Davide Degano

2017 - 2021

I remember how my grandfather, Giuseppe, used to share stories about his youth and how, when caught by the German troops during the II World War, he managed to escape and walked back home from Germany. I can still feel, through the echo of his words, the strong sense of belonging and the happiness to see again those mountains from far.

In this project, I re-discover parts of my cultural heritage, portraying the different facets of the life of mountain villages in between the Italian and Slovenian borders. What I found was a community of survivors, a community of emigrants that imposed a self-exile after the World Wars and the earthquake that tremendously hit the region twice in 1976, to chase that “progress” promised by the upcoming industrialized cities.

Sclavanie is an examination of the importance of local through common memory, and how modern society neutralizes it in the name of globalization. It is a universal story. It is a story of power, who has it and decides how development should look like, and who do not have it, and never will.

The resilient obstinacy of the mountain people is fearless against all odds but the new economies did not see sources of income from these territories. Thus begun and grew the Ghost Towns phenomena and the image of the mountain as a difficult place, impossible to live in the modern age, unless you are looking for solitude and isolation. This project wants to introduce a body of work about the violent alteration of the landscape and the huge cultural void that is threatening to leave. It wants to open a dialogue between past and present in order to shake the assumptions that memories bring nostalgia not progress.

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  • Village Prosenicco
    Since the time of the Lombards, the Slavic tribes had settled on the Faedese mountain belt. They were mainly dedicated to the breeding of sheep, goats, and cattle. Wool and cheese were the products they traded with the Friulians of the valley floor, in exchange for wine, cereals, and salt.

  • Giuliano
    “Down in Faedis they despised you. It was like when I went to Belgium. In the beginning, the Flemings were against the Italians. They said we stole jobs. But it wasn't true. We wanted to do any job just to make money. And we also wanted to work long hours. We got used to it. So it seemed like we wanted to take something away .. but we were in the mine ... No Belgian wanted to work there .. “

  • Borders
    One of the first maps of the territory. It dates back to 1700, before the invasion of the Napoleonic empire. At first, the families only spoke Slovenian and, once they reached school age, people found it very difficult to communicate in Italian with the teachers and learn the lessons. At the same time, the teachers were also in difficulty, forced to confront a completely different reality from the plain. The priest then acted as a liaison as he helped people speak more correct Italian, teaching songs and prayers in Italian. For those wishing to continue their studies after primary school, the difficulties were enormous. There were still no roads and all the families were in precarious economic conditions. As a result, most people started working with their families once they finished elementary school.
    In these mountain villages, the Slovenian dialect Po Nasem is spoken. The dialect originates in the Italian city of Lusevera.

  • Igor, one of the 7 inhabitants of Robedisches, the first village after the Slovenian border. He is the owner of the only Agriturismo known locally for his goat cheese. “This village was under Italy until Tito took power. We wanted to be Slovenian. Many of them changed their minds because they didn't like Tito's politics at all, so they left. I was and still am happy with the decision we made. “

  • Piasentina stone
    The quarries of the Grivò valley supplied the entire Piasentina stone area. Towards the beginning of the 1950s, a real school of stonemasons was born, known throughout the region.
    Soon the stone was used not only as a supporting element of the houses but also to build work tools and furnishings.
    The stones were also used to stop running water and create small artificial springs, used to water the animals, and to be sure of always having water reserves. It was a necessary procedure to reclaim the land and turn it into fertile fields. In this way, the farmers were also able to stop the growth of the bush.

  • Towards the beginning of the 1950s, a real school of stonemasons was born, known throughout the region.

  • The Napoleon bridge was of fundamental importance as it connected Italy to Slovenia, but also allowed to reach neighboring Austria by land. This trait was not only very strategic for battles, but also from an economic point of view. Now it has become a meeting place for young locals (but also tourists) during hot summer days

  • Dino is the last stonemason left in the region. “I emigrated to Switzerland, but it was a disaster for me. What I earned was spent, you know we were not used to "buying" food, plus there were many distractions. Things you couldn't even dream of here. I returned after a few years. I missed the mountains.” He holds every summer a workshop where people from all over the world come to learn the techniques to better work the stone.

  • The Sanctuary of Castelmonte is very ancient: the oldest of the Friuli and one of the first of all the Christianity. The origins go back approximately to 1500 years ago. An old tradition place it back to the V century, immediately after the Efeso's Concilium in 431, when the Divine Maternity of Maria become official.

  • The religiosity of the mountain populations was very strong. Ceremonies or rituals were often held to thank or invoke the Lord's benevolence on crops, families, and life in general. The relationship with the faith was immediate and direct, so much so that the priest served as an intermediary figure who had the task of celebrating the holidays and the sacraments.Despite strong religious faith, there was still a lot of superstition among the people. This was undoubtedly a legacy of ancient beliefs when the first Slavic peoples who occupied these lands had not yet been converted to Christianity and worshiped the pagans.

  • Letters from Argentina
    "You can work in Italy or abroad, now there is freedom of choice". This was the slogan of the 1960s, in response to the great phenomenon of emigration. The reality was completely different. The waiting list for a secure job was months if not years. Many have never been called back. This is why many have never returned. What they did after 1976 was just for job opportunities after the earthquake. But everything was concentrated on the plain, there was no plan for the mountaineers ... "
    This phenomenon of emigration had been supported by the Italian state itself. In fact, passports were issued to requesting countries. Switzerland, for example, had taken advantage of the opening of its borders to develop its industry. Italy from Switzerland received a contribution for each inhabitant. Belgium owes Italian emigrants the fact that their coal mines have been reactivated. Italy received in exchange for each miner a quantity of coal per year.

  • Flavia manages the bar "da Flavia" in Canebola. This is the only bar left, open every day, in all the mountain villages of this area. The difficulties are not lacking as the costs are always higher, and the revenues always lower. The "bar" has always been a meeting point for the community. It was the place to meet after a long day of work, where to celebrate Sunday, where to watch football games or formula1 races on the TV, but above all a place where residents could vent all their torments and tensions.

  • Although the Communist Party is celebrated every summer in August, in many houses you can still find "memories" of the Duce. The posters are often those used by Mussolini during his propaganda campaign that glorified peasant life

  • To the north of the mountain villages there were pastures and woods that extended to the border with Slovenia.Today this valley hosts the Communist party, a traditional appointment for all the inhabitants of these villages, where the older generations remember the heroic deeds of the partisans against the fascist troops and the consequent liberation of the territory.This party, in fact, was born from a group of Communist partisans who are part of the Garibaldi partisan formation of Faedis. It was in the Farcadizze that the first Garibaldian partisan formations of the municipality were formed. It is said that these friends, even after the war, continued to cross among these mountains and that one of them, before dying, left written the will that future generations continue this tradition.
    We are not sure if this story is true or not, but from that moment on, the Communist Party's celebration took place every year, with the whole mountain community gathering for it.

  • Fabio Topatigh and Mickaelly Dos Santos, with their children Christian and Hellen. The two are the last children born in these mountainous areas. Unfortunately, the relationship between Fabio and Mickaelly is over. “It was very difficult for me to live in this mountain village. Fabio used the car most of the time because he needed it to go to work. And I was always alone with the children. I felt like I was in prison, it wasn't my idea of “Italy”.

  • he 1976 earthquake demolished 40% of the houses. The rest was demolished by the inhabitants for fear of a possible collapse. In this way, after 1976 the country changed radically. 90% of the stone houses disappeared.

  • Despite strong religious faith, there was still a lot of superstition among the people. This was undoubtedly a legacy of ancient beliefs when the first Slavic peoples who occupied these lands had not yet been converted to Christianity and worshiped the pagans. In the collective consciousness, there were places where the legend wanted terrifying apparitions to have occurred.
    The elders told us about this cave called Prezuanaua Jama, near the Clap falls. It was said that an unidentified man lived there, whom no one had ever seen, but who instilled terror. Night birds of prey, such as owls and owls, were believed to be bearers of misfortune. Another pagan ritual rooted in Friulian culture is the Pignarul. This is the oldest pagan rite. The rite is said to be connected with the worship of the Celtic god Belanu, the divinity of light.

    Carnival (Pust) has always been a recurrence of pagan origin, a rite that symbolizes the arrival of the new year, the passage from the cold of winter to the blossoming of spring, and which served to exhort and enhance the "awakening" of the earth. This is a ritual based on contrasts and antitheses: beautiful-ugly, good-bad, old-new etc… The carnival is called by the locals using the Slovenian word Pust, which means joke. The word Pust also represents the main mask of the carnival, which is present in all the parades.
    Pustje, Pustic, Pustici, are terms that indicate the colorful masks that are seen parading in these villages during the carnival period. These are masks covered with fringes of all colours, under which there are cowbells, which have the task of awakening the mountain from the winter silence with their noise. Every small mountain village has its distinctive mask.