The Small village of Nesolio
Nesolio is a small suburb in the municipality of Erve at 695 m above the sea level.
This small village is a clear example of the traditional rural architecture in Val San Martino: the houses, the barns and the stables are scattered along the small alleys that converge in the small square (at the top). The building material of the village is local stone for the walls, cherry and chestnut wood for clothing, structure and roofing.
A manuscript of the XIX century from the Parish archive mentions the fact that the first human presence in Nesolio is thought to date back to the Franks, while some other studies that were carried out on the walls found proof that its oldest part can be traced back to the XIV century. That is the reason why Nesolio is believed to be the historic centre of Val D’Erve, connected to the ancient village of Torre through a mule track.
The residential area was surrounded by a complex system of plots of rural land. In the area of the valley the land is steeper and therefore it was used as meadow or more rarely for little kitchen-gardens. Near the top of the mountain, on the other hand, the land was less steep and was therefore used for terracing, grassed scarps and dry masonry. Nowadays Nesolio has to deal with abandonment and depopulation.
At the beginning of the XX century, only 170 souls were living in the few houses on the mountainside and by the mid ‘50s there were only seventeen resident families left. The dawn of the modern world was the end for Nesolio: now only Roberto and his wife Stella live there - the only guardians of this part of Val San Martino where we can still breathe and perceive how hard, frugal and Spartan the life of this rural population in the past was.
Every autumn, the ancient custom of drying and threshing chestnuts, the key element of the diet of the local inhabitants in the past, takes place in Nesolio.
It is a method that allowed the locals to stock food to survive the winter.
In the small suburb, there are still two traditional drying rooms that are being used every year to observe this custom: it is a tradition repeated every year to preserve the memory of the people for whom chestnuts were the main source of nourishment.
The drying rooms are actually a two-storey building: on the upper floor the chestnuts gathered in the woods around Nesolio (where also some centuries-old plants are to be found) are in position, while on the ground floor a fire is lit to slowly warm the chestnuts up without burning them.
For about three weeks, the fire is kept alive while the chestnuts are turned every day. Slowly the smoke dries them up and removes the moisture they contain.
At the end of the drying process, the chestnuts - now very hard - are ready for the “threshing” part that aims at removing their skin and shell.
The chestnuts - one bag at a time - are placed in a special container made from a chestnut log called “pila” and all around four people act as threshers, using specially made wooden sticks and starting "beating” the chestnuts in order to shell them. In turns, each one of them beats the chestnuts with rhythm and precision. It is not just about threshing the chestnuts, it is a dance, an ancient choreography that tells the story of the struggle, hunger and tenacity of the people who used to live in the vale. Finally, using a wicker sieve, the chestnuts are separated from the shells. Prepared in this way the chestnuts last for the whole winter and can be boiled or ground to make flour for baking or preparing polenta.
Every year, around mid-November, a group of people from Erve comes back to Nesolio to keep alive this ancient community custom that for centuries, year after year, announced the approaching of winter.
HOW TO GET HERE
You can reach Nesolio following the path from the town of Erve; once in via Butto, turn left and cross a small stream. After a little while, take the old mule track on the right.
Alternatively follow the agro silvo pastoral road from via Foppe.
FIND OUT MORE
- GALLANDRA M., Ambiente Val d'Erve. Il custode dei castagni, in "Orobie. Mensile di natura, culura e turismo", Bergamo, novembre 2007, pp. 72 sgg.
- BROGIOLO G.P., Rilievi, analisi stratigrafica del centro storico di Nesolio (Erve): relazione, Padova 2003.