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Tuscany is wine and Renaissance art to some and medieval hilltop villages and cypress trees to others. Obviously there is much more. For an example a vivid folk music scene. But no, Tuscany's traditional folk songs aren't played in every pizzeria around the world. O Sole Mio and co. have their roots in Naples. 

Maremma Amara may not be an international seller, but most Italians will have heard one or another version of the lovely tune. The song describes the hardship of life in Maremma in a time when the Malaria and Saracen pirates were ravaging the coast and drinking water was a rarity in the swampy countryside. Many a poor Tuscan who went to the Maremma to make his fortune or to earn some money for his family never returned. My favorite interpretations of the song is by the Cardellini, one of Southern  Tuscany's great folk music choirs. 

Maremma Amara means bitter or harsh Maremma. The song dates back to the early 19th century, when the marshlands along the coast were Tuscany's wild west.  

The Etruscans and the Romans had started the drainage of Maremma's swamps but with the fall of the Roman Empire the works came to a halt. The Aurelia, the main road connecting Rome to France along the Tuscan coast, fell into disuse in the middle ages as pilgrims and merchants preferred to travel inland along the safer Francigena. This would become the fortune of Siena, which lay along the new road connecting Rome with Northern Europe. The growing traffic on it turned a little medieval town into one of the most important addresses in the late middle ages and many a family moved from the Maremma to the city of the Palio.

Only during the 18th century, at at time that the Lorena ruled Tuscany, became the drainage of the Maremma a priority again. 

Maremma Amara has remained a popular tune all through the 20th century. Below the interpretation of Florentine folk singer Caterina Bueno, whose research and recordings secured the survival of many a beautiful Tuscan folk song. 

Probably the most famous interpretation of Maremma Amara today is by Gianna Nannini. Born in Siena, Gianna Nannini is one of Italy's most beloved rock stars. 

If you'd like to sing along with the great Gianna, find the lyrics of the tune below. I've added a translation into English, not a very poetic one, but you'll get the idea.

Tutti mi dicon Maremma, Maremma - everybody tells me Maremma, Maremma
Ma a me mi pare una Maremma amara  - but to me it seems a harsh Maremma
L'uccello che ci va perde la penna - the bird flying there looses its feather
Io c'ho perduto una persona cara - I've lost a person I love

Sia maledetta Maremma Maremma- Be damned Maremma
sia maledetta Maremma e chi l'ama - Be damned Maremma
Sempre mi trema 'l cor quando ci vai - My heart aches when you go there
Perché ho paura che non torni mai - Because I fear you'll never come back

Learning Italian or want to watch the Maremma online? RAI (Italy's BBC) has produced two TV series in the area. 

Terra Ribelle (Land of Rebels) tells the story of life in Maremma in the 19th century with plenty of great nature shots. It's a proper soap opera, so don't be surprised if the people who supposedly lived in these harsh lands all look like they just had a long bath and a hearty breakfast. 

Want to know what life in Maremma may look like today? Commisario Manara is your man then. Filmed in and around Capalbio it's fun to watch and the cast brings along a surprising amount of self-irony for Italian TV

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