ECOLOGICAL TOURISM. La Calce di San Giovanni
A circular trekking route amid the Fossato Hills, touching on interesting historical-cultural sites and providing amazing views.
Fossato Ionico was a municipality between 1805 (by Napoleonic edict) and 1890. It was known either as Fossato di Calabria or Montebello, until a Royal Decree, issued under Umberto I on the 7th. April 1890, in response to a formal request by the administrators of the Town Council, changed the name from Fossato di Calabria Ultra into Montebello. It is located in a valley amid the southern foothills of the Aspromonte massif, at a height ranging from between 600 and 650 metres above sea level. The distance from Reggio Calabria is 41 kilometres.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide documentary records of the origins of Fossato as a settlement. The first official documents that mention the village are excise records from 1740 known as “catasto onciario”, a census of assets (based on the oncia , ounce, worth 3 carlini) introduced into the Kingdom of Naples by Charles of Bourbon, and based on the family as contributory unit. These documents are an important source when trying to reconstruct the history of the populations and places of southern Italy. From research by Domenico Sclapari into the data concerning the census, it appears that already in the seventeenth century several family units (hearths) had settled in Fossato, most of them engaged in sheep and goat farming as well as in rearing silk worms. The same historical source tells us that the cultivation of vines and mulberries was intense and that the large landowners employed farmers who owned their own herds, as stewards. Later on, the historical documents became more numerous and provided more information. Over the years, the increase in the population made it necessary to create the village’s the first parish, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel. It was decreed in 1772 with a bull issued by His Excellency Archbishop Monsignor Capobianco on the 29th of November, 1772. Until that year, its dittereale (from deuteros, second) church belonged to the parish of San Leonardo di Montebello.
Meeting point: Piazza Municipio, Fossato Ionico. The excursion begins with a visit of the centre, lasting 45 minutes at most.
The trek begins. Having crossed the centre of the hamlet, the trekkers head in the direction of the “Livitu” locality, along the road flanked by the Rahale Torrent. At the bridge where the road links the village to the cemetery, we leave the tarmacked road for a dirt pathway on the left bank of the torrent. The path continues up a slight slope and near the second weir at Capani (where, a few years ago, a human fossil from an unknown era came to light during ploughing), we see, to the right, the ruins of an old carcara [quicklime kiln] where, up until the 1950’s, limestone carried downstream by the torrent during flooding was collected by the carcaroti [limestone burners].
Petra caggina is a porous, yellowish rock, with no particular shape. In the past, as soon as the bad weather ended, entire families used to be engaged on the banks of the river collecting and stacking them in piles that were then carried by donkeys to the nearby carcare. These stones, mixed with at least one hundred bundles of broom and stubble of all kinds, were packed, top to bottom, into the combustion cell, the easiest way to fill the kiln.
Certainly, those who performed this task had to be experts. It took several days to fill the kiln (carricari a carcara), then all was set on fire, starting from the bottom. In summer and winter alike, the purplish smoke and the acrid smell of burnt stone filled valleys for days on end. When the stone was baked, and only lime pebbles of various sizes remained, it was time to unload the quicklime, spundacari in dialect. The evening before this operation took place, bbandiaturi, (town criers) informed potential buyers that the kiln belonging to this or that owner was being unloaded. Those who wished to purchase the lime turned up with all the means used at the time to carry it: donkeys, mules, labouring women, fitted out with special panniers called cufinedhi i lajnu made from woven wicker and reeds. The prime quality lime came in stones which, though baked, had remained whole, the second in smaller pieces of stone, third in almost gritty sediment.
Some people, to ensure procuring the “prime quality lime” used for plastering, arrived well before dawn. When each buyer had transported his share of the lime home, he needed to dig a pit in the ground, about 3 metres long by 2 metres wide and at least 1 metre deep (depending on the amount of lime he had bought.) On the edge of the pit he built a tub, a quadrangle made of planks, one side of which was narrower and contained a moving flap. This tank was filled with quicklime; then slowly and carefully, water was added to it in increasingly greater quantities. Upon contact with the water, the stone began to hiss and bubble at once, then, it turned into a yellow-whitish, rather slimy paste, which, when it sunk to the bottom, had to be stirred continuously with a long-handled shovel so as to absorb all the water. The contact between the water and the stone (hydration of the lime) gave off dangerous hot vapours, so that it was important to pay great attention to avoid being burnt or breathing in the vapours; for this reason the mouth and nose were always covered with a wet cloth. At the end of this procedure, the movable flap on the smaller side of the trough resting against the edge of the pit was lifted and the liquid allowed to flow out. Once the water had evaporated, the lime thickened to become “slaked lime “.
It seems that these wise, industrious people never had any health problems caused by slaking lime, except some minor burns to arms and legs due to excessive closeness to the trough when the water and petra caggina reacted.
The trek continues northward along the left bank of the Rahale and the trekkers ascend through a series of hairpin bends to reach the floor of a vast terrace free of tall vegetation where one can see the remains of an old aria, a haggart, where corn was once threshed. Having crossed it, one arrives at the road leading to the Taglio di Martino, standing on the watershed in the locality called Paludi (Marshes). The view stretches as far as the marina on the S. Elia Torrent and the Tucci valley with its backdrop of Fossato’s rich olive groves.
We reach the “Crivini” locality, a sandy place, rich in deposits of fossil shells and limestone peaks. The trail leading up from the Rahale Torrente is extremely winding, twisty and steep.
An old saying used in Fossato to define a person who reasons in a contorted way goes, Mi pari chi ssì drittu comu a ‘nchianata i Crivini, I think you’re as straight as the Crivini slope.
Slightly downhill, in the direction of the San Giovanni plateau, overlooking the Mulino hamlet, the ruins of a church and adjoining monastery give an idea of a grandeur that has vanished over the years. The central nave of the church was about 20 metres long and 10 wide, and the adjoining monastery could house about twenty Basilian monks. The apse faced east, as the Byzantine tradition and the faith required. It was from the east, in fact, that Christianity was brought to the west by the disciples of Jesus Christ.
The earthquakes of 1683 and 1783 as well as the continuous removal of stones on the part of local farmers to build dry walls (armacere) destroyed the buildings completely. Now only a corner of the main wall on the south / west side of the church can be seen.
Leaving the San Giovanni plateau, we proceed northward. After a climb of about one kilometre we reach the nursery with a vast selection of tall plants that will serve to reforest our mountains.
In the immediate post-war period the Consorzio di Bonifica [Reclaim Consortium] was set up, and gave the economy of Fossato a great boost. The commitment of local and national politicians – of all parties to tell the truth – and the efforts of Father Angelo Meduri, the young parish priest who used his links with the Roman Curia – helped get the Consortium set up in Fossato. In its heyday (1950/1960) about 180 people from Fossato were given both seasonal and permanent jobs thanks to it. This improvement in their economic conditions allowed many families to become more comfortably off because U lavuru ‘nda Bonifica [lit. The work in the Reclaim] permitted many young people to continue their studies.
Refreshment and lunch at the nursery care of the Fossatesi nel Mondo [Fossatesi in the world] Association, followed by an exhibition and sale of local products and a performance of music and folk songs.
Presidente: Mimmo Pellicanò cell. 328.4295358
Vice presidente: Fabio Macheda cell. 320.6926592