Beyond the Land of Castles
Unwanted, Forgotten, Promised land

Village Prosenicco: Since the time of the Lombards, the Slavic tribes had settled on the Faedese mountain belt. They were mainly dedicated to the breeding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Wool and cheese were the products they traded with the Friulians of the valley floor, in exchange for wine, cereals, and salt.

I remember how my grandfather, Giuseppe, used to tell me stories about his youth and the mountains of his homeland and how, when caught by the German troops, he managed to escape and walked back home from Germany. I can still feel, through his memory, the strong sense of belonging to the place when he described the happiness to see again those mountains from far.

In this project, I re-discover parts of my cultural heritage, portraying the different facets of the life of mountain villages in between the Italian and Slovenian borders. What I found in these mountain villages, was a community of survivors, a community of emigrants that imposed a self-exile after the World Wars and the earthquake of 1976, in order to chase that “wealth” promised by the upcoming industrialized cities.

 

Giuliano: “Down in Faedis they despised you. It was like when I went to Belgium. In the beginning, the Flemings were against the Italians. They said we stole jobs. But it wasn’t true. We wanted to do any job just to make money. And we also wanted to work long hours. We got used to it. So it seemed like we wanted to take something away… but we were in the mine… No Belgian wanted to work there…”

One of the first maps of the territory. It dates back to 1700, before the invasion of the Napoleonic empire

Igor, one of the 7 inhabitants of Robedisches, the first village after the Slovenian border. He is the owner of the only Agriturismo known locally for his goat cheese. “This village was under Italy until Tito took power. We wanted to be Slovenian. Many of them changed their minds because they didn’t like Tito’s politics at all, so they left. I was and still am happy with the decision we made.”

The quarries of the Grivò valley supplied the entire Piasentina stone area. Towards the beginning of the 1950s, a real school of stonemasons was born, known throughout the region. Soon the stone was used not only as a supporting element of the houses but also to build work tools and furnishings. The stones were also used to stop running water and create small artificial springs, used to water the animals, and to be sure of always having water reserves.

These realities have become an emblematic example of “forgotten” villages around Italy, and Europe.

Beyond the Land of Castles is an examination of the importance of “local” through memory, and how modern society neutralizes it in the name of globalization. It is a universal story. It is a story of power, who has it and decides how development should look like, and who do not have it, and never will.

As I explore the themes that most characterize this area, such as emigration and depopulation, I reflect on the importance of the values on which our personal and common memory are based upon in order to shake the assumptions that memories and past bring nostalgia not progress.

 

Madonna: The religiosity of the mountain populations was very strong. Ceremonies and rites were often held to thank or invoke the Lord’s goodwill on crops, families, and life in general. The relationship with faith was immediate and directly connected to the environment, so much so that the priest acted as an intermediate figure who had the task of celebrating feasts and sacraments.

Pagan rituals: Despite the strong religious faith, there is still a lot of superstition among the people. This was undoubtedly a legacy of ancient beliefs when the first Slavic peoples who occupied these lands had not yet converted to Christianity and worshiped the pagans.

Portrait of Giousuè: Since the time of the Lombards, the Slavic tribes had settled on the Faedese mountain belt. They mainly devoted themselves to the breeding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Wool and cheese were the products they traded with the Friulians of the valley floor, in exchange for wine, cereals, and salt. Especially in the beginning, the mountain people lived in physical and cultural isolation, due to the lack of roads and connections.

To the north of the villages, there were pastures and woods that extended beyond the Sant’Antonio pass, also known as Uorh, and beyond the Val Rouna, which extends to the border with Slovenia. This valley was populated during the summer. In fact, around 1850 they began to build stavoli for the shelter of animals in the summer. However, many families moved to these stavoli during the summer. Today this valley hosts the “Communist Party”, a traditional appointment for all the inhabitants of these villages, where the older generations remember the heroic acts of the partisans against the fascist troops and celebrate the liberation of the land from the dictatorship.

Borders: At first, the families only spoke Slovenian and, once they reached school age, people found it very difficult to communicate in Italian with the teachers and learn the lessons. At the same time, the teachers were also in difficulty, forced to confront a completely different reality from the plain. The priest then acted as a liaison as he helped people speak more correct Italian, teaching songs and prayers in Italian. In these mountain villages, the Slovenian dialect Po Nasem is spoken. The dialect originates in the Italian city of Lusevera. The name Po Nasen means “our way” and this was the answer that the Luseverese, who went to Tarcento (plain) to buy basic necessities, gave when they were asked what language they spoke.

Flavia: Flavia manages the “da Flavia” bar in Canebola. This is the only bar left, open every day, in all the mountain villages of this area. The difficulties are not lacking because the costs are always greater and the revenues less and less. The “bar” has always been a meeting point for the community. It was the meeting place after a long day of work, where to celebrate on Sundays, where to watch football matches or Formula 1 races on TV, but above all a place where residents could vent all their torments and tensions.

Emigration: “You can work in Italy or abroad, now there is freedom of choice”. This was the slogan of the 1960s, in response to the great phenomenon of emigration. The reality was completely different. The waiting list for a secure job was months if not years. Many have never been called back. This is why many have never returned. What they did after 1976 was just for job opportunities after the earthquake. But everything was concentrated on the plain, there was no plan for the mountaineers … ” This phenomenon of emigration had been supported by the Italian state itself. In fact, passports were issued to requesting countries. Switzerland, for example, had taken advantage of the opening of its borders to develop its industry. Italy from Switzerland received a contribution for each inhabitant. Belgium owes Italian emigrants the fact that their coal mines have been reactivated. Italy received in exchange for each miner a quantity of coal per year.

This project will also be introducing a more elaborate body of work about the violent alteration of the landscape and the huge cultural void that is threatening to leave. I want to document it, in order to question “progress,” that seems the force that moves the modern world. But sometimes “progress” brings to the regression of certain realities. The risk for these realities to disappear is tangible and concrete as political policies prefer to focus on the development of the cities and their suburbs.

 

Beyond The Land Of Castles
Davide Degano
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