Traditions

The strength of Maremma is based  on the respect for the natural  equilibrium of the environment, with  a sustainable growth in tune with  the times, mankind and nature in  general.  Customs, bound to their relationship  with this harsh territory and its  history, have allowed a growth and  development that has maintained  the popular traditions of the Tuscan  Maremma and Capalbio.

This will to  preserve translates into acting with  awareness and foresight.  

The maremman horse

The climate in the Tuscan Maremma,  is very particular, as this was a  malarial an inhospitable area for  centuries.

The Maremman horse  had to get used to this harsh habitat,  overcoming problems caused by  mosquitoes and feeding on burned  out pasture in order to survive,  developing a body structure that  allowed him to cope with this  difficult environment. The ancient  Etruscans were already raising one  of its ancestors, having selected  breeds and experimented with  crossbreeding that resulted in very  fast animals which other horses  in the Italian peninsula could not  compete with.

Maremman Horse

Crossbreeding with  other horses from northern and  central Europe continued at the time  of the barbarian invasions, mainly  Gothic and Longobardic.

During  the Renaissance, some aristocratic  families, particularly the Medicis,  applied themselves to the task of  selecting and improving their breeds  importing Arabian stallions from  Syria. 

The Maremman breed was born  from this crossbreeding, forged by  the local climate and land, unmistakable  for its strong and lively  character and strength.

Nowadays,  although crossed with English thoroughbred,  they are still raised in the  wild to maintain their integrity and  rusticity, and are used by the Butteri  for equestrian shows and cattle  branding – the so called Merca.  

 

Butteri

They are famous for being excellent  and reckless horse riders; with  their silent, hard, solitary lives,  they represent the most authentic,  irreplaceable symbol of the Tuscan  Maremma, and their presence in  this – in many respects  – st i l l wild land  spans many centuries.

Butteri

The Butteris  are shepherds on horseback, the  herdsmen typical of this land, whose  life was not so enviable in the past  from a point of view of quality of life.  They certainly knew no fear, but they  knew how to survive in the thick  woodland.

They were not afraid of  spending their existence in solitude  within the intricate undergrowth of  inhospitable woods among the wild  boars, riding their horses amidst the  miasma of swamps, exposed to cold.  winter winds, or to the heat of  boiling summer days, surviving  on simple farmer soups, meagre  compensations and often being  exploited, on horseback from  sunrise to sunset, in a difficult land,  hostile, ungrateful, that an old song  described as Maremma Amara  (Bitter Maremma).

The Butteri, or  Bestiai (The Beasty men), as they  called themselves, worked all day in  the large Maremman farms, taking  the herds of cattle towards the  pastures, and they would catch the  animals using lassos and they were  also in charge of branding them, of  brushing the horses and of taming  them.

Nowadays, these practices are  carried out in a modern fashion, but  in Capalbio it is still possible to meet  the Butteris as they are passing by  on horseback through the streets  of the town in particular occasions  or celebrations, during which they  compete in the ancient Rodeo of  the Rose, or exhibitions where they  show their skills in branding and herd  separation. 

They wear, just like they did in the  past, rough trousers tucked in their  boots, wild boar or goat skin- leather  thigh guards, flannel shirts, fustian  hunter jackets with deep pockets;  they use large wide-brimmed  hats with a chin strap to protect  themselves from brambles, persistent  rain and dust.

The lasso hanging from  the saddle, they hold the bridle in a  bunch with one hand, while in the  other they keep a hook stick.  Even today, dressing the Maremman  way, means to be free spirited and  to love the refined comfort of natural  fabrics in the colours of the land in  the different seasons. 

 

The “Merca” (cattle branding)

The Merca

In Maremma, once an impervious  waterlogged land, with thick and  intrigued vegetation, the Butteri  were herding the newly born wild  cattle on horseback and amidst  clouds of dust were preparing for  the rite of branding.

There are few  places now where the animals still  live in the wild, but in spring in these  last heavens the rite of branding  has been repeating itself as if from  a script: these men, that live and  practise in symbiosis with the  rhythm of nature, riding their horses  only aided by long sticks to guide the  herd into the enclosure. The natural  setting is in fact represented by the  wooden fences of these enclosures  where the cattle are led into, one  year old calf and foals being guided  first to pasture then into the ring,  where the “judge” a wooden  trunk needed to work the ropes  that are used to handle these strong  animals after their separation from  the main herd- stands in the middle,  and here they are lassoed and  made tired.

A scorching iron, called  “Merco”(Marker) was  employed to brand  the cattle with a  progressive number  according to their  date of birth and the initials of  the owner’s name.

Even though  some of these practices have been  abolished, this traditional rite is  repeated even today, but always  unpredictable given the lively nature  of the animals.

An old proverb, that  makes reference to the dangers of  performing this fight- often body on  body- says:  “Who goes to the Merca, without  getting marked …hasn’t been there!”. 

This kind of work involving men and  animals, may appear somewhat  violent, but it was lived and it still  is like a great happy occasion by  the Butteri, in fact the climax of a  year’s efforts so rewarded by the  health and beauty of those very animals. 

 

Wild boar hunt 

It happens in the thick of the woods  of the “Macchia Maremmana”  (Maremman maquis).

Wild boar hunt

This is the  impressive show of the “Braccata”  o“Cacciarella”(the hunt) involving  many actors in an incredible  succession of events: anxious  hunters waiting at their assigned  stations in the clearings at the edge  of the woods, the beaters who  fire shots and beat the bushes, the  howling and barking of the dogs here  and there, going suddenly quiet only  to start again further up the hill, or  down inside a valley or amidst cork  or oak trees, while the boar roams  the woods searching for a passage  among the beaters, confusing its  tracks, sometimes attacking the  dogs and with its tusks.

Sometimes  the boar falls, after a fierce fight,  other times it drives men and dogs  crazy, breaks the ring, and vanishes  back into its habitat where it is the  real king. 

Winner or loser, the “cinghiale” or  “cignale” this is how they call the  wild boar here- will always be loved  by the people of Maremma. 

The people of Capalbio honour the  wild boar during a culinary event  (sagra), the wild boar festival, in  the second week in September, that  sees the participation of all citizens  and is attended by many outsiders  and culinary experts.  

Capalbio in Maremma

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