by Ludovica Schiaroli
Interview to the agronomist Paola Caffa, member of the planning team in charge of the interventions in the pilot area. The aim is to find out what emerged in the sections after the cleaning works.
We meet Paola Caffa, agronomist and member of the planning team, on the day of the inspection of the intervention area, after the cleaning works of the infesting vegetation were carried out and the walls emerged. It is therefore possible to quantify the works to be done to recover the area and to cultivate the terraces. Together with Paola Caffa, also the engineer Alessio Currarino and the geologist Roberto De Franchi are part of the working group.
Walking off the beaten path although the gaze runs to the sea, we keep our eyes on the uneven ground because even if the terraces have been cleaned up, it is not easy to reach them. “The interventions in the first two lots started at the end of December and finished in mid-February – says Caffa – it was a complex work because the whole area was covered by a very thick vegetation, mainly Mediterranean scrub. Today, we finally can begin to quantify the next steps which include the supply of stones, the transport, the reconstruction of the masonry and the drainage works”.
Every step reminds us of the hard work of those who stone by stone built these walls. For centuries these terraces constituted the livelihood of entire families and today, thanks to the Stonewalls4life project, they are reemerging after years of neglect.
A third of the walls are to be rebuilt
After the cleaning work, what emerged is the picture of years of neglect: the infesting vegetation penetrated indeed even between the stones breaking through or deforming wall faces. “The collapsed walls are actually not that many. A rough estimate tells us that about thirty percent of walls are to be rebuilt; however, if we find a wall deteriorated in several parts, ultimately it is better to demolish it and rebuild it from scratch,” continues Paola Caffa while explaining that where the slope is higher, there are the worst preserved walls and often these are the areas abandoned for the longest time. The companies that carried out the cleaning work had to face some unexpected events: for example, it often happened that the vegetation hid old iron structures that were used for the cultivation of vines.
The agronomist Paola Caffa pointed out that the old pergola training system is certainly beautiful and respectful of tradition, but nowadays it is no longer “physically sustainable”. “And I mean physically – confirms Paola – formerly the pergola followed the mountain’s course, and the works were carried out also on the knees. Of course, from a landscape point of view, it was better than today’s system of rows of vines: the mountain was all green… but this was because every inch of land had to be used. Thankfully, today this is no longer the case.
Combining tradition and modernity
Now that the sections are free from vegetation, measurements will begin to quantify exactly how many walls have to be rebuilt, how many stones can be recovered and how many have to be bought. “Formerly the walls were built with local stone – says Paola Caffa – where we can, we will reuse the old stones that are still in good shape, but unfortunately, they are often damaged, baked by the sun and unusable. We will buy the new stones in quarries between Liguria and Emilia Romagna. It is important to respect the chromaticism of the stone on site.” Often the old stones are used in the backside of the wall as drainage. To date, it is still difficult to quantify how many stones it will take, while in all likelihood they will be brought on site with a helicopter. “When you find yourself in such extreme contexts, the helicopter is the right solution – explains Paola – already in the quarry, the stones are placed in large white bags with handles that will then be left in a place accessible to the helicopter that will then take the to the base of the wall to be rebuilt.” Each flight the helicopter carries between 8 and 10 quintals, otherwise it would be necessary to use the racks that carry four or five stones at a time, involving at least three men, and then it is necessary to reach the section, usually in an inaccessible area, with a wheelbarrow. Eventually, the helicopter is the best solution, also financially.
The works proceed simultaneously
While today the working group is quantifying the walls to be rebuilt, the Manarola Foundation goes on with the search for the owners of the next lot, and the researchers of the University of Genoa are studying how to realize the measuring stations. The works are thus proceeding simultaneously, with different phases and times.
When the walls are recovered, the work of cultivating the soil will begin. Paola Caffa explains that the ultimate goal is to preserve the classic historical landscape of this area “with vineyards, above all, fruit trees (citrus) and aromatic herbs”.