It often happens that places, like people, attract our attention before we know the reason why, releasing obscure chemistry and strange powers. Believe me, this is the case for the Maremma: fairytales about horses and the sea, archaeological finds and who knows what else. And it’s right in the middle of this land, not even three kilometres from the village of Magliano in Toscana, that you reach San Bruzio Monastery by treading a trail in the desert countryside. In this corner of land suspended between the olive trees and the sea of the Maremma, the silence is so deafening that it annihilates everything, even thoughts, leaving us naked and defenceless.
Yes, because it is impossible to escape the charm of this massive ruin, the delapidated walls and uneven stones, on which determined shrubs and harsh, cutting grass climb, the roofless dome through which we can see the heavens and stars on those beautiful summer’s nights. There’s something magical permeating the surrounding countryside and on some clear days it feels like the place floats on a light sea breeze… and when we walk up the lane to the street we do so with the stabbing regret of somebody leaving behind someplace special, with the longing to return.
A relic of the Middle Ages, of witches and miracles. When facing the massive, more than 2,000 years old Witch Olive tree, people get the feeling that it embodies something of that time in its branches and in its enormous trunk. An ancient legend is linked to its name and that of Magliano. The story is that whenever the priest of the adjacent church ended the ritual invocation the tree would contort itself in a frightening way; a fact that was attributed as the work of a witch.
Many were prepared to swear that every Friday a cat with fiery eyes would paw around the tree, miaowing lugubriously, and so the locals would stay well away after sunset. Even today they prefer to visit the tree while the sun depicts it in a thousand colours, so try not to be there at night when the shadows take on vaguely unnerving shapes reminiscent of pagan customs, fawns, centaurs and odd figures.