The Fucecchio Marshes cover an area of about 1,800 hectares, divided between the Province of Pistoia and the Province of Florence. Although much smaller than the original lakeland-marsh which once covered much of southern Valdinievole, it is still the largest inland marsh of Italy.
History and traditions
As well as its rich landscape and nature, the Marsh still maintains the fascination of historical events related to the great Medici and Lorena families. Important testimonies to the works of man still remain, which over the centuries have modelled and changed the structure of the wetlands themselves: the canals and portal system, signs of ancient and important waterways; the Medicean Bridge at Cappiano (the hub of water control and fishing activity as well as an important stop along the Via Francigena); the Capannone Farm complex, one of the main berthings in the Valdinievole and other buildings now classified as examples of industrial archaeology like the tobacco dryhouses.
The commemorative plaques on the huts or along the river banks tell a more recent history: the tragedy of the barbaric massacre by Nazis on 23rd August, 1944.
Some activities, related to working the marshland grasses, have managed to survive: a few skilled craftsmen still gather and weave the local “sarello” and “sala” to cover seats and flasks and manufacture other objects of every-day use, as well as “gaggia” and other typical plants.
An ancient flora
Situated at the boundary between peninsular and continental Italy, that enjoy a Mediterranean and continental climate respectively, the Marshes simultaneously shelter plants adapted to different climates: for example the Frogbit and Royal Fern, both typical of a warm, humid climate, grow together with a rather special kind of moss called Sphagnum, more typical of cold northern climates, that reached this area during the Ice Ages.
Because of its characteristic vegetation and floristic peculiarities, the Fucecchio Marshes has been considered a biotope of particular interest and deserving protection in the list drawn up by the Italian Botany Society.
A surprising fauna
The Fucecchio Marshes play an important role in the migratory route between the Tyrrhenian coast and the hinterland; over the year, about 200 species of birds can be seen here.
The marshland offers exceptional opportunities for birdwatchers and nature photographers, especially during the spring migration.The herons are a particularly important feature here, where they are concentrated in a large heronry, a veritable “city of herons” with thousands of birds consisting of the parents, juveniles and last year’s immatures; this is the most important nesting colony in south-central Italy.
BIRDWATCHING at The Centre for R.D.P. of Fucecchio Marshes
The Centre for Research, Documentation and Promotion of Fucecchio Marshes, the ONLUS Association, organises both educational and recreational activities, carries out research and monitoring services to check the quality of the environment.It also has a Visitor’s Centre and a Laboratory for Environmental Education at Castelmartini and organises guided tours for school groups and adults. Birdwatching is always possible when climate and water make the access to the centre possible: a nice thick-book is provided to all the birdwatchers, and binoculars are also available, although we recommend to book in advance.
SWAMP CRUISE with the BARCHINO: SHOOT THE BEST PICTURE EVER!
Generations of swamp inhabitants used to move around the fields with a peculiar boat, called BARCHINO, literally “little boat”, which is a rudimental but useful long boat that must be led by a standing rower with a special oar: water is not deep, therefore the oar must be very long and strong, so that the rower doesn’t fall out the boat; up to 5 people can stay in the same barchino, and being very low on water it was used by hunters to get silently close to bushes, in order to catch ducks or gooses or other eatable birds. Now it’s considered the best way to get close to storks families in order to shoot incredible naturalistic pictures, such as nature lovers do!