Lunigiana is inland from the
Ligurian coast -- a wild land with steep gorges and towering mountains that
ring a crescent-shaped valley. Though nominally Tuscany (that's what the map
says) the area actually has more in common with Liguria and Emilia Romagna both
linguistically and culturally.
The local people lived mostly through farming in
the valleys, growing hemp to make cloth and a variety of grains for bread. The
woods provided chestnuts, and everything else could be produced at home, from
butter to butter churns. Villafranca Lunigiana has a fascinating ethnographic
museum, which is located in an old mill that hugs the city walls. The first
hall has the scales, weights and measures used by merchants, folk medicine, votive
offerings, breviaries, and other mementos of the religious life of the past.
At Home: The next section is
devoted to domestic life, with the troughs and tools the farmers used to
process the chestnut crop, the spinning wheels and carding tools used to
process hemp (the women spun it so finely it resembled linen), their looms, and
examples of traditional clothing, some made entirely at home and some with
cloth bought from itinerant merchants. The patterned blocks used to dye the
finished cloth are especially interesting. Basket weaving was also an important
activity, undertaken mainly by the men during the winters, when it was to cold
or to wet to work the fields; there are examples of the baskets they wove for
use in the fields and of those they made to sell at fairs. There are also
cooking implements, butter churns and moulds, and all sorts of other things
including fish traps. While one would expect a fish trap to be plain and
functional (and it is), the amount of care taken in decorating the objects used
in the home, even the simplest, is simply astonishing.
Trades: There are exhibits devoted to the various trades. First the woodworkers, with a selection of their tools, and, much more interesting, the furniture the cabinet makers produced. There are tables, surprisingly elegant chairs, and a number of beautiful cradles, made from Faggio (a local wood) and died red with faggio sap to ward off the evil eye. They're painstakingly carved with geometric patterns, especially stylised daisies. The next room is dedicated to stone carvers, who produced all sorts of things, from troughs to lintels. Again, the daisy is a common decorative motif, and you'll receive a reminder of how frugal life was in the past from a stone capital which, being carved and shaped was valuable, and was therefore hollowed out to make a mortar when it was no longer needed at the top of a column. Smithing is next; most of what the smiths made was coarse, either shoes for horses and oxen or tools, but they did find time to make locks as well, and there's a charming wrought-iron cradle that must have been some family's happiest possession.
The Mill: Down below there is a room with channels set into the floor that were used to direct the
water to the mills until the 1950s. The room is now dedicated to me area's
wine-making traditions, with the shears used for picking, baskets, and
bottling equipment. The next
room is dedicated to the tools used to process wheat, and th en
there's the mill itself, with three millstones (for grain, corn and chestnuts)
that were turned when the water struck the paddles of the wheels in the
channels set under the floor. There are
also the tools the miller used to dress his stones.
There's also another hall which houses temporary exhibitions. It's an interesting museum , even more so as
you can still see many of the artifacts on show in use in the houses,
villages and fields around Lunigiana.
there, and other practicalities.
The easiest way to reach Villafranca
in Lunigiana is to take the La Spezia - Parma motorwav, exit at Aulla
(or Pontremoli if you're coming from
Parma), and continue parallel to the motorway on the Strada Statale
until you reach Villafranca. Once you get there, park by the town hall and
cross the footbridge towards the mediaeval
walls; the museum is at the end of the bridge. The museum is open daily
except Mondays 9-12 and 2-5 in the winter, 9-12 and 4-7 in the summer.