Castelluccio di Norcia after the Earthquake

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This is a long story. It began almost 30 years ago, when I listened to my father’s tales about his roadtrips. He was a salesman and he used to travel around and about the whole peninsula by car to reach his clients. I was fascinated by his stories. One of them involved Castelluccio di Norcia. He told me about this little village, perched on a hill, overlooking a huge upland surrounded by mountains.

La fioritura di Castelluccio

During the blooming season (approximately May, 20 – July, 10), the plateau (called piana) became an immense tapestry made of red, yellow and purple flowers. He told me it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen in his life. Red of poppies, blue of cornflowers, light blue of lentils. Castelluccio is in fact renowned for its lenticchie.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Piana di Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

I finally see the Piana

Years after, I think it was 2009, I managed to reach the piana di Castelluccio. It was the beginning of May, still too cold for the blooming, la fioritura. Castelluccio di Norcia’s elevation is about 1400 meters.

La piana was breathtaking: immense, surreal, moving. The mountain peaks were still covered with snow. Matteo and I had to wear pile sweaters (we always have them in our car trunk… you never know). Horses were grazing grass. And, on a side of the slope, a tiny Italy made of trees. Perched on a hill, the little Castelluccio.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

I could imagine the plateau covered in colorful flowers. And I could smell their perfume. Since then, I have been wishing to go back during the blooming season. I can honestly say that the Piana was one of the places that most hit me in my life. Every year I started planning a weekend there but there was always something more urgent to pay for… and I had to postpone the trip.

The longest day

Then, on October 30, 2016 an earthquake severely damaged Norcia and basically destroyed Castelluccio di Norcia. I was shocked. I know that Umbria is a region at high risk of earthquakes but I didn’t imagine that an entire town could be destroyed.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

But what happened next saddened me even more. In the first weeks after the disaster you can always hear some news on the tv or online. And then… they stop. You never hear anything.

Castelluccio is gone

When I went to Assisi in November, 2017 with my nephew, I asked to our Agriturismo owners if they knew something, since it was their region, even if the two places are not that close. They told us they went to Norcia a couple of times to help out and reported us a tragical situation.

I remember their words: Norcia è morta. Norcia is dead. Castelluccio non c’è più. Castelluccio is gone.

Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

The situation as of July 2018

The other day, a fellow citizen of Padua, who is an able photographer, posted on his Instagram profile (@filippochinello) a couple of photos of Castelluccio. I immediately recognized the piana with the fioritura. His photos were incredible. After reading the caption, I immediately asked his permission to use some of the photos for an article. I wanted to share with you this story.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

This was the caption:

Castelluccio lives. On October 30, 2016 that earthquake swept away everything. Getting up at an ungodly hour  to find the right light and to get up here, arriving at five in the morning in four photographers plus three mushroom diggers… just us in the entire valley. Then the climb up to the village and to the desolation.

Everything was wiped out. But, as those residents who climb up there every morning, mount a gazebo, a couple of tables and sell their local products, told us: “We do not give up, our lives continue and it can not be otherwise.” I have known the true meaning of the word Dignity with a capital D. Castelluccio lives!

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

It’s so sad that only a few people know about this. Sad that even us Italians know nothing about how things are going now there and in other places hit by that or other earthquakes: L’Aquila, Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto, Molise. The only place I know something about are those in Emilia Romagna, because it is our neighbour region and I also have some friends there.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Photo by Filippo Chinello

The tale of Filippo

I asked to Fillippo Chinello to tell me something about this experience. That’s what he said:

I went there in early July with a friend of mine who is a photographer and luckily convinced me to take this trip. So we were two, then, you know… being that a place very “beaten” by the photographers, we inevitably met someone else and we exchange opinions and advice. In the piana we were just a few because at dawn we can find the best light to take good pictures.

We spent two nights in Cascia, waking up at 4.30 to be there at 5:30. But, as I told you, it was worth it. Both days we had lunch in Castelluccio at a makeshift restaurant set up by the local restaurateurs who obviously lost their restaurants.

The area is still controlled by Army, Police, Carabinieri and Forest rangers, since the road that leads up to the Piana closes at 9.30pm and then reopens at 5.30am the next morning. Only people who parked on the Piana their campers in the appropriate spaces can stay.

The village, which unfortunately no longer exists, is guarded by the Army, in order to avoid acts of looting and to protect the locals in case of further collapses.

We were very pleased to exchange a few words with the locals and appreciate their tenacity and their desire to roll up their sleeves in both Castelluccio and Norcia. Norcia is not doing so well either. In fact the historical center has been practically evacuated.

Residents and commercial activities have been moved in containers or in the best of cases in prefabricated houses.

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello

Finally a good news

In order to write this article I searched for some info online and I discovered a good news, dating back to the end of July, 2018:

Castelluccio di Norcia. Photo by Filippo Chinello
Photo by Filippo Chinello

The first agriturismo reopened in Castelluccio. Its name is Monte Veletta and it was only slightly damaged, compared to other facilities of the village. But still, the reopening required months of work and the will to win over the difficulties.

Your messages

After publishing the post I received a couple of messages by readers. I think it’s important to share them here, so I simply paste them.

Ann Marie wrote a comment on my Facebook page:

I know this town very well, we used to go to see the fioritura every year for 15 years. This year is the first time we have been able to get across there since the earthquake 2 years ago. The Castellucians need visitors to go and buy some food and produce there. They depend on summer sales to get them through the hard winter, and to rebuild. If you can, please go. It’s very beautiful, even if badly damaged.

Alison wrote me via Instagram:

Your blog today has really touched me – I am sending you a post I made around a month ago when we visited the area.  We certainly felt like we wanted to help the local folk rebuild after the earthquake. This time we purchased as much local produce as we could and for sure we will go back there again. 

And then she shared her post with me:

Our trip today took us to the heart of Umbria and through some of the towns and villages devastated by the erathquake of a couple of years ago. What was so shocking to me was to see buildings abandoned literally as they were on that day but with walls missing and stonework cracked and crumbled, parts of roof dangling precariously and with household textiles still hanging, all open to the elements. That said I ws surprised to see how busy and bustling Norcia itself was and making the best of the situation to get on with its life. 

I really hope to go see the Fioritura one day, and hopefully see Castelluccio di Norcia rise again.

Piana di Castelluccio. Photo by Filippo Chinello

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