The “borgo” of Saline di Volterra
The most important town in the municipality of Volterra
Saline, the most important town in the municipality of Volterra,, owes its name to the salt deposits under the ground and to its long history in the extraction of salt throughout the centuries.
This underground prosperity has been exploited since the second half of the 10th century, which is proven by the battles between the Municipality of Volterra and the Bishop over custom duties. It has been documented as the first center of salt business in Tuscany in 1100. When Volterra was conquered by Florence in 1472, the area’s resources were transported on the Volterra-Valdelsa-Firenze road, which is also called “salt road” and was one of the most important trade axes in the Grand Dukedom.
In the mid-1700s, the Grand Duke decided to start exploiting the salt deposits on an industrial level, which gave way to the construction of the town of Saline. The salt production factory is what remains of this glorious past.
Driving past the austere building of the Saline di Stato (“State Salt Mines”), the Palazzo dell’Orologio (a building with a big clock), built in 1790 under Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, and the two towers built in the mid-1800s never fail to catch one’s eye. From here, one can access the old saltwater springs through an unpaved road. The saltwater springs are called “moie” in Italian, from the Latin “muria”, and they were used to extract salt by making the brine evaporate through specific water heaters. Tons of wood from the Berignone-Tatti nature forest were used for the heaters.
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Today, however, the method of dissolution is used: fresh water is pumped into the ground to dissolve the rock salt and produce a brine which is retrieved once above the ground. This brine then goes through depuration, evaporation and centrifugation, until eventually we have pure salt.
The deposits of rock salt and sodium chloride, which are what makes Saline so special, developed around 6 million years ago, when the brackish water that used to cover the whole area slowly evaporated. The salt is aggregated in big sort of pools, sometimes more than 1 km long, 300-400 metres wide and 15/30 metres deep, between 100 and 300 metres deep in the ground. Because the salt is underground, it is untouched. Its purity is what earned it the name “ white salt of Volterra” back in the Middle Ages. Even today, the salt is pure up to 99.9%.
The rest of the town of Saline is a small and orderly center, which developed itself around the main road SR68 that goes through it.
Saline is also home to the railway station where both the train coming from Cecina and the bus to Volterra stop. The train stopped here for the first time in 1863, then a rack railway to Volterra was built in 1912 and then deactivated in 1958.
Nowadays, one can walk or cycle along the train tracks all the way up to Volterra, amongst the beautiful hills and with the view of Volterra’s skyline always ahead.
The town of Saline celebrates its Patron Saint, the Madonna del Conforto, on the second weekend in October. To celebrate, the inhabitants organise a fair and a festival of pickled potatoes.