The Festa Della Montagna, organized by the Associazione Tre Potenze and held yesterday, is an event which recollects the old hard life of a mountain community, like that of Montefegatesi and surrounding areas, and combines it with stalls selling local Apennine products and providing gastronomical pleasures. It takes place at the Pian d’albero, a quasi-alpine meadow on the Via Ducale which goes up to the stupendous Passo al Giovo pass, leading across the main ridge of the Apennines, into the Val di Luce.
The Via Ducale is a road built by order of the Duke of Modena, Francesco IV, in 1823 to connect his possessions this side of the Apennines with those of Emilia without having to pass through the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s territory. It must be remembered that before unification Italy was a patchwork of little states – each state had bits separated from it without much rhyme or reason. There could have been far easier routes decided for crossing the Apennines – indeed, the standard national route near me is the one that takes one over the passo dell ’Abetone – but the priority of the Duke or Modena was a political one – to keep within his own domains and not to trespass on potentially hostile territory.
The Via Ducale is an astonishing engineering feat for its time and is graded beautifully to allow four-horse carriages to ascend from sea-level to a height of almost 6,000 feet, (1674 metres), without too much effort on the part of the horses. The road includes several very fine stone bridges, beautifully laid walls and some interesting buildings – one of which, the former customs post and hostelry just below Tereglio is very imposing; a pity that it is standing in total neglect.
The Via Ducale was officially inaugurated on July 31, 1823, the day the Duke of Modena Francesco IV crossed the road from the Modena side to meet up with the Duchess of Lucca Maria Luisa di Borbona (she who succeeded Elisa Baiocchi).
It was subsequently used for the Duke to meet up with a potential future bride. According to an anecdote it began to snow heavily as the duke reached to the top of the pass where he met the carriage coming from the other side bearing his proposed spouse. The duke looked at her and decided she was not for him – indeed, in his opinion, she was not at all good-looking. The feeling appeared to be mutual and the lady ordered her carriage to turn round and return to her palace. Seeing this, the duke muttered “when it starts snowing the cows return to the valley floor”!
Unfortunately, the Via Ducale was never much used for its original purpose since much of it lies under snow and ice for a good four months of the year. It was a white elephant, in fact: white elephant twice over, since this was the same route that Hannibal had taken on his campaign to conquer Italy with his African elephants and, presumably, the elephants, when crossing in winter, would have been white – coated with snow!
This year was even more exceptional weather-wise – I spotted some snow still remaining in the gulleys of the Monte Rondinaio on my way up – so weird in these parts a week before midsummer!
The participants and visitors made the best of efforts to put on a brave face but the rain started to fall steadily after a forlorn and cloudy start to the day. It was a real pity as Pian d’albero is not an easy place to get to – the gravelly and muddy road is full of pot-holes and other impediments. The following pics show you some of the stalwart stall holders, an old-tyme bedroom, some ancient implements, a group singing local folk-songs, our dynamic new priest at Corsena, Don Rosi, who celebrated Mass and gave a special blessing to those involved in agricultural activities (that includes me with my flooded allotment!)
Here is a bit of the singing – it was literally in the rain….
I wish though, the day had been different, and that the sun had shined at least a teeny weeny bit! I got home on my scooter somewhat soaked but discovered that I had a Honey Roast in the deep freeze, courtesy of Sainsbury and the wife, so I made that into my Sunday lunch!
I first did the route in 2005 and managed to get across into ex-Modenese territory but it was a hard grind – the road is largely un-asphalted, in rather bad condition and full of fallen rocks, and pot-holes and ruts – even worse on the Emilia side. I only recommend those with all-terrain vehicles to attempt it – especially now that so much rain has fallen. Having said this, the Via Ducale remains one of the most spectacular routes in all Italy and is a must-do! I’ll dedicate a future post to it and talk about it at greater length. Below – a view from near the top.
There is an excellent book on the via Ducale written by a number of contributors and published by the Luccan press run by the brilliant Maria Pacini Fazzi if you want to read more about this remarkable engineering feat.