Passions & Places

Rural Architecture





Rural architecture in the  valley

The beautiful countryside between the Musone and Esino valleys shows all its richness through a careful agricultural activity and a continuous sequence of rural houses scattered in the fields.

Rural houses are linked to each other and to the fields by a dense road network, which look like white ribbons in the green fields. Most of these houses are still used as farms, while other houses have been restored and have become prestigious places.

The birth of the “rural house” can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when following the decay of the Roman political and economic establishment, invasions and upheavals had disrupted all productive activities and farming in particular.

The rural population went to live to the villages, the so-called fortified “castra” or the hamlets surrounding the castles. People tried to protect themselves from pillaging, attacks and devastations. In the 7th century attacks decreased and the inhabitants started to reclaim land and to colonize the territory, farming practices also resumed.

Settlements were generally created in high areas, to ensure defense. The so-called “casa-torre (house-tower) was built within a “castrum” and acquired a new identity thanks to an outer staircase, a porch and a loggia, which were added to the original house to meet new housing needs.

The fortified hamlets still remained isolated from the countryside, yet the widespread desire for recovery led to the occupation of rural areas which were close to towns. The first rural buildings were built, and the rural landscape that had been dominated by the feudal castle finally changed. New types of rural houses were built.

The Renaissance had began, and the rural house had to have “…a large and bright kitchen, with an oven, a fireplace, a well and a sink. In addition to the kitchen another room must be there, to keep the bread case, the salted meat and lards. A large hut is also needed, where farmers can keep their carts, sledges, ploughs, hay containers and a dovecot…

  In the 19th century the building principles of a typical farmhouse became more precise “one side of it had to have a large kitchen with the fireplace in the middle and with bedrooms surrounding it, on the other side rooms ad warehouses were placed, to keep rural tools. Farming produce, granary, then the stables had to be located at the back of the house, with the porches to keep the carts…” The increase in rural population led to the creation of new rural areas on the hills and even on the mountains, and the share cropping system allowed for the intensive exploitation of land and mixed crops. The farmhouses were equipped with the necessary rooms to process agricultural produce, thus they had a cellar, a granary, a stable, a outhouse, a barn, a pigsty and a drying room.

  In the second half of the 20th century the agricultural activity grew and the economic situation improved, the farmhouses were equipped with modern services (such as electrical and sewer systems, water supply and sanitation).

The rural houses constitute a valuable heritage, in that they bear witness to the laborious life of the past. Their fascination is further increased by their being perfectly integrated in the environment.     

The typological variety ranges from the “italic type” to the “house on a slope” and the “tower” house.

The rural house of “italic type” is a two-storey brickwork building, with a rectangular plant and a two-slope roof. In addition it has an outer staircase and an interior staircase, allowing for the use of the granary. The lodge is incorporated to the house and has a stable, below the bedrooms, and the outhouse. The other rooms are on the side of the house. It is usually not whitewashed and the roof is covered with bent tiles, so that rain water can be collected and then diverted to a reservoir. This is the most common type of house for a settlement on the hills or on the plain.

In the “house on a slope” the ground floor is used as a cellar, outhouse or stable, on the front side the house has a kitchen and bedrooms. The staircase is located indoor. The location of the lodge and the dwelling storey on different levels is due to morphologic needs. This house generally has two entrances, one for the lodge and one for the house. This type of house has a barn, a stable or a sheepcot on one side. The outhouse is narrowed, because it no longer has to host the huge cart, but a smaller sledge. The building techniques are now poorer and the houses are enlarged and enriched with embellishments, giving rise to asymmetrical and complex shapes.

The most ancient type of rural house is the “house-tower”, or “dovecot”, which is composed by the owner’s house and a lodge. The tower “absorbed” in the new structures has a roof with 3 or 4 slopes and the storeys are connected to a single room by an inner staircase.

The building materials for rural houses may vary and are generally linked to the areas where houses are built. In case of houses located on high hills, these are built using the stone that is normally utilized to built architraves, arches and pillars. Brickwork is typical of houses built in clayey or flat areas, where stone was difficult to find and clay was used instead. Clay was fired and then became a suitable material for rural architecture. Rural houses built using mixed materials are also common (brick and stone).

  In the 19th century rural houses in the Esino valley also hosted a complementary activity to farming, namely silk breeding, which processed products to be sold. A particular type of house was created, which had an inner staircase and in which the kitchen and the bedrooms were located above the lodge. A large and airy room, equipped with stoves and fireplaces, was located in the elevation of the house, and was used to keep the silkworms.

  © 2001 Liberation Ventures Ltd.

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