The But Valley: Carnia at a Stone's Throw from Austria

The upper reaches of the river But valley constitute the northernmost section of Carnia. In this area there are several items of interest, some of which belong to the “Carnia Musei” network scheme. The main towns and villages here are Paluzza, Treppo Carnico, Cercivento and Timau.

The But valley River Trail

Along the nature trail that follows the upper But valley the glacial aspects of the landscape are evident. As one walks and observes, the causes for the natural damming of water become manifest, and it is apparent that the lakes that one encounters along the course of the river are fleeting elements in a landscape that was formed a long time ago. Different types of habitats can be discovered here in terms of riverside vegetation, including marshlands and riparian associations.

Geologically, one can observe typical Alpine streams that have eroded the surrounding lava rocks and karstic springs. Also, measurements and data confrontation allow to monitor the erosive capacity of water – on an historical level too – and to identify the exact location of the Paleo-lakes. The idea behind this extended trail is to create a ‘living’ project of education about the landscape, and to provide keys to facilitate its reading.

A visit to the “Farie di Checo” – a blacksmiths forge that was renovated with the aim of turning it into an educational facility – allows drawing comparisons between how water resources were used once as opposed to now, with the current activities being mainly the production of electricity and fish farming.

The “Farie di Checo” in Cercivento

Farie” is the name that was given – in the language of Friuli – to the blacksmiths forge. A “farie” was traditionally constituted by a simple building with a regular, plain architecture. It used to have a rectangular plan and a single floor, with thick stone walls. The roof had wooden beams and was covered in tiles. In the interior, a single room hosted all the machinery (bellows, anvil, and grindstone), together with the mechanisms to activate them, and all the other tools needed in order to work iron. In adjacent rooms one could see the working table, and a deposit for coal, while in the exterior one would often find a platform used for amassing the coal (the blacksmiths usually produced directly the charcoal they needed for their work).

The “Farie di Checo” in Cercivento is one of such buildings, and a workshop of very ancient origins: the first document witnessing its existence dates back to 1426. In 1966, after a massive flood that made the supply of water impossible, the “farie” definitely became obsolete. As the forge could not be used anymore, it was decided to donate it to the “Comunità Montana”, which looked after its restoration. In this way, today the “Farie di Checo” provides precious evidence of an old trade – of both historic and ethnographic interest – available for all to enjoy. As a note of curiosity, according to the local custom, the epithet “Checo” refers to the name of the last proprietor.

Today – as once – the mechanisms of the “farie” are activated by hydraulic power; that is, with water from the canal (‘roggia’) that runs just outside the building. The water – through sluices that are opened from the interior – falls directly above the driving wheels, thus giving movement to the driveshaft connected to the tools, still existing and in working order.

The Torre Moscarda in Paluzza

The Torre Moscarda is found in a locality known as “Enfretors” – a toponym that in the language of Friuli designates a place 'between the towers', and that bears testimony to the secular presence of this defensive structure and of its twin (which was situated on the opposite bank of the river and has been dismantled in 1836). This ancient tower was part of an important defensive system that also acted as a custom house, on a site that had been occupied by a fortification since Roman times.

The function of control of the custom house and of the tower is obvious, given its strategic location: the route to Passo Monte Croce Carnico has always been an important thoroughfare across the Alps, traced by the Patriarchs of Aquileia. For its position, the tower maintained its strategic relevance even during the relatively peaceful period of the Venetian domination.

Today, accurately restored, the Torre Moscarda has been converted into an exhibition space. At the base of the tower are a small Alpine botanical garden and an arboretum, where one can identify the main floral species of the area.

From the Torre Moscarda it is possible to take an excursion by foot along the connecting road that leads to the Church of San Daniele, which also dates to ancient times: it was erected on the sediment of a Prehistoric ‘castelliere’ (fortified site), which later became a Roman ‘castrum’ – thus demonstrating the continuity of use of this site as a defensive outpost.

Near the church, in the hamlet of Casteòns, it is possible to visit a blacksmiths’ village, with interesting specimens of local vernacular architecture, watermills, and other buildings dating to Pre-industrial times, also used originally as workshops.

The Gallery of Modern Art “Enrico de Cilia” in Treppo Carnico

Slightly off the main course of the But valley, from Paluzza one can reach the village of Treppo Carnico. Here, a Gallery of Modern Art was founded in 1975 and dedicated to Enrico de Cilia: when this painter and artist bequeathed part of his collection to his native town, it was only natural that the gallery that was created took his name.

De Cilia is to this day one of the main representatives in the field of figurative arts in Friuli during the second portion of the 1900s, and this museum constitutes a bequest of a group of his own paintings to his birthplace. Subsequently, the artist selected a variety of works from his private collection of paintings and graphic art of several other important regional artists – such as Davanzo, Someda, Arsella, Anzil, Pittino, Zigaina, Ciussi and Cernigoi – and donated them as well.

Europe-famous names such as Mario Sironi, Marino Marini and Eduard Pignon also found their place in the galleries, and document the most significant aspects of contemporary artistic debate and research.

Today the collection is enriched by more than 150 works, and is set up in a new location, thus forming one of the most significant gatherings of contemporary modern art in Friuli - boasting also a library of over 1,300 specialized publications, which constitutes a reference point of nationwide relevance.

Exhibitions, a well-supplied bookstore and an intense educational programme animate and complement the life of the museum, making it a vital hub of research for visitors staying in the area and art-lovers alike. These often come from further afield specifically to visit the gallery, or in order to take advantage of its multifold activities.

The “Museo Storico della Grande Guerra” in Timau

Moving towards the very head of the But valley one finally reaches the village of Timau – the last one before the ascent to Passo di Monte Croce Carnico begins. This is one of the most frequented Alpine passes since ancient times, and it leads into the Kärnten region of Austria.

In Timau, one can visit the “Museo Storico della Grande Guerra” (‘The Historical Museum of the Great War’). The materials displayed here were almost entirely collected in the surrounding mountains – especially on the Cresta Verde, Cellon, Pal Piccolo, Pal Grande and Freikofel – following the tragic events of WW1. In the museum it is possible to admire a great number of documents of foremost historical importance – as newspapers articles of the time and a rich photographic archive.

As well as weapons, letters and stamps dating to the time of the war, particularly moving is the evidence related to the “Portatrici Carniche”, ‘porter women’, who were part of the local population, and who – despite being almost invisible – carried out a vital role in the backstage of war activities. These courageous women were in charge of bringing foodstuffs and other provisions to the soldiers on the frontline, risking their lives to carry weighs of up to 40 kilos up the mountainsides to the trenches. A monument to their outstanding but inconspicuous efforts is in the main square in Timau. Also displayed in the museum is the beautiful “Madonna della Neve” (the ‘Madonna of the Snow’) – a captivating icon that used to be in the Chapel of the Alpine soldiers.

As well as material related to the war, in the museum are shown tools, costumes, and other objects illustrating the local traditions of Timau, which is also – in some ways like Sauris, albeit a lot less ‘atmospheric’ – a “linguistic island”, where a German patois is still spoken since the 12th century.

Part of the museum is also the historical trail that unfolds on the mountains above Timau, whose goal is to offer cues for reflection on the facts and events of WW1. In fact, many structures and buidlings related to the war (such as trenches, walkways, shelters, graffiti, bunkers) can be seen along the way – especially on Pal Piccolo and Freikofel – and were restored recently.

On the road to Passo di Monte Croce Carnico one also encounters the “Tempio Ossario”, hosting the remains of many unknown soldiers and of the most famous of the ‘portatrici’, Maria Plozner. The transformation of an ancient sanctuary that stood here into the Tempio Ossariowas realized some time after the end of the hostilities, in 1936/7.

Return from But Valley to Carnia

Return from But Valley to Italy-Tours-in-Nature

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