What was the source of the Rocca Priora chestnuts after the Little Ice Age of 1709? Why is Rocca Priora surrounded by the woodlands?
In November the chestnut woods come alive with people who are dedicated to the chestnut harvest. A moment engraved in the memory of all the family, and yet it all began in a specific year at a specific historical moment.
The reds, yellows and greens of chestnut woods, with their shades drawn in art from the sun that meets nature, they come from a precise strategic choice. The woods were born to save Rocca Priora from misery and neglect.
We are in January 1709, when an intense Siberian anticyclone reaches across Europe which was hit by a small ice age. In the few hours freezing temperatures froze wells, rivers, lakes and the white apocalypse destroyed olive trees, fruit trees and entire forests.
In Venice there was skating on the lagoon, Lake Garda, for the only time in history was crossed from one side by a chariot and horse, the ships were stuck in iced in ports of Genoa and Marseilles, the Queen in London provided for people to buy coal for heating.
Famine became real and broncho-pulmonary diseases due to frost turned into epidemics and starvation was caused by crop failure: the terrible winter caused over a million deaths in Europe.
Rocca Priora found itself in a dire situation: her “sacred groves” of beeches, oaks and hardwoods were completely exterminated. The weary population weary decided to leave the country: 1,000 inhabitants less in just one year!
What to do to restart the country? – besides the role of Rocca Priora that was critical to the life of Rome by supplying the ice needed for hospitals and for storage of food.
The ice industry, which was the economic engine of Rocca Priora, with the abandonment of the population lacked labor in the harvest period of snow. It was absolutely necessary to bring people into the town.
The Apostolic Camera, which controlled and administered Rocca Priora, decided to replace the dead trees with a single variety cultivation of chestnut trees and chose the most suitable type of tree, the one that gave the best fruit and was resistant to local temperature extremes. Today the Rocca Priora chestnuts are known and renowned.
After planting they gave in perpetual lease 1000 square meters of land to those who came back to the town setting in motion a new industry. The lease is a real right, now out of use, which was used during 1800s to enable farmers to lease land by giving them the opportunity to free themselves and become its owners.
This was a winning choice of man who used nature to revive the town and countryside and give it a new identity. The chestnut harvest in the months of October and November reached the 300 rubbie / year (approximately 600 tons) and the chestnut flour, so rich in vitamins and nutrients, has been one of the main foods of the peasants.
The chestnut groves of the Apostolic Chamber were controlled by a salaried guardian and, as for the transport of the snow, special laws preserved the woods. During collection it was barred from entering with horses and grazing animals to avoid damaging the Rocca Priora chestnuts.
From chestnut woods then another industry was born that made Rocca Priora very famous the last century: that of the coopers and carpenters. The high quality of Rocca Priora chestnut became known in Venice, where it was used in the the lagoon foundations of the palaces. Its durability and water resistance, guaranteed by the particular molecular structure that removes moisture and oxygen, making it perfect for underwater environments.
Whole train wagons laden with wood, then, reached Spain to be transformed into barrel staves. Also in this case the chestnut wood is ideal to contain fine Spanish tannin.
While waiting to get scientific answers on the DNA of our trees, let’s enjoy the fruits of the forest and undergrowth. We leave to the avid searchers the excitement of trying to discover the famous Rocca Priora mushrooms (especially porcini), mushrooms of the man-made forest.