The tour of Spannocchia

Monday, 16 ottobre 2006

After breakfast, the class went on a historical tour with Randall Stratton, one of the owners of Spannocchia. He explained about the mezzadria system that the farm (and many others like it) operated under for hundreds of years. Under that system, sharecroppers lived and worked on the land for one half of the harvest, and the owner received the other half. When the Green Revolution came to Italy in the 1960s, what took decades in the United States to accomplish happened very swiftly in Italy – the dismantlement of the mezzadria system sent small farmers, tenants, and their children to the cities to find jobs, while large farmers shifted their efforts to the valleys where the arable land was easier to cultivate for cash crops. The Cinelli family had to find a way to continue or sell. They sold part of the estate, and designated part of the estate as a bioreserve.

From the introduction to La Cucina di Spannochia, their self-published cookbook:

In the midst of the wooded hills to the south of the medieval city of Siena in Tuscany, lies the agricultural estate of Spannocchia. Home to the Cinelli family for the last 80 years and the Spannocchi family for the preceding 800 years or more, the estate now offers, in its role as educational and research center for the Spannocchia Foundation, an unusual combination of cultural activity, traditional farming and culinary activity based on a history of many centuries. Visitors to Spannocchia have an opportunity to learn how different life can be when it is so closely tied to the land and the flow of the changing seasons.

Spannocchia enjoys the products of large vegetable gardens, olive groves, two vineyards, fruit orchards, chestnut and walnut trees, fields of wheat, barley, and farro, and the raising of heritage breeds of pigs, sheep, and beef cattle. The woods and fields of the estate further provide a wide variety of wild edibles, including fruits, nuts, berries, mushrooms, and even truffles. There is something wonderful about deciding what to have for dinner by what is ready in the garden, or has just been gathered in the woods.

The joy of living off the land is very much a part of everyday life at Spannocchia.

(Sigh. When can I go back?)

Anyway, when Randall was not being upstaged by one of the farm dogs, who rolled in the gravel courtyard and grunted loudly every time he spoke, he told us about the architectural history of the estate. The tower was the first building, built in the early 1200s, and it was added on to over and over up until the 1930s, at which point the appearance of the place was frozen in time. They have made lots of infrastructural changes at great expense, such as wiring, plumbing, heating, and ecological and energy efficiency improvements.

You can read more about the history of Spannocchia at the Spannochia Foundation site.

Randall took us through the building, through the cozy library, and through the largely unused little chapel. He told us family stories and local legends, such as a miracle spring that San Bernardino created, and the little stone angel that flew to the top of the chapel. Then we went up, up, up to the top of the tower, where the views were amazing.

to be continued…

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