We went to Riardo for a sagra one rainy evening earlier this month, hoping that the forecast was correct and the rain would stop. It did, and the clouds even dissipated just before the sagra began, allowing the late evening sun to bathe the medieval borgo in golden light until it set, twenty minutes later, behind a mountain across the valley.
There was nothing very interesting about the food that was served; what made the sagra special was its setting in the medieval borgo, at the foot of Riardo’s ruined castle, the oldest parts of which are thought to date from the ninth century. The structure, which is now inaccessible, was stabilized a few decades ago with wood and metal ties that were meant to be temporary. More significant restoration work has yet to be undertaken, but the current mayor has made a request for funds for the project.
We arrived early so that I’d have some time to explore the borgo. With grey skies as the backdrop, the photos I took while I wandered there make the place seem dreary, though in reality, it wasn’t at all.
The borgo is small, and like that of nearby Vairano Patenora, only partially inhabited. The diagonal wooden beams jutting out into the street in the photo above are part of a large framework supporting a structurally unsound abandoned house. The work done to shore up the walls, extending more than halfway into a street that’s still in use, made me reflect on what the commitment to living with the past implicit in the Italian approach to the conservation of historical architecture means to people who live in places where there is not enough money to restore or even stabilize structures in a meaningful way.
It’s something I think about often as I look out my kitchen window at a pile of debris no one can do anything about because it is too old to just cart off, and there are no funds to do anything else. The weight of the past isn’t quite so heavy for those who live where history is orderly and maintained, and even offered as a product for tourists to consume. That may sound bitter, so I will confess that it’s always the crumbling places like Riardo, where the passage of time is visible in every piece of rubble that falls to the ground, that make me think that I never want to leave Italy, and not the towns that have primped and preened themselves into a caricature of history.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel the weight of it all, just that I have come to prefer the reality of it to the fiction of its alternative.
I found this to be a rather picturesque example of carrying on with life in the midst of ruins, (the laundry, plastic shopping bags, and bathtub being used for storage, notwithstanding.)
This scene struck me because of the accretive quality of what’s in it: the moss and plants on the old stone steps and walls, traces of paint on the façade and window jamb at the left, the rusted walkway above, closed-up with glass panes at a time in the past when it was still permissible to do something so modern, and three different street lamps, only of one which works, fittingly, the one whose style pretends to be the oldest, but is in reality the most recent.
Riardo is located in the Alto Casertano, on the northern slope of the Monti Trebulani. It was famous among the ancients for its mineral waters, which Ferrarelle now bottles in the town. (Indeed, the bottled water at the sagra was free of charge, provided by the plant.) In addition to the castle and the medieval borgo, there is the sanctuary of the Madonna della Stella, which conserves a chapel with medieval frescoes, the earliest of which date to the eleventh century, and the small church of San Leonardo, also with medieval frescoes, and an interesting portal in its simple façade. Both of these churches were closed by the time we arrived, but I hope to see them on a future visit to the town.