Once upon a time, mountain areas such as ours were densely populated, not only in the bigger centres (Bedonia, for example), but also further afield, amongst the woods, along the rivers and hidden between the mountains themselves. Dozens of hamlets, each with their tiny school (often there would be one class with children of all ages in it), their own quaint little church, and possibly a bar/grocery store, selling the most elementary articles. Then progress came along, and whilst the elderly gradually passed away, the younger generations began to migrate towards the town, if not directly to the city. This phenomenom has resulted over the years, in the abandonment of many hamlets, which now stand derelict and sad in their total neglect. The once- sturdy, stone houses, crumbling and covered in climbing weeds, are testimony to so-called progress, which has swallowed in its path, a way of life which no longer exists.
A walk around our Valley, taking minor roads and tracks, can lead to many a ghost hamlet, in which one often has the sensation that the inhabitants just upped and left suddenly. Despite the silence of these places, it is not difficult to imagine the buzz of everyday life as the simple folk went about their chores, the sound of children playing, babies crying…
Our curiosity took us to BREVA, a typical example of abandonment. A fifteen minute drive from Bedonia, this tiny hamlet is now empty and falling to pieces. Breva, part of the municipality of Tarsogno, was once a little world in itself – it had everything its inhabitants needed; a school, a church, a tavern, a tobacconist (who, back in the day, was the only trader licensed to sell salt), a barbershop, a butcher, a baker and three other shops. Every house was full to the brim with families; parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and of course a brood of children! All under the same rooves, all taking on responsability in the education of the youngest, all united in their desire to pass down religious teachings and to pray together in their tiny place of worship. There were enough children and teenagers to form three classes, and the playground was a meeting point for noisy games and fights.
There was an abundance of cattle, led to and from the pastures accompanied by the chiming of church bells. And hay season was trasformed into fun and games for the kids, when the grown-ups would craftily get them to carry armfuls up hand-made, wooden ladders, and make them jump onto the haystack, in order to press it all down! The air would be filled with the perfume of hay….and of course dust! The many villagers would go peacefully about their business with not a thought of the outside world.
But all this belongs to the past. Progress has driven people to seek modern day facilities, tarmac roads on which to drive cars, running water, electricity, none of which had any place in an old-fashioned hamlet like Breva. Now shutters with peeling paint are closed and barely hanging on their hinges. Hand-carved doors are closed forever. Stones fallen from walls are piled into corners, and gaping holes stare from the houses which were once crammed with vitality. Weeds have overtaken all spaces, nooks and crannies…….only a very few homes come back to life during the summer months, when new-generation families, who refuse to give up on their heritage, spend some time here.
This “past” was not even so long ago, because many townspeople remember spending wonderful childhood holidays with their grandparents there (or in other similar hamlets), and some of the most elderly amongst us were born and brought up in these little havens. So we are talking about huge changes which have taken place in the last 4o odd years, since progress found its way up into our valleys and transformed our lives – not necessarily for the best.
These ghostly villages are dotted around all of our territory, some with the last inhabitants still holding on to their roots for dear life, but most totally empty and decaying. A sad reality, but then – progress doesn’t stop for anyone….