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abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
When I was invited to a cena galeotta (convicts’ dinner) at Volterra State Prison, I couldn’t help turning the invitation into a one-week holiday in Tuscany. I longed to enjoy its gentle hills and many autumn shades, and -why not- also to do nothing but sip a good cup of tea in front of the warm hearth.
It goes without saying that I didn’t last long in front of the warm hearth, but I had a fantastic time exploring the area of Volterra and Cecina Valley instead! So, within a couple of days, I visited a copper mine closed in 1907, the quaint village of Montecatini Valdicecina, a ghost village called Buriano, the beautiful town of Volterra, and I finally checked off that spot at the very top of my “Tuscany bucket list”: the abandoned mental asylum in Volterra and the nearby cemetery where its “guests” are buried.

THE ABANDONED MENTAL ASYLUM AND ‘SAN FINOCCHI’ CEMETERY IN VOLTERRA

After wasting one whole month to get in touch with the ASL5 local hospital (the local organisation that is still responsible for the former psychiatric complex on Volterra hill) and collecting a series of rejection protocols, I decided to visit the abandoned mental asylum on my own.
Opened in 1887, the hospital started on a relatively good path: its “guests” worked in different fields -from gardening to archaeological digging (their help was crucial to bring to light the Etruscan theatre of Volterra)- both to feel productive and to sustain the hospital. But the no-restraint therapy slowly shifted into a military regime: patients were abused and mistreated, and the place became infamous for its use of electroshock and other harsh treatments. Moreover, among the patients internalised, there were also some orphan kids who didn’t have a more suitable place to stay and happened to grow up in such a disconcerting atmosphere.
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
Shut down in 1978 -when the Italian government passed a law suppressing psychiatric hospitals (Basaglia Law)- the mental asylum of Volterra became a sort of Mecca for urban explorers. The Art Brut stand-out artist Oreste Fernando Nannetti was internalised here for more than a decade and, on the courtyard’s walls, he carved a huge mural using his belt buckle.
My exploration was evocative of particularly strong emotions, definitely something I will remember for a long time (in my nightmares as well). The ghostly and disconcerted atmosphere shook me emotionally, my heart was beating fast and my head spinning even more quickly, and every little rustle (obviously made by myself) was giving me a start.
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
I peeped into broken windows and walked between wheelchairs and iron beds covered with tumbleweeds and rust (which -by the way- kinda looked as they were theatrical props). I somehow could empathise with those who were locked inside this place and this uncomfortable feeling lasted for many hours after the urban exploration.
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
abandoned mental asylum in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, urban exploration
After this intense experience, my trip to the San Finocchi abandoned cemetery wasn’t creepy at all!
A bit depressing, maybe, as in the small, green cemetery down the valley -now abandoned as well- are buried all patients whose bodies weren’t claimed by anyone.
san finocchi abandoned cemetery volterra tuscany italy
san finocchi abandoned cemetery volterra tuscany italy

VOLTERRA

Besides the abandoned psychiatric hospital, in Volterra you will also find Etruscan, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance Art and Architecture covering three millennia of history. This lovely small town surrounded by undefiled countryside dominates the Cecina Valley, one of the less touristy areas in Tuscany, a place where you can still enjoy a slow traditional way of life.
Volterra, Tuscany, Italy
Volterra, Tuscany, Italy
Being there off-season, I experienced an extremely relaxed and calm Volterra where all bars, restaurants and shops close in the evening: it was kind of challenging to find a place to go for a beer.
Volterra, Tuscany, Italy
Volterra, Tuscany, Italy
In Volterra I enjoyed a frisky dinner at the state prison (which is within the Medici Fortress, a beautiful stronghold built in 1474) made by Chef Pasquale Torrente from Cetara (do you remember him?) and several convicts, while other prisoners were serving at the table and livening the evening up with a guitar and a bunch of popular songs.

THE COPPER MINE IN MONTECATINI VALDICECINA

The entire Upper Cecina Valley abounds in underground resources such as halite, copper and alabaster, which have been utilised since a long time: after being an important area from the economical point of view, the Cecina valley is now a great spot for industrial archaeology‘s lovers. And so… there I went!
The Etruscan were the first to take advantage of the abundant copper in this area, followed by the Medici and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1888 the Società Montecatini was established and -until it shut down in 1907- the Caporciano Mine from Montecatini Valdicecina was the richest copper mine in Europe. Today it is disused but open for tours, teaching laboratories, open-air dinners in summer and even a few weddings have been celebrated in its beautiful courtyard!
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
The visit of the copper mine was absorbing: I walked down the 18th-century tunnels that lead to the lead bowels of the earth, the most striking tunnel is called “the whale’s belly” and there I also met a few specimens from the resident colony of bats! Another highlight of the tour was Alfredo Shaft’s tower, with its cargo bins suspended above the floor and still hung to the original wooden beam.
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
Hallo!
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
Besides being one of the first mines in Europe -therefore one of a kind-, the Caporciano Mine was also well-advanced regarding miners’ social rights. Life in this mine was way more human than anywhere else, as miners were working on an 8-hour shift and had some kind of welfare assistance (such as regulations for young workers, assistance to widows and orphans, a school for miners’ children and a welfare fund for miners’ daughters).
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology
copper mine in montecatini valdicecina tuscany italy industrial archaeology

MONTECATINI VALDICECINA

After the underground tour of the copper mine, I visited the tiny village of Montecatini Valdicecina, which has the traditional characteristics of a medieval village. At the Pretorio Palace, a small building from the 1300s, you can find the documentary section of the Mine Museum.
Montecatini Valdicecina Tuscany Italy
Montecatini Valdicecina Tuscany Italy
Montecatini Valdicecina Tuscany Italy
My favourite spot in Montecatini was the tiny old cemetery built at the end of the 18th century under the French occupation. It consists of just one small, yet splendid, terrace looming over the Cecina Valley and offering a wide ranging panoramic view of Tuscany (which includes Volterra and way beyond towards Florence).
old cemetery in Montecatini Valdicecina Tuscany Italy
From here it’s easy to understand that the Cecina Valley lies in the centre of Tuscany, which makes it the perfect spot to stay and plan day-trips for visiting many areas of interests, seaside included.
As for me, I’m pretty sure I will come back to Montecatini Valdicecina in August to attend the Flambe Festival, where international fire-eaters and street performers will meet in this quaint little village, making it even more special; are you coming too?

Volterra & Valdicecina || more information:

Black & White pictures of Volterra mental asylum

Volterra & Valdicecina – Tourist Information Point

More about Volterra here

Book your dinner at Volterra State Prison here

About the Copper Mine

Directions:

Just the kind of information I would have loved to find on-line before my arrival (and trust me when I say that I’ve been looking for it all around the web…) 

The abandoned mental asylum: the area of the former psychiatric hospital is called “Borgo San Lazzero” and it is just 1 kilometre outside Volterra. Exiting Volterra from the site of the hospital, you should enter the next small road after the one leading to the hospital (there are a restaurant/bar and a “coop” supermarket at the corner) which will lead you to S. Girolamo church. To reach the modern compound of the hospital from S. Girolamo church, you should take a tree-lined street leading to a garbage dump: shortly before the dump, you will find the path to enter the wood. Otherwise, if you want to go straight to the complex at the top of the hill from the main road leading to the church, you can enter a small road leading to a carpentry warehouse (falegnameria in Italian), park there and take the path to the most ancient part of the hospital.
San Finocchi cemetery: from S. Girolamo church drive 2 kilometres down the valley until you reach the B road “via Ulimeto e Volpaie“: the abandoned cemetery will be at your right.

PEEK THROUGH | You find both the abandoned mental asylum of Volterra and the former copper mine of Montecatini in my video “6 days in Tuscany…in 60 seconds

 

Check out my ‘Abandoned Italy‘ series!

 

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