When you get to Montecristo you quickly realize that it is not a place for men. Yet the haughty and presumptuous man, over the centuries has not failed to attempt to settle there so much that the Italian state, in 1971, for fear of building speculation made it a nature reserve. Yet the ancients knew and as long as humans retained some sense and contact with nature they avoided this place. The Romans first, they did not want to know about it, either because the granite of Montecristo was not bright enough and moreover contaminated by another mineral: orthoclase, which makes its surface irregular, or because it was off all the main routes, this was the only island in the archipelago where they did not build any villas and from which they did not extract granite.
When you get to Montecristo, to this island, the farthest from the mainland, an impassable granite peak sticking out of the water, barren and fraught, you sense the existence of God or some higher entity. You sense it in the miracle of the Mediterranean scrub plants clinging to the granite in a desperate attempt to find land and water, which, in contrast to the land flows abundantly along the valleys.
We arrived in the silence of remoteness from the modern world, of the few scattered animals, even the Goats here had to become a native species to adapt to the land. The Montecristo Goat, in fact, is a unique and protected species imported, perhaps by ancient navigators who used the Mediterranean islands as self-storage facilities.
We have arrived in the loneliness that forces you to come to terms with your only self-conscious being: yourself and the futility of certain of our needs and ways of living, in the face of the rhythms and needs of nature. In this place, and it is easy to guess why, in 400 AD. Mamilianus Bishop of Palermo settled there, with some of his followers, and built a poor abbey, a cave, a mill and a small vegetable garden, up on top of the mountain that just getting there is a feat. In an effort to survive, scattered around the island are a few occasional dry stone walls, small granite terraces that were used to collect the little land available for cultivation. Mamiliano and his monks, were poor on the island but rich on the others and on the Maremma mainland, thanks to donations from their devout Corsicans, Elbans and Gigliese. Devotees who had evidently never been to Monte Cristo, for otherwise they would have sensed the futility of giving gold to any of its inhabitants. It is easier to believe that Mamilianus, who arrived in Monte Cristo had to defeat a terrible dragon that ruled the island and that from the monster’s death appeared sonorous gold coins. The Dragon, a metaphor for the devil and his temptations in the Middle Ages, turned into a metaphor for man’s struggle against the forces of nature in the 1800s, when we finally lost our wits and began to believe that we could rule nature and bend it to our needs.
In any case, the legendary treasure of the saint, whether it came from the donations of devotees or from the death of the dragon incarnation of the devil, was found in Sovana, Maremma, inside a now-abandoned church, far from Montecristo a place where gold was as valuable as nothing.
It was in the 1800s that such a visionary Taylor decided to build his villa here in Cala Maestra, the only cove that allows boats to dock, some say to lock up his wife there, who was too jealous, and endow it with a large garden full of tropical plants. Plants , some of which turned out to be pests such asAilanthus: a Japanese flint that is difficult to eradicate. The villa, failed in an attempt to farm the island by Taylor, became the property of the Florentine Marquis Ginori and later of the King Victor Emmanuel III and then with the emergence of the Italian Republic, of the Italian state but all this has little to do with Monte Cristo and more to do with the pride of man and his colonial failure.
What remains inside of this place, inhabited by goats, vipers, a few seabirds and whose craggy granite is covered in patches with rosemary, heather, catnip and a few thousand-year-old holm oaks that still survive above one of the highest peaks, up there where man has never been able to reach, is the feeling of being in a place where all the legends, the tales of pirates, of devils, of poisoned springs at Devil’s Point, of guardian dragons, hermit saints, and mysterious Counts are possible, in which historical reality is mixed with legend and fantasy and in which the existence of the truth of both is possible. In this place so out of the rational, programmed and highly organized reality in which we live every day, out of the efficient, standardized and optimized time thanks to sophisticated systems and measuring instruments, the absence of modernity leaves room for listening, for feeling, for slowness, for imagination, for encounters with the divine, for the possibility of creating imaginative worlds, places and stories, of feeling in the unity of creation that there is a place for us within it; the absence of machines and artificial broadband connections, leaves the possibility for the being of human to be human
So much so that when I realized that the phone was not getting reception I felt, immediately, a great liberation.
Surface area: 10.4 square kilometers
Coastal Development: 16 km
Maximum Height: Mount Fortress 645 mt
Elba distance: 45 km
Distance Giglio: 43 km
Distance Monte Argentario: 63 km
To book the hike:
- Visiting Montecristo, useful information
- The History of San Mamiliano
- The Legend of St. Mamilian and the Dragon