 when two thousand Tunisian pirates tried to enter the Castle but were repelled; this day is still considered a holiday today. Its defensive function is still evident today with the presence of a wall, interspersed with towers, which surrounds the internal town along with the imposing Rocca Aldobrandesca or Pisana; the medieval town inside the walls is full of alleys and small squares that create an atmosphere of another era. The Church of San Pietro Apostolo is located inside and dates back to the 15th century and was the subject of subsequent renovations. It is rich in sacred objects that belonged to Pope Innocent XIII among which the reliquary containing part of the right forearm of San Mamiliano, patron saint of the island, whose remembrance recurs and is celebrated on September 15th.
The island’s cultural tourism is also made up of adventures worth living. Every year Giglio Island hosts important music festivals, photographic exhibitions, theatrical performances that complete the summer season and provide memorable moments.
Among important initiatives, the Musicalgiglio Festival, with the artistic direction of Daniela Petracchi, deserves a place of honor. For over ten-years it has represented a must-see event with the classical chamber music repertoire of: Brahms, Debussy, Grieg, Tosti, Schubert in the masterful execution of great contemporary soloists of international fame. The various locations, from vineyards to beaches in the early dawn hours, to the Rocca Pisana in Giglio Castello, are part of the truly unique charm of this Festival.
The island’s cultural scene is enriched every year by the Il Giglio è Lirica Festival, now in its 11th Edition under the Artistic Direction of Gianni Mongiardino.
Lastly, in the heart of each islander is “Il Teatro dell’isola Pietro Buttarelli” (The Island Theatre Pietro Buttarelli), once again on stage this year with a traveling show in the alleys of the castle entitled “Storie Minime Gigliesi” (Small Giglio Stories), because we all have great memories to share.
The history of Giglio Island, a Mediterranean tale
A megalithic site called Cote Ciombella has been identified on the island; it is located near the village of Giglio Castello and testifies, along with the findings in Le Secche, to the first colonization of the island starting from the ancient Neolithic era.
The Etruscans, one of the most fascinating and enigmatic peoples of antiquity, rulers of the seas, made Giglio a military base, dedicating themselves to the extraction of granite and the exploitation of mineral deposits; the discovery of the remains of ancient kilns seems to affirm that the Etruscans cast metal directly on the island.
In Roman times, Giglio Island – mentioned by Julius Caesar in the “De bello civil” regarding some armed ships that left the island – belonged to the noble Enobarbi family who built a grandiose villa in the port of which today few traces remain in the Cala del Saraceno; in fact, the remains of a “cetaria”, a fish hatchery belonging to the villa, are visible in the water.
Also in nearby Giannutri, there are very well preserved remains of a villa also belonging to the Enobarbi; from the excavations carried out, perimeter walls, columns and remains of floors decorated with delicately crafted marble and black and white mosaics have come to light. You can visit the archaeological site.