Saturday, November 9, 2013

Valle Pesio

Certosa di Pesio, Italy (November 6, 2007)

You can reach the Pesio Valley driving straight south from Torino. It is a rather short valley, cut through the first segment of the Alps, in between Piedmont and the Mediterranean sea. It is part of Occitania, a vast area in southern Europe were the native language is derived from provençal. The reason why I am mentioning it here is that this is the place where my family live, and as such is the first place I go when I visit Italy.

San Bartolomeo, Italy
My sister live in the village of San Bartolomeo (bell tower is shown in the photo on the left) with my nieces and brother in law, while my parents live in Rondetto, an even smaller village a few miles along the single road that crosses the valley. With a population if less than 4,000, the valley main activity is tourism, together with the typical high mountain agriculture and animal husbandry. During the middle age, however, the valley was an important center of culture and power. Its location in the southernmost branch of the Alps made it an attractive waypoint for the "salt trade" from the Mediterranean sea to the Po valley. Sustained by the trading opportunities, monks of the Carthusians order in 1173 founded a monastery at the head of the valley. The presence of the monastery was initially welcomed by local population, as it provided defence and refuge against the incursions of the saracen pirates regularly attacking the italian inland valleys from the sea.

Old crypt at the Certosa
 As the reach and power of the Certosa grew, however, conflict with the villagers was bound to happen. Looting and destruction of the monastery happened several times during its millenarian history: the structure was abandoned for half a century in 1350, then again in 1509 (when it was burned to the ground) and finally in 1655. Every time it was rebuilt by monks of the same order, until the invasion of Italy by Napoleon, resulting in the abolition of all monastic orders, and the conversion of the structure into a spa. The monastery was finally returned to the church in 1934, when the Missionaries of the Consolata took possession and restored the old buildings. You can visit the structure at any time, as the access is freely permitted without any entrance ticket to pay. The missionaries manage a small store and museum at the entrance of the Certosa, where you can buy trinkets from the Consolata missions, and see crafts from all over the world (and taxidermy, if you really are into that).

Valle Pesio, Italy (November 4, 2007)

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