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Larian chestnut groves

The giants of Vallassina

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Where is

Lombardia

Via S. Rocco, 8, 22039 Valbrona CO, Italia (0m s.l.m.)

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The kingdom of the great chestnut trees

Vallassina is the kingdom of large chestnut trees. Within its borders are gathered, in fact, almost all the monumental trees surveyed in the Larian peninsula. The municipality richest in giants is Valbrona followed closely by Barni, these trees are sometimes very old and constitute historical, territorial and agronomic evidence of the past.

Rezzago and the chestnut trees

Rezzago is the village that most recognizes itself in the chestnut forests: in fact, this relationship is sealed in the municipal coat of arms that shows the flourishing chestnut tree and, therefore, with explicit reference to fruit production. This very municipality is home to the Enco forest, undoubtedly the most admirable one in which to walk. It is an immense fruit-bearing park traversed by the Chestnut Trail, composed of very long-lived plants that, given their distant origins, have retained a special legislative status that would otherwise have been lost. This ancient planting right of Germanic origin allows villagers to own and, therefore, plant, process and enjoy the products of trees placed on public land. We read in municipal documents in 1984 to set an annual fee of Lire 200 for each tree on municipal land and to use these proceeds for planting or grafting new chestnut trees to replace those that had been cut or died. This form has made it possible to maintain and use this important collective heritage, once a valuable source of food and now a tourist and scenic attraction.

01-enco.jpgThe stone road among the chestnut trees in Enco

The chestnut trees

Walking from Valbrona to Barni on an easy path, one enters the land of the "castagnoni": relics of centuries-old forests. We start from Maisano di Valbrona to meet at the beginning the chestnut tree of the Madonna della Febbre of symbolic value: born near the Sanctuary of the same name, in the iconography of the 20th century dedicated to the Sanctuary the large tree is placed to represent nonexistent forests and equals the building for scenic presence and symbolic value. In particular it increases its importance after the mother plant was cut at the base and developed three stems from the single stump, becoming a symbol and memory of the valley. It is at the end we find the largest chestnut tree in Valassina: the Castanun de Buncava in Barni. The "giant" is already visible in the distance with its 32 m height. Age: 250 years old!

01-madonna-febbre.jpgChestnut tree of Our Lady of Fever

The importance of the chestnut tree over the centuries

Forests of "big trees," as chestnut trees are locally called, have been running through the Larian Triangle's reliefs for at least a millennium, have outlined its landscape and characterized its culture, economy and history. The chestnut tree is the most widely cultivated forest species in Italy because it has a dual production: wood and fruit. As early as Pliny the Elder, in the first century AD, extolled its important use for humans. It is, however, in the Middle Ages that its popularity explodes: the chestnut becomes "the bread tree" because of the high nutritional value and long shelf life of the fruit. The cultivation of the chestnut tree for food purposes continues until after World War II: in some places the forest provides, in addition to the production of the fruit, wood, fodder and litter, that is, a layer of dried leaves that serves as fodder and as bedding for livestock. In the mid-twentieth century the scenario changes and new economic and social arrangements spell the end of strenuous farming.

The significance of trees

In the recent past, the planting of a tree accompanied the highlights of human life: the birth of a child, the building or purchase of a house, marriage, the death of a loved one. Trees also served to mark a boundary, and to draw a line. In some municipalities, the tradition of planting trees for new births is sometimes revived. This is because today the symbolism associated with these plants has further evolved, going to represent local commitment to environmental protection. And indeed, what could be better than a beautiful tree-lined avenue or forest path?

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