Did you know that grapes of Sgurgola were among the delicacies of Munich? Can you imagine the German buyers fighting over baskets of grapes from Sgurgola?
This was Sgurgola before the intoxication by mass industries and multinationals: a fertile area that thanks to the railway station was exporting its products around the world. And its products were the finest grapes and oil.
First things first. First, close your eyes and take in a fertile valley of the Sacco producing grain for the mill of Sgurgola, the property of the feudal lords of Colonna and active since 1200, and all the hills and the slopes of the Lepini Mountains covered with vineyards and olive groves. The Colonna princes are those of the battle of Lepanto and here in Sgurgola they lived through the good and the bad weather for nearly 400 years while they were also the owners of the two Sgurgola bakeries.
At the end of feudalism came the unification of Italy, but above all, the railroad with the station. For Sgurgola, which had always been outside the road network and had lived for many centuries mainly concentrated on its own interests, the railway was the first on a major route of communication.
Suddenly its citizens were connected to the rest of the world and began to use the train for transportation of goods. And the products to be exported were mainly the beautiful and sweet wine grapes of Sgurgola. And the Sgurgolani did it with class and professionalism.
At that time there was a trade that has disappeared today, that of ‘ncestratrici’ (people who select the grapes for the export baskets). These were women who were going through the vineyards to select the best grapes, put them in baskets that they adorned and took them to the station from where they rode by train.
The baskets were all strictly made in Sgurgola, with reeds or wicker. This tradition still exists and probably could be reactivated with new designs. During the Grape Festival in September, you can see the work of craftsmen engaged in making these baskets. The baskets had a shape of a truncated rectangular pyramid and the inner side was covered with coated tissue paper while the edge where the holes had passed ribbons or lace. The train carried these baskets of grapes to Genoa from where they were sorted and sent to Munich, Warsaw and Madrid.
As was customary, during the harvest the women sang and had their music that told their story. One of these stories was music recovered by a popular music group that has recovered the Ciociarian traditions presenting them in new and engaging way. Hearing them is a thrill for both the familiarity of the music that is part of the history of our ancestors that says, because you cannot stand still you have to dance.
The Festival of Grapes in Sgurgola was created in the 20’s to promote local products and in a pagan way, celebrate the harvest. It had two interruptions due to World War II and the period of heavy industrialization of the valley that had depopulated the countryside.
For some years it has returned due to ‘popular demand’, as a way to rediscover the traditions and imagine a future with roots in the past. In Sgurgola they are replanting the vineyards, the famous ‘Sgurgola donut‘ has returned, they make baskets and sing songs of ‘ncestatrici.
And in the three days of celebration from Sptember 28 to 30, everyone can enter the world of Ciociarian traditions where, accompanied by accordions and bagpipes, poets and singers will compete with lewd ditties that are not open to interpretation.
If you are not Ciociarian you may not understand all the verses, but the looks of the people will be more expressive than words, and the fun is guaranteed.
Photo by Valentino Faraoni