The first thing to do when visiting “Maremma” (in the southwest corner of Tuscany) is to “forget.” Yes, that’s right, to forget all the clichés and legends about this territory; throw to the winds the story about the local “butteri” (Italian for cow-boys) competing with Buffalo Bill’s men you may have read about as a child – this famous challenge actually took place in 1890, at a time when the name “Maremma” signified a beautiful and wild region, though marked by poverty and malaria (although, for the sake of narrative, it is worth noting that the Italian cow-boys did win the challenge!).
Visiting Maremma today is an experience that rewards all your senses, starting with the pleasure of sight, how the scenery transforms itself from the rolling Senese hills into a land that becomes more and more intact and more enchantingly rough.
To not talk about the thousands of local destinations, the wonder of small towns such as Sovana, and the amazing tuff work, including that authentic jewel of Pitigliano – or on the other hand, places where the food is wonderful and the wines even better; let us disregard the obvious tourist guide mentions – the hot springs, the Etruscan ruins, the wineries producing Morellino, one of the most interesting red wines of the area; let us also avoid talking about the sea and the sandy beaches bordered with fragrant Mediterranean maquis, a triumph of oleanders and cypress trees, wild rosemary and tamarisk. Instead, let us talk about the mad genius, the unexpected creation that awaits you beyond that next hill, among olive trees and olive groves.
The creative force of Niki de Saint Phalle, the French-American artist, who after seventeen years of intricate effort has managed to transform a “normal” hill in Maremma into an unexpected masterpiece, a gigantic work of art, not only to be admired, but to also be touched, and one that you can even physically enter: the “Giardino dei Tarocchi” (The Tarot Garden).
It is an artistic park – an appropriate technical definition – located in Garavicchio, not far from Pescia Fiorentina, a municipal sector of the more famous town of Capalbio. Conceived, designed and inspired by the late sixteenth-century Parco di Bomarzo near Viterbo, the “Giardino dei Tarocchi” is a large area populated by statues inspired by the illustrations of the Major Arcana of Tarots. Twenty two majestic figures, constructed in steel and concrete and covered with pieces of glass, mirrors and colored ceramics, representing the dreams and spiritual path of the artist’s own tormented and complicated life. Contemporary art lovers, and anyone else who may desire to understand these pieces more in depth, is able to literally “enter” among the works created by Niki, constructed in collaboration with other famous artists, including her husband – Jean Tinguely – author of the metal structures of these enormous sculptures, some of which are integrated with his self-propelled assemblies called mécaniques.
Just one note: if, as we hope, you may indeed visit the “Garden” during one of your Italian itineraries, please do share with us your comments in this blog. We are quite sure that you will be inspired by the same emotions as any visitor to this unique place, yet have your very own personal thoughts and reactions. The Miracles of Niki.
(*) Ibn Battuta – Maroccan Explorer and Traveler