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The rurality against the homologation of urban societies

In the countryside, looking not only for lost tastes and smells, but also for satisfying the eternal desire of self knowledge. The route of “Via Francigena” in Italy let discover the essence of the places it crosses



Via Francigena was originally named “Mount Bardone Road”, which recalls the Longobards who traced it to go South, straight to the “Garden of the Empire”. It also recalls “Lombardi”, the name given to all Italians involved in business, who traveled to Northern Europe from fair to fair, spreading financial and commercial techniques still unknown in those countries. Not only pilgrims, invaders and merchants walked on the Via Francigena. Intellectuals too, both those who came to Italy to discover its past and those who exported knowledge to be useful for the future, from Italy to the rest of Europe.

Along Via Francigena, the twofold relationship between city and countryside was defined. North of the Alps, the countries gathered in the cities, while South of the Alps, cities organized the surrounding countries. The so-called “urban civilization” of Italy during the Middle Ages was a “agricultural-urban” civilization, except for a few cases, such as Genoa and Venice. Cities and countries were two sides of the same coin and “Italy of one hundred cities” was surrounded by one thousand countries.

In the epoch of municipalities, Italy countries developed a dynamic profile. The renewal involved the settlements, the property, the distribution of cultivations, the life conditions of farmers, the management of the lands. In that epoch, land owners created consortia to manage marshes lands and new rules appeared for the first time in an environment that the growth of population had stripped of its original wild aspect and that already showed some wear and tear. In order to satisfy the food demands of the cities, the vineyard culture spread more and more and the “lands for bread”, as cereal fields were called, grew larger. While cities expanded without increasing of number, the rural settlements saw light, disappeared and evolved unrelentingly, in a continuous process of reorganization of habitats, cultivations and properties.

Three kinds of farms characterized the Via Francigena lands: the “Cisterciencis grangia” in Northern Italy, the small tenants’ farm in Tuscany, the rural home in Lazio. These were completely different types of farms, which referred to deeply diverse local cultures.

These quick hints at the story of countries during the Middle Ages show how the evolution of rural territories is integral part of Europe roots and the European origin of our country. They are also useful to emphasize that a recovery, tutelage and valorization of the functions of Via Francigena would be an incomplete operation without a new discovery of the values underlying the complex network of activities and relations that characterized the way.

Therefore, it is also necessary to acquire and safeguard a deeper knowledge and memory of the social, economical and environmental development of rural lands. It is a commitment to activate interventions related to the valorization of traditional productions, both artisanal and gastronomic, to the recovery of landscapes and pathways, of architectures and rural buildings, to the touristic promotion. Still, another goal is even more significant, that is the recovery of cultures, values and knowledge that should be elaborated anew and projected in the modern forms of nowadays.

Today much is said about the rural development as an integrated process of planning and management of the territory. The idea of rediscovering rurality, as a new model to attenuate the homologation of urban societies and the standardization of life and consumes, has credibility if based on the reconstruction, without superficiality, of true and not fake values.

A recovery of the “Cisterciencis grangia” would not just imply the recognition of the skills of monks who knew how to exploit their technical knowledge, locally acquired, and to put it in practice on a large scale. It would not only mean to be ecstatic for the capability of those monks to manage huge estates with the intent of rationalizing the country economics settling in the several farms left by the inhabitants. It would not only consist in recovering medieval monasteries from ruins. It would also be about becoming aware that nowadays there are “new monasteries”, “grangia of the third millennium”, both secular and religious, places of “doing” and “thinking”. I refer to the community for the de-intoxication of drug addicts, places where social life, community work and sharing secular and religious values help quitting on drugs and lead to the way of personal achievement. New monasteries are the social farms where management, agricultural and breeding activities bring opportunities to value the diverse skills of disadvantaged people, or the territorial pacts for the development of rural areas, where the solidity of protection networks based on responsible sociality and self-help is the condition to improve the competitiveness of the territory. The network of old and new monasteries is in stand-by until we will not be able to realize their full potential, first rebuilding the historical processes that led to such a legacy and better understanding the new processes that generated the recent experiences of social agriculture.

At the same time, rediscover the tenant farmers fields does not only mean to cherish the dream of making us a mansion in Val d’Orcia. It means understanding why the tenant farm has survived since Middle Ages till our days and searching for the reasons which gave birth to the economics of the “Third Italy” on the basis of these relationships. The full comprehension of that system, characterized by very malleable relationships, would come at rescue while solving the issues related to building a network of rural and agricultural food districts, made of contracts between the public and private, where concentrating complementary developmental plans of the territory.

Last, rediscover Lazio farms does not only mean to get to know a typical production unit of the large estates of Low Middle Ages, which represented a totally different productive model from the family settlement on the cultivated field. In a depopulating Roman country, the farm was the center of several activities aimed at producing huge quantities of food goods for the city of Rome market and realize abundant profits. Thus, those activities meant the coupling between Rome and its surrounding countries, “Agro Pontino”, a vast area at service of the food demands of Rome. Today these farms could, once recovered, become modern centers of rural culture, where new functions could be envisioned for the metropolis in the global world. If the Italian capital wishes to become a pivot between the North and South of the world, it ought to rely on our local productive systems as means to promote cooperation policies for rural development with third countries.

Once again, just like many centuries ago, the countries face deep transformations. And it surfaces again, to both farmers who have to readapt their job and citizens who are desperate for searching their roots, the metaphor of the pilgrim who chooses to move, inspired by values, rather than remaining anchored to a feud or district. This mobility anticipates a future-oriented identity, made of commuting, melting pot of populations, escape from the time and organizational diktat of the Fordist society. In the rural territories along Via Francigena, people go back not to look for lost tastes and smells, but first and foremost to quest for the eternal ambition to self knowledge.



by Alfonso Pascale
04 may 2009, Food Notes > Miscellanea

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