Davide Degano

2015 - 2021

Sclavanie is a body of work that tells the rediscovery of a geographical microcosm of a mountain area on the border between Italy and Slovenia, where part of my roots lie.

Sclavanie is a term that indicates the Slavic origins of the first populations who inhabited these territories. Today this word has completely changed its meaning, so much so that the Friulian language uses it to point out, in a derogatory way, the people who live mainly in the mountainous border areas and who have kept their Slavic roots still alive.

The linguistic structure of Friuli Venezia Giulia is very complex and unique, thanks to its geographical position that makes it a crossing point on the north-south, east-west European directions. Here, Latin, Slavic, and Germanic languages meet, a legacy of a past that has seen these populations live side by side. This particularity makes Friuli Venezia Giulia the only region in Europe where four official languages are still used within the same territory: Italian, Slovenian, Friulian, and German.

I explore, with an ethnographic gaze, the themes that most characterize this area, such as emigration and the depopulation of small villages. These phenomena have undermined the basis for the oral transmission and survival of memory and ancient traditions. It is a national trend that feeds the image of the mountain as a land of loneliness and fatigue.

I move through this research to the rediscovery of childhood places. Through an active, critical, and conscious re-examination of the "local", the common memory handed down to the inhabitants who resist among these places is investigated. This is a journey that then becomes an opportunity to reflect on the values of living and making a community, on their transformation, degradation, extinction but also rediscovery and flowering. What opportunities do these territories offer? What vocations do they respond to? How can they compete in the plots of metropolitan globalism?

The mountain village dimension not only as a nostalgic strategy of repositioning but a real chance of regeneration of mechanisms capable of guaranteeing employment and quality of life as in a few other contexts.

To slow down the demographic hemorrhage of a widespread and small settlement, and therefore the exodus of young people to urban areas, concrete alternatives are needed. In the Alpine arc, various studies document local regeneration practices and strategies, positive examples of "returning to the village".

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.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • These lands are known by Slavia Friulana, Benecia or Sclavanie, and are so named for the Slavic populations who settled in these territories (in particular mountainous) around the 7th-8th century AD. The term Slavia Friulana indicated all the Friulian territories with a Slovenian presence.
    Once it passed under the control of Venice, it was the Venetian authorities who called this border region Schiavonia, which means “Slavic land”. Today the word Sclavanie has completely changed its meaning. It is rarely used as a geographic term. Over the years, the expression “sclâfs” has been absorbed by the Friulian language to indicate, in a derogatory way, the people who lived in the mountains and who, unlike the people by the plains, had still kept their Slavic roots. Therefore, “sclâfs”, especially after the war, became a term of ethnic distinction, which claims an alleged Italian superiority over the Slavs.

  • The Krokolčič quarry was discovered in the Faedese area and it was used to obtain the material necessary for the construction of houses and tools. The stones were also used to stop the running water and create small artificial springs. They were used to water the animals and to be sure of always having water reserves. The stones served to build small walls to “isolate” part of the land. It was a necessary procedure to reclaim the land and to turn it into fertile fields. In this way, the farmers were also able to block the growth of the bush.

  • The quarries of the Grivò valley supplied the entire area with Piasentina stone (originally called Faedese Stone). Towards the beginning of the 1950s, a real school of stonemasons, known throughout the region, was born.
    Soon, the stone was used as a load-bearing element for the houses and to build working tools and furnishings

  • 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 during the summer a workshop where people from all over the world come to learn the techniques to better work the stone.

  • At the beginning of the 7th century, the Slavic tribes settled within the border of the Lombard Duchy of Forum Iulii. These lands were annexed to the Frankish Empire and later Christianized by the missionaries of Aquileia, one of the most important centers of the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Italy. From the 9th century, the region was first under the Duchy of Friuli and subsequently under the Patriarchate of Aquileia.
    In 1420 the Patriarchate of Aquileia was invaded by the Republic of Venice, which took control.
    The Venetian authorities granted the local Slovenians considerable autonomy. However, it was reciprocated by military tasks. They had to “provide” 200 men to control five border passes that led to the Isonzo and Judrio valleys. In 1797 these lands passed under Habsburg control. In 1805 the territory passed under Napoleonic rule. In 1866, at the end of the third war of independence and the plebiscite, they became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

  • Since the time of the Lombards, Slavic tribes had settled on the Faedese mountain belt. They mainly devoted themselves to sheep, goats, and cattle herding.
    Wool and cheese were the products they traded with the Friulians at the bottom of the valley, in exchange for wine, cereals, and salt.
    Until almost 1960, the mountain people lived in physical and cultural isolation, due to the lack of roads and connections with the plain.
    In 1930, with the increase in cattle, the population created a cooperative to transform milk and its derivatives. Thus was born the Social Dairy Turnaria. In the beginning, there was a daily production of 300 liters of milk per day, up to a maximum of 800. These dairies eventually closed due to mass production and consequent tax increase, which for such homemade productions were not sustainable.

  • Napoleon built the bridge as a strategic link between Austria, Italy, and Slovenia. This connection was fundamental from a military point of view as well as economic, for freight transport. Nowadays it is an attraction for tourists, especially Germans and Austrians, and a destination to cool off on hot summer days.

  • The religiosity of the mountain populations was very strong. Ceremonies and rituals were often held to thank or invoke the Lord's goodwill on crops, families, and life in general.
    The relationship with faith was immediate and direct, so much so that the priest acted as an intermediary figure with the sole task of celebrating the feasts and sacraments, as well as being a reference figure within the community itself. Despite strong religious faith, there is still a lot of superstition among the people. It was undoubtedly a legacy of ancient beliefs of the first Slavic populations who occupied these lands. They had not yet been converted to Christianity and worshiped the pagans. Among these pagan beliefs was the practice to burn the head of the animal used to feed the family. The smoke coming from the fire, according to the direction it was going toward, would indicate whether the year would be fortunate or not.

  • Ryan is Flavia's nephew (see picture below). During the year he lives by the plains where the family moved after the earthquake in 1976. During the summertime, Ryan spends most of the time in Canebola helping Flavia and Fabio in the various jobs in the bar and the fields. " I find the tranquility and freedom that is hardly found in other places. At the same time, I don't know if I'll ever live in these mountains".
    Among the traditions lost, is the payment of the age tax that occurred when one "passed" from child to young adult. In fact, at the age of 16, a moderate amount of money had to be paid to adults. You then acquired the right to go out in the evening after the sound of the bell that announced the Ave Maria.
    Those who did not pay this tax and were found going out in the evening were taken to one of the fountains and immersed in the icy water. The proceeds from the tax were used to pay the players for the dance and the wine placed in the square for the baptism of the newborns.

  • 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 are 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.

  • Smuggling was a widespread practice, particularly before and after the two World Wars. Some villages, such as Robedischis, which were first under Italian and then Slovenian control, are geographically much closer to Italy than to Slovenia. To avoid long journeys and the possibility of not returning once the border was closed, people illegally traded food. The borders were open until 6 pm. Regardless of the reasons for your delay, the officers would block you at the border until the following morning.

  • The Italian state supported this emigration phenomenon. Indeed, the top offices issued passports to the requesting countries. Switzerland, for example, had taken advantage of the opening of the borders to develop its industry, and agriculture sector. Italy from Switzerland received a contribution for each inhabitant. Belgium owes Italian emigrants the fact that their coal mines were reactivated. Italy received in exchange for each miner a quantity of coal per year.
    "You can work in Italy or abroad, now there is free choice."
    This was the slogan in the 1960s, in response to the emigration phenomenon. The reality of the facts was quite different. The waiting list for a safe job was months if not years. Many were never called back. For this reason, many have never returned. What they did after 1976 was only for job opportunities following the earthquake.
    ”But everything was concentrated in the plains, there was no plan for mountain people ..."

  • The earthquakes of 1976 struck about 120 municipalities in Udine and Pordenone, for a total population of 500.000. The deaths caused by the earthquake of May the 6th were 965, about 2.400 injured; while the homeless were 189.000. The rescue interventions were favored by a large part of the Italian army stationed in Friuli; NATO troops and some Austrian and German relief organizations also arrived promptly on the spot. The 1976 earthquake demolished 40% of the houses. The inhabitants destroyed the rest for fear of a possible collapse. In this way, after 1976 the country changed radically. 90% of the stone houses disappeared.
    In Canebola, where most of the stone houses were destroyed, technicians from the Autonomous Province of Trento arrived. In just three days, the projects were prepared that involved the installation of numerous tents and several prefabricated wooden buildings, which are still inhabited today.

  • At first, the families only spoke Slovenian, and upon reaching school age, kids found it very difficult to communicate in Italian with the teachers and learn the lessons. The teachers were also in difficulty. They had to confront a reality that was completely different from the plain. The priest thus acted as a link as he helped people learning Italian. After the Second World War, the question of defining borders opened up.
    The political-identity duality worsened. Those who considered themselves Slovenian nationality during the Cold War were identified as pro-Yugoslavs and Communists. Part of the local population, however, influenced by secret formations, defined themselves as Italian.