Ecomuseum of Walser

Ecomuseum of Walser

The Ecomuseum of Walser territory and culture

The Walser people deserve an ecomuseum of their very own: strong, determined people who faced the mountain in the Middle Ages, setting up colonies and making their homes in places and at altitudes where no one had previously even dreamed of. Skilled in the art of ploughing and deforestation, capable of withstanding the extreme conditions of high-altitude life, the Walsers came up against no obstacles to their expansion.

The Ecomuseum of Walser territory and culture

The Walser people deserve an ecomuseum of their very own: strong, determined people who faced the mountain in the Middle Ages, setting up colonies and making their homes in places and at altitudes where no one had previously even dreamed of. Skilled in the art of ploughing and deforestation, capable of withstanding the extreme conditions of high-altitude life, the Walsers came up against no obstacles to their expansion. From Gressoney to Mittelberg, from Valle del Lys to Kleinwalsertal, from Italy to Austria, through Switzerland and Liechtenstein: these are the lands "ruled" by this ancient population of German extract which had already settled at Goms in Alto Vallese (hence the name "Walser" i.e.: Vallesan people) in the 10 th century. In the 12 th century, the colonisation became more intense, partly due to the wishes of the feudal lords, and the Walsers moved as far as the southernmost valleys of Monte Rosa, to Val Formazza, Sempione, Grigioni and Vorarlberg. The aim was to find land to cultivate, setting up new, German-speaking communities and agreeing with the feudatories to the stipulation of a hereditary rent, which led to the Walsers becoming the absolute owners of their territory.

Alagna
The town of Alagna is split into small villages, retaining the original features of a Walser village. The hamlets, as well as having German names (Zar Chilchu, Im Grobe, Zar Sogu, Zam Steg, In d'Ekku) are still characterised by the typical houses, paved streets, the public fountain made of stone, the bread oven, the church and, in some cases, mills run by consortia. The houses are quite unique; made entirely of wood, with roofs covered with sheets of grey stone, surrounded by grated balconies, once use to dry hemp, hay and rye. The Walsermuseum is of particular interest, with its costumes, furnishings, furniture and work tools; everyday items that tell the history and culture of the Walsers. The Walser settlement of Val d'Otro is well worth visiting and lies about an hour's walk from Alagna, among the most beautiful and unspoilt areas of the Alps. Traces of the hard-working Walsers can also be found in Resiga, where there is a historical sawmill, in Uterio with its two water-mills and its oven which was lit twice a year for the bread-baking, and in Merletti, where there are the remains of a lime-kiln. Other sites belonging to the eco-museum are the historical gold, silver and copper mines at Kreas, the 18th-century theatre and the path to the Turlo Pass, which was the mediaeval connection between Alagna, Macugnaga and Switzerland.

Riva Valdobbia
Probably the Vogna valley was the principle communication route between Riva Valdobbia and Gressoney, and the location from which the Walsers spread out to settle in the small Valsesian villages of today: Larecchio, La Montata, Le Piane, La Peccia, Rabernardo, Cambiaveto, Cā Piacentino, Cā Morca, Cā Verno and Cā di Janzo. It is in fact from Cā di Janzo that the Savoyan "Via Regia" starts which, with its origins much earlier than the Savoys themselves, leads along the entire Vogna valley through the Walser settlements (which have a lot in common with the Walser villages in Gressoney). The land is terraced to enable cultivation, and the woods cleared and the area tilled, as can be seen at Larecchio. The Walsers succeeded in modelling the land in accordance with their needs: for example by channelling the streams to use the abundant waters of the Sesia valley. In Rabernardo, there is the Ethnographical Museum, where original objects give evidence of ancient customs and costumes of this population. Also the typical architecture of the Walser houses, with their classic granaries, is of great interest. And as in Alagna, the theatre in Riva Valdobbia is also noteworthy for its 18th-century decorations.

Mollia
At Piana Fontana there is the old Fucina mill: in a single building there are the carpenter's workshop, the oven, the forge, the mill, the granary, and the hay and drying lofts, all driven by water by means of ingenious mechanisms. Even today, on traditional festivals, the mill is set in action and produces flour using natural methods. The Walsers thus demonstrated their talent for the optimal use of natural resources (in fact, in the vicinity of the village, apart from the abundance of waterways, there was also a quarry). In the various parts of Mollia, stone fountains, buildings and frescoed chapels decorated by young local artists are commonly found.

Rassa
The Rassa valley is distinguished by its sense of isolation which has characterised it over the years and has proved perfect for the conservation of its ancient structures. Of the approximately ten water-driven sawmills which existed in the past, the Brasei sawmill is one of the flagships of the eco-museum, whilst in Cantone Spinfoj there is the ancient carpenter's workshop. On the banks of the Sorba and Gronda streams, the remains of cooperative flour mills can still be seen, and along the paths in the area, there are still the water-troughs for the animals to drink from during the summer pasture period; under the Pavaraj bridge, you can still see the laundry area, which was the meeting place for the local women. Around Rassa there are also the excavations for extraction of millstones, whilst along the Rio Ruachč, a rock formation can be seen where flagstones were excavated. Finally, at Alpe Massucco, there was quarrying for the high-quality marble, which was also used in the construction of Milan cathedral. Approximately fifteen lime-kilns have been found: they were used to transform marble into lime. Charcoal burning also played an important role, as evidenced by the traces of charcoal kilns in various areas of the surrounding woods.

Carcoforo
Walsers also settled at Carcoforo as they moved from Alagna, as is demonstrated by the number of alpine pastures on the slopes around the village: Alpe Ciletto, Busacca del Passone, Giovanchera and Pianelli show signs of a history of intensive agro-pastoral labours. But the Walser traditions do not end there: in Fornace there is also a lime-kiln and ponds where hemp was soaked; at the Arco di Buona Accoglienza, meanwhile, the great Walser "torba", or hay barn has survived and the "torbe mascherate" (stone-clad wooden buildings) stand at the upper end of the village; and finally, along the Egua stream, there are ancient mills which were for the treatment of hemp and milling of flour. In addition to these traces of the past, the artistic heritage is also of interest. In this area, there are many chapels and churches which were skilfully frescoed. In Tetto Minocco, you are invited into an ancient Walser house to visit the Museo Naturalistico del Parco Naturale Alta Valsesia (Nature Museum of the Upper Valsesia Nature Reserve).

Rimasco
The Walsers of Rimasco, originally from Rimella and Alagna, were confronted with Latin settlers, thus the community was more open to the world than perhaps others were. Campo Ragozzi was the first Walser settlement in this area and it is in fact from here that the path leading to Carcoforo starts, where there is an old water-driven sawmill. At Dorca, a Walser "torba" (hay barn) can be seen.

Rima
The Walsers who settled at Rima also came from Alagna along the route over the Colle del Mud. Rima is famous for its artificial marbles, which were exported not only to other parts of Italy, but also abroad and was made using plaster and alabaster. At Rima, there are the "Casa del Marmo Artificiale" and the Plaster Museum "Pietro Della Vedova".

Rimella
The first Walser settlement in the Sesia valley was at Rimella, where the first inhabitants probably arrived over the Colma della Dorchetta, the route between the Sesia and Anzasca valleys. The eco-museum is located in the "Casa Eredi Vasina" in Sella, where, by following a path, you get an idea of the life of the Walsers: their costumes, their art, their crafts, their type of farming…

For information: www.ecomuseovalsesia.it Tel. 0039 0163.51555