Memories, forgotten flavours and aromas about the time of the ‘Felix’ plain of Caserta. Objects speaking about fatigue, humanity and hard living but genuine.
This museum offers a journey through memory of our grandparents and great-grandparents. It is an opportunity to see things that we can’t give a name anymore, the same things that were necessary 70 or 100 years ago. Objects expertly made from wood, metal, pottery, hemp, cotton, wool, glass. Objects used, broken, lovingly repaired and restored to new life, since plastic didn’t exist and nothing could be thrown away. This is how you could see forgotten jobs: plowing, spilling wine, beating hemp – the same hemp that was related to the flavour and sweat of the territory of Caserta around Clanio for decades. Was there another river apart from Volturno? Of course. An old river, today ingloriously reduced to storm drain. During the itinerary there is a reference to the ancient culture of the vite maritata, admired by French, German and English travellers from 1700. Green architecture rare to see nowadays. A journey used to remember stories lost in time. This museum reconstructs spaces of daily life too: the only room used to eat, to sleep, to wash – little and badly – to prey, to born and finally to die. All in the Bourbon complex of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Real Boarding school built on the Appian way, the road that has always given the name and the identity to this town.
The museum was built on the local territories and was once used as the refectory of the Bourbon Convitto. At the origin of this institution it is important to remember a miraculous episode related to the Apparition of the Virgin happened in 1824 and reminded by Settembrini. The offerings of the faithful allowed the birth of the institution from the title of Carmelo and the buildings intended for it, as designed by Filippo Giuliani and Teodoro Paolotti, active since 1835 with the Sisters of Charity and on-site till 1974. The cholera epidemic of 1837 was the opportunity to build the first extended-care facility, turned into a Convitto for Military Orphans by decree of King Ferdinando II in 1850. The church of the Convitto was dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie in 1851. Actually, the further restoration – perhaps by Domenico Rossi – of a church existing at least from 1333 as possession of the Ordine dei Cavalieri Giovanniti (or from Malta) and under the title of San Giovanni. However, the works were supervised by the local parish of San Nicola, under the diocese of Caserta from the 15th century, and probably from the 16th century, it became the seat of the Confraternity di San Nicola. The interior is one of the best examples of Academic Neoclassical style of Caserta: it shows three canvas, including San Ferdinando, Santa Teresa and Madonna col Bambino (Gennaro Maldarelli, 1851).
The itinerary is divided into 8 thematic halls. The first is dedicated to the carpenter profession. The most uncommon objects are: the awl, used to engrave holes; the gimlet, used to pierce little holes for small depths; and last, the bent compass, used to report dimensions from one piece to another. Some accessories similar to the ripsaw are the loom big saw, used for precision cuts on trunks, and the two-handle saw with opposite grip, used perhaps to cut trees still with roots.
For green crops the gleve, the grappling hook – known also as “falcetto” – and the pitchfork – called also “cinquedenta” – were absolutely indispensable. To ensure workforce thanks to the twoing of cattle and sheep it was necessary to put on animals arched yokes and the bit between their nostrils, hook them to the the cart or to the apparatus through a ‘valanzola’ – so called because of its branches symmetrical shape. To aerate the soil, enabling a better exchange with water and encouraging its blending with residue resulting from the previous operations, ordered operations were following. The plough smashed the soil in large clods to be reversed. The wooden handmade model is one of the oldest; the shown one is hand drive, but animal-drawn thanks to the ring. There are no coulter, a spike used at the first break of the soil, and moldboard to reverse it, but only steel vomer, dated back to years before 1870-80, which would be used later to cut horizontally the soil. In the years just before ploughs became acquainted with the introduction of the front wheel, used to make the grip to the ground better, and they were fully made of metal as the exposed specimen. The Prussian could intervene for breaking the ground before starting the plowing. The harrow was the next step to split more the clods, followed by the mangle needed to pave and level the soil accurately.
The third room hosts a big crib, set up in 2003, according to the Neapolitan usage by reproducing typical clothes of local farming tradition. In the oppisite space there are three limestone terms from the 19th century, useful to define and assign the land ownership.
The following room shows the processing of hemp. The proximity to the Clanius favoured the development of this cultivation, flourishing in San Nicola La Strada and Marcianise until the half of 1970. After cutting hemp with a cleaver, then made i tinto a bunch called “mattola”, it was left to macerate in water. The following step was to let it dry in the sun, then transported to the farmhouses, mangled with the ‘macennula’ to crush its wooden core, waved in the air (or “scotoliata”) and then scraped by a steel spatula (or “spatulata”) to remove any wood waste, and finally turned it into a “rocchia” – fiber tied to a pole – to be brushed and spun.
To separate grain and beans the stems were beaten on the pavement of the courtyard with a “villo”. Here it is possible to admire harness saddles, cart’s wheels, bolts, pulleys (“trocciole”), and mallets.
The bell from 1627 with the relief image of the Saint is the only specimen survived in the church of San Nicola / San Giovanni. The gateway from 1717 mentioning the Confraternity was relocated in 1850 on the front of the private chapel of Di Stasio, given to the coven.
The next room exhibits three interesting elements. Two of them are related to the millennial cultivation in Campania of the aspen and elm vite maritata. Probably introduced by Etruscan, it was the marvellous landscape in Campania that caused wonder and amazement to all the travellers from Northern Europe. Alberate 10-12 metres high do still survive in some areas around Aversa. Grapes are at the base of Asprinio. Collection baskets called ‘fèscena’ and the long and narrow ladder known as “scalillo” di “vennegna”. The pre-unitary measure of grain and beans had as a unit the ‘tomolo’ – in 1840 equal to 55, 5451 dm3. The specimen of the “tummolo” exhibited has the engraved inscription “1831”.
In the room dedicated to machines and tools, some of them stand out, like a mechanical seed drill, a wine press (1900-1930), a steelyard – a weigher used in factories-, the “langioni”- enormous weighers with plates used at the markets, and a “vinnolo” – a binch used to lift water from wells.
The two following rooms are connected and exhibit objects, furnishings, linen and clothes in such a suggestive way that they evoke the bedroom and the living room of a farmhouse surely belonging to sharecroppers or little owners, since all thine elegance and pomp could have been considered as a lifetime achivement by farm workers.
text by Pietro Di Lorenzo / translated by Denise Kendall-Jones (2020)