The medieval villages of Rio and Grassera were located on the southern slopes of Monte Strega and Monte Serra. From their elevated position, the villages are located on top of the rich mineral deposits that extend along the island’s east coast. Both villages prospered due to the extraction of the iron vein and in their history, the mines and controlling the mining had essential importance, whether by the municipality of Pisa or other competing powers.
During the Middle Ages, the municipality of Rio expanded towards the coast and incorporated the territory of the community of Rio Marina, more recently established. The village, therefore, controlled both the area of the mines and the hills behind them, and then covered with thick woods. Other natural resources were formed by waterways and rock, which could be used as “flux” to lower the temperature necessary for reducing the ore. These resources were considered very important by those who ruled the territory and were strictly controlled, as can be seen, for example, in theStatues of Rio (Statuta Rivi), which prohibited the cutting of the forests and diverting the streams.
The mines, at the beginning, were worked seasonally: the miners could thus alternate work in the mines with farming food for the sustenance of their families. Instead, when the Pisans pressed for increased iron production, an increased amount of grain was imported from the mainland to provide the population with its main food.
The village of Rio is formed by a compact and well-defended core, with a system of walls, a gate, and a fortified church. Behind it, to the northwest, lies the Volterraio fortress, where it seems that the population of Rio took refuge during pirate attacks. Similarly, the inhabitants of Grassera used the Torre del Giove fortress as a refuge when the island was ransacked. Both fortresses currently include later buildings, but they were probably originally part of the Pisan coastal defence system.
Informations by Mining District Archaeological Museum, Rio nell’Elba, Island of Elba.