Woods and stories between Romagna and Tuscany

The Casentino Forests, between Romagna and Tuscany, are one of the oldest and most important protected areas in the country. Born and developed from the original sections of the reserves of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the millenary forest of Camaldoli, this forest heritage, with the beech forests of Sassofratino, was also recognized in 2017 as a UNESCO heritage site. On the Romagna side there is a portion of the Park which is less known and discreet: it is a vast area that coincides with the highest part of the valleys that give rise to the rivers Bidente, Rabbi, Montone. A very different environment compared to the ordered and cultivated woods of the Tuscan side. We are in the presence of a territory with tormented orography, a landscape that until the middle of the last century was characterized by reliefs rendered barren by the intense pasture, and by the exploitation of farms often obtained by terracing the slopes. This harsh environment was still quite populated in the post-war period by industrious people, driven by “earth hunger” to settle in places and at odds that are unthinkable today. This mountain culture had a great history behind it and in its uses and customs it was not so much reminiscent of Mediterranean civilizations but ties and similarities with northern Europe. The wide-brimmed hats of men, the cloaks of the elders, the flowered women’s cottons. The widespread use of mules and horses as means of work and transport, a popular religiosity interwoven with Christian-Sylvan syncretisms, traditional dances and music with echoes and Celtic sounds … all this, with the advent of modernity and the economic miracle it quickly eclipsed. In the mid-1960s the last great and definitive exodus took place. The centuries-old harsh living conditions became unsustainable and the abandonment fell on countries, estates and chestnut groves. Entire hamlets and scattered houses were locked with furniture, furnishings, perhaps thinking of the possibility of a return that in almost all cases did not happen. Today, after more than half a century, visiting these places immediately catches a surprising element in seeing how nature has been able to recover in a relatively short time, space and vigor, healing degradations and ancient wounds, rebuilding a lush environment of woods. My passion for hiking has led me to walk and stay often in this area since I was a boy. In recent years these wanderings have combined the pleasure of drawing on the spot, giving me the necessary breaks and moments of serene contemplation. The images thus collected in various notebooks represent a work still in progress. One of the aspects that fascinates me most about this experience is the encounter, in places that are often remote, with the increasingly faint traces of the past presence of man: the ruins of a house now colonized by the vegetation that emerges in the woods, a votive cell which resists the edges of a mule track, the now uncertain beams of an old bridge, a rusty agricultural tool abandoned on the edge of a field, or more in detail, surfacing from the ground of a horseshoe or a twisted nail.