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 Slow Tuscany > Tuscany > Siena > Mount Amiata and the Vulcano
Mount Amiata and its Vulcano

Damiano Andreini

Mount Amiata is located south of Siena and Via Cassia runs through it. In antiquity it was one of the major arteries of the incredible system of the Roman Empire which lead to and from Rome. The Amiata is a mount rich in water, rivers and dark forests of beech and chestnut. It is a land of farmers and miners with honest faces; the bearers of stories and legends unknown to the men of the plains.

Above all, Mt. Amiata is, actually was, thousands of years ago, a huge volcano whose eruptions inundated the surrounding hills for centuries with lava. Once condensed and stratified into the ground, it became a porous substance called "tufo" (tuff-stone) which was a marking and an emblem of an entire civilization, that of the Etruscans. Today, the fear of an eruption has disappeared. Amiata (1750 meters above sea level) also has one of the most famous ski runs in Tuscany. During this very period, the skiers are anxiously awaiting the first snowfalls and preparing the numerous runs which weave the pattern of the summit.

Another aspect, maybe even more interesting, about this mountain is that once the snow has melted in the springtime, it is gradually absorbed into the aquifers in the lower mountains where it heats up. The water gets up to temperatures between 37 and 45 C in the various springs that gush all around the mountain. It serves as a reminder that some type of volcanic activity, even if only residual, is still present.

These springs, rich in sulphur and other healing elements, were frequented by the aristocracy of the Roman Empire. Evidence of this is found in the travel journals of merchants and pilgrims who in Medieval times crossed the Via Cassia and emerged themselves in these thermal springs for relief of aching legs and feet butchered from days, and sometimes months of solid marching. The springs still flow today near just about every village from Bagni di San Filippo to Bagno Vignoni and from Santa Fiora to Saturnia.

Each of these towns has developed a system to trap the thermal water which has led to the birth of modern health spas with pools, saunas, and massage therapy. For the more adventurous, many springs still exist in the woods or in the open countryside where everything has remained untouched for thousands of years. If you are planning a trip to Tuscany, especially during the colder months, don't miss out on the following places: you can get to the springs only on foot (there are road signs posted for directions). To get to the baths of San Filippo and some of the others, you'll need to go through huge forests of oaks and chestnuts. At times your only guide will be the scent of the undergrowth of the forest and do not expect to even run into a house or a streetlight.

In one stretch the fog will become dense and you'll feel the pelting of the water in your face combined with the strong odour of sulphur. At this point, you can take off your gloves and hat that you so desperately needed just minutes earlier. The hot water that pushes its way out of the mountain also heats up everything around it. You won't believe that emerging yourselves in those natural wells in the white calcium will feel as smooth as a bathtub. You'll be able to truly relax with your head propped up against the side of the "tub" and relinquish yourselves to the benefits of the hydro-massage. Maybe you'll be anticipating the new day in the company of some of your closest friends. You'll feel reborn.

Damiano Andreini
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