Italian Language Blog

Maremma Amara Posted by on Sep 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

A few days ago Geoff wrote an article about the effects of this summer’s draught on Il Parco Naturale dell’Uccellina in Maremma, which reminded me of a folk song that I love.

My professor of Topography at the University of Pisa used to sing it during our archaeological campaigns in Vada, near Livorno. Maremma is a wide region situated between Tuscany and Lazio, from Rosignano Marittimo, south of Livorno, to Civitavecchia north of Roma. This region had always been very marshy, and was therefore infested with malaria carrying mosquitos. The quality of life there was very poor. Attempts at drainage works had been made since Roman times, but malaria remained a big problem for centuries. It was only at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, when Tuscany became Granducato di Toscana under the Austrian Asburgo Lorena dynasty, that la bonifica (the drainage of the land) was successfully undertaken on a large scale. But results came at a price: in 1824 Granduca Ferdinando III died from malaria contracted while inspecting the drainage works in Maremma.

Maremma Amara (Bitter Maremma) is the title of this anonymous folk song, also known as Tutti mi dicon Maremma (Everybody tells me Maremma), from its opening line. The origins of the song are unknown, but it’s widely believed that it was written at the beginning of the 19th century, during i lavori di bonifica (the drainage works). During this period farmers all over Tuscany were given incentives to go and work the land in Maremma, but many would never return home, having lost their lives to either malaria or typhus. For this reason, one of the most common forms of swearing in Tuscany is the expression Maremma maiala (literally: pig Maremma).

This song was rediscovered in the Sixties by the Tuscan folk singer and musicologist Caterina Bueno. Maremma amara must be sung very slowly, almost dragged out, in order to depict the pain of those who lost their beloved in the infected land of Maremma, and to portray the leaden pace of the malaria ravaged farmers. Here are its sad lyrics, followed by my English translation:

 Maremma amara (click on the song title to hear the music)

Tutti mi dicon Maremma, Maremma,
ma a me mi pare una Maremma amara.
L’uccelo che ci va perde la penna,
io c’ho perduto una persona cara.

Sia maledetta Maremma Maremma,
sia maledetta Maremma e chi l’ama.
Sempre mi trema il cor quando ci vai
perché ho paura che non torni mai.

Sia maledetta Maremma Maremma,
sia maledetta Maremma e chi l’ama.


Bitter Maremma

Everybody tells me Maremma, Maremma,
but to me it seems a bitter Maremma.
The bird that goes there looses its feather,
I’ve lost a dear person there.

Cursed be Maremma Maremma
Cursed be Maremma and those who love it.
Every time you go there my heart trembles
because I worry that you will never come back.

Cursed be Maremma Maremma
Cursed be Maremma and those who love it.

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  1. andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    E’ una canzone davvero bella e cosi’ triste. Ho sentito nominare Maremma e malaria leggendo il libro The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Si puo’ trovarlo gratis sull’Internet

  2. Jean:

    I love this song . It is haunting. Beautiful in Italian.

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