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Coltano Estate

In the sixteenth century, the wetland was very extensive and reached the base of the hills of Livorno, where the Medici had started the establishment of the farm of Collesalvetti. Some drainage operations were carried out around the wetland area in the estate: but they were more concentrated in the southern area, where the royal canal was opened.

Another important work, begun in the second half of the sixteenth century, was the realization of the Navicelli channel, parallel to the Via Livornese, practicable with the "navicelli" from the sea or from Livorno to Pisa. Hence, through the Arno, it was possible to proceed for some distance to Florence, or diverting in the Serezza, reach the lake of Bientina and from here to Lucca. The idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlinking Pisa and Livorno by a fairway was undoubtedly enhanced by the difficulty of moving along the Via Livornese, especially in the stretch crossing the wetland of Stagno.

In the eighteenth century, after the reform of the Uffizio dei Fossi (a drainage consortium), the Grand Duke Peter Leopold multiplied the maintenance works in the canals (especially in the Royal Canal) and ordered a series of fillings with the waters of Tora, Orcina, Isola and Crespina, which allowed the cultivation of most of the lands south of Coltano and owned by the farm of Collesalvetti, draining hundreds of hectares near Guasticce, Lavoria and in adjacent areas. Inside the estate, farming, hunting and fishing were the main activities: the animals (mares, stallions, cows, oxen) were so many that, during the summer months, foals were sent to the estate of Teso (near Gavinana) or to other properties. At the time the estate was about 2880 hectares, including about 32 hectares of the Salviati's Isola, for a total perimeter of 16 miles (about 26 kilometers).

The boundaries were determined to the west by the Navicelli canal separating the church properties of Tombolo, to the north still by the Navicelli canal which bent like an elbow near S. Piero a Grado and by some ditches, to the east by the "Prata di Montacchiello e di campo d'Olmo" and by the ditch of Caligi, to the south by the Fossa Chiara, beyond which began the lands of the farm of Collesalvetti, or the farm of Nugola. So appreciated in the eyes of modern people, the environment of the estate was to be no less spectacular in the eyes of the Grand Duke, who made it write, in a cadastre of 1785 prepared for the visit of the sovereigns of Naples, that "it seems in effect that nature has been pleased to form these estates, having provided them with excellent pastures for all seasons"; and, once described the weather qualities of the places, he pointed out how the Estate of Coltano was made up of "a raised soil like a hillock where the soil is sandy and suitable for its nature to keep itself dry also in the winter months", and how it was capable of producing, in the flooded parts, good summer hay. The territory was then characterized by swampy areas separated by wide strips of land, like real "islands" over which production activities were carried out, and by a series of eaves that connected the area with the surrounding countryside.

The marshy area represented a good half of the lands and was formed by a "padule Maggiore" which covered the whole area north up to creep within the lands of Coltano, with the marshes called "di Grugnolo" and "del Porcile" and was connected with the Padule della Ballerina through a marshy bottleneck which distinguished the balconies of Castagnolo from the rest of the estate. The main access road was represented by a boulevard that, from Via Livornese, turned to the estate near the tavern of S. Piero a Grado and, after crossing the bridge of Castagnolo, entered the first peninsula, made up, as mentioned, of the "balconies of Castagnolo". Along the road stood a shed to shelter animals and workers and a series of pens, where cattle was kept and the covering of mares was carried out. The surrounding land was completely made up of pastures. Through this first area, you came to a bridge that allowed to proceed in the estate of Coltano, where at first you met a wooded area organized as a game reserve. The big road then turned east and led to the open lands, up to the area of the "Palaces" (production centre and office district of the property) and then proceeded up to the canal of Caligi.

In the area of the Palaces was located the Medici Palace, rebuilt in the eighteenth century by Peter Leopold: the first floor was used as accommodation of the Grand Duke during the visits, while the ground floor was used for various functions. It included the chapel, the sacristy, warehouses to salt and keep cheese, stores for timber, housing for the carpenter and even chicken-runs. Around the palace there were two large warehouses: in the west one the ground floor was used to shelter horses, in case of storms and during the coverings, while the upper floor was used as accommodations for people who worked with these "races" and for the minister. The shed in the east housed the cows and people in charge of them. From here a big straight road started which led to a third warehouse, called "della lavorìa", where the "breeds of the mules" were raised. In the south area - in the marsh of Stagno - rose the Isola of Salviati, maybe once covered with forests, but at the end of the eighteenth century completely under vine and with two or three farmhouses built in the middle of it.

These environmental characteristics remained practically unchanged until the early twentieth century, although some fillings, particularly those executed in the marsh of Stagno, led to the drying up of some areas, especially during the summer season. The presence of the marshes caused, between 1841 and 1846, many difficulties to the construction of the Pisa-Livorno stretch of the Leopolda Railway, stretch which, as told by Di Simoni, for a long time allowed passengers to admire the variety of environmental situations. After the unification of Italy, the lands of Coltano were included in the assets of the Crown; after the First World War they passed to the Opera Nazionale Combattenti and in 1920 were included in the first energy reclamations.

In 1928 the works of reclamation started, with a plan that included an adaptation of the existing canals (Caligi, Fossa Chiara), the construction of some new canals, but above all the installation of three drainage units in the most depressed areas (Ragnaione, Paludella, S. Lucido). At the conclusion of such operations, which upset the environmental conditions and changed completely - according to the needs of the time- the production approach of the area, the old and glorious Fosso dei Navicelli, already abandoned as no longer suitable for navigation in the northern stretch of the draining pump of Ragnaione, was replaced by a straight canal parallel to the railway Pisa-Livorno.

In 1911, Guglielmo Marconi installed, not too far from the Mediceo Palace, the celebre radio-telegraphic station with the aim of connecting Rome with the Italian colonies and the European countries. The system was then improved in order to be used also for intercontinental and radio communications.

The center, which until 1940 was regularly used for communications with the world, had its antennas completely destroyed during the Second World War, while the Palazzina Marconi suffered only minimal damages. The antennas were not rebuilt and the structures were not used anymore. Currently, the Palazzina Marconi is in a serious state of decay.

Villa Medicea
(foto di Archivio Parco)
Water pump
(foto di Archivio Parco)