Thursday, August 19, 2010

Larderello: Devil’s Valley

Valle del Diavolo owes its name to the diabolic boric acid fumaroles and the muddy waters that boil and contrast with the stupendous and tranquil view that overlooks on the surrounding scenery. We are at Larderello, in the municipality of Pomarance, in the low province of Pisa. Legend has it that the striking boiling lakes and the geysers that spray air from the bowels of the Earth were also visited by Dante who took inspiration from them for the Hell verses. This area still preserves the heavy odour of sulphur and the striking natural phenomena, even if the geothermal displays are dying down due to their use in the electric power stations. After all, this phenomenon with all probability was already known and used by the Etruscans and Romans, even if it was necessary to wait until a Frenchman, François-Jacques de Larderel (from which the name of the town that came from nothing in 1818) arrived to assist with its industrial use. Another scientist who used the endogeneous forces for the generation of electrical energy was the count Piero Ginori, who, history has it, was able to turn on five light bulbs during his first experiment in 1904. The best place to observe the most fascinating natural displays is along the road between Sasso and Monterotondo (Grosseto), where there are still some lakes, sources of hot water and fumaroles. To continue a route that moves more towards the field of scientific knowledge from the Devil’s legend, it is worth visiting the Geothermics Museum at Larderello. Here you can trace the stages of a development that moved from the original activity associated with borax to the use of geothermal steam for the production of electrical energy and residential uses over the course of two centuries. The great coolants of the old stations are significant, which were always a characteristic element of the scenery with their steam-laden plumes.

(Portions of this article first appeared in "Toscana & Chianti News")
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