Italy is destination number one for anyone with cultural interest. Lovers of culture, Renaissance, art, history, they all visit Italy: its vast cultural heritage is the main attraction for many. But do they understand this in Piemonte? I did have some doubts…
It was a sunny day in October, many years ago, when I first visited the Roman town Libarna, an important excavation, in size and in value and I didn´t know anything of it. At my arrival I was surprised: there was nobody! I even had to jump across the fence in order to get in – so the photos in my Piemonte Wine and Travel Atlas (page 170) were made by an illegal intruder: me. Why was there nobody? No surveillance, no office to pay your entrance fee? Just a fence, and you have to walk over a small pedestrian bridge passing the railway to get a clear view of the site. This is not the most romantic entrance for a monument, but that is known also of other important attractions of Antiquity in Italy, Pompeï in the first place, so that should not be a problem.
After my illegal jump, I´m wondering where to start: in front of me is a long line of foundations of houses all in the typical Roman, rectangular style. The site is of the same size as the foro romano, and I am here alone! I take my time, enjoy the sun and enter some houses – that is their foundations, the only thing left – and wonder how they lived here, did they drink wine, did they enjoy life? And how?
I walk along an old Roman street, look at the market, further on there are some remains of a spa. I scroll down a field and enter the amphitheatre. It is big, many thousands of spectators were looking at the contests here. Again a sign that the town had economical importance.
(Photo: amphitheatre of Libarna. Its central place has an ellyptic form and staged the famous bloody contests between the gladiatori or contests between man and wild animals. All this would attract much attention by the public, the arena could host at least 7.000 persons)
Romans and Greek have been in Piemonte and before them the Celts and probably there were contacts with the Etruscans and maybe even Egyptians. Despite all this history a visitor to Piemonte will see extremely little of the rich past: stones are used to build homes and towns like Asti and Alba have been built on top of Roman foundations. But here we have it all: between dramatic high Apennines, the Scrivia river and the railway, Libarna is an important Roman monument. Maybe its history is even older: it is known that the Etruscans founded a stronghold near Genoa (6th century BC) and may have also used this pathway. And imagine that only one tenth of the town is in sight: in the neighbourhood they constructed the railway and industrial plants so there is little chance that some other part of Libarna may become visible. Also for the industry Libarna´s position is strategical because this is still the important trade route between the Mediterranean and the economically important Po-valley, as it was in Roman times: the via Postumia (created in 148 BC) connected the Roman empire through the Apennines with Gallia Cisalpina (now Piemonte). How strange that nobody can tell me more about this place! Here many thousands of Romans once lived, the people that founded our civilisation. Maybe this is North Italy´s biggest Roman visible monument but nobody knows!
Photo: Libarna, foundations of Roman houses. In which house would Julius Caesar have stayed? He passed this road several times between 60 and 51 BC on his road to Gallia. Probably Caesar did not have much time to enjoy wine, as his attention went to problems with hostile tribes in Gallia and political turmoil in Rome. Probably he passed with a little army of captains and some logistical staff because much of his army he recruited in Piemonte before entering Gallia, maybe some of them from Libarna.
Libarna has the potential to become one of Piemonte´s most visited spots in future. Once the tourists will know it they will arrive. But… here is a problem: even the Piemontese don´t know nothing about Libarna! So: nobody knows..
Photo: Roman mosaics in Libarna (probably 1st century BC).
Photo: a reconstruction of one of the gates of Libarna. Actually the foundations of this gate have been discovered at the place of a big factory just 500 meters south from here. The picture gives an impression of the building capacity of the Romans.
How great my surprise when I received last week an interesting invitation to return to Libarna for a most promising event: ´archeosapori´ – a creatively found name (we are in Italy..) promising a combination of attention for historical monuments and wine. Two wine consorzios present their most prominent speakers, Walter Massa, a poetic speaker and one of Italy´s most talented but also most unpredictable winemakers, from the Colli Tortonesi, and Francesco Bergaglio, director of Gavi Consorzio, also a man with vision. Yes! There is consiousness that Libarna has a big historical meaning.
Libarna was a big town were the travellers came for a rest, a meal, some drink. Taverns and also remains of wine consumption have been found, as I learn from some scholars who are present. Finally, Libarna seems to awake from a 2.000 year long sleep! Not only: we learn that wine was produced here and also drunk in the local taverns. Was it Timorasso or Cortese? At this point researchers have no answer but research on Libarna is still going on. (photo: left: Maurizio Montobbio/Consorzio Gavi, Francesco Bergaglio, Roberto Fiori, moderator, Walter Massa and Stefano Bergaglio/Colli Tortonesi )And this…
There is something else too: Libarna is situated between two important, fast developing wine regions: Gavi and Colli Tortonesi. Libarna might even become a meeting point between the two. ´Not a point of division but a point of collaboration´ as Miss.Iudica Dameri, president of the Associazione Libarna Arteventi, puts it. How interesting this statement! Probably Miss.Dameri does not know how Italian wine producers and wine regions tend to quarrel and dispute and divide until the last moment. They are like Dutch evangelicals: with 2 persons they create a new church, with 3 persons, there is a division in the church. Italian wine producers and consorzi are exactly the same, they are famous for that. So collaboration can be seen as quite revolutionary in this respect….
Both wine regions receive increasing interest from abroad and wine tourism is slowly developing. Both regions produce a famous white wine. Once in the area of Alba two important wine regions (of red DOCG wines) made peace and became known worldwide: Barolo & Barbaresco. Why not an agreement of the same type between these two wine regions: Gavi & Colli Tortonesi? Massa and Bergaglio show interest to create more synergy between the two wine regions and some practical suggestions for collaboration come up even if both areas are still quite different: Gavi produces at least 13 million bottles of Gavi DOCG, the Colli Tortonesi, although a big producer of Barbera, produces a tiny volume of only 300.000 bottles of its famous wine Timorasso. Besides, the wines are different too: Gavi DOCG is a somewhat lighter mineral wine with a slight nervous but elegant character, often the mineral soils shine through which lends the wine some interest, but Gavi remains a more delicate, lighter wine, lighter in alcohol and in ´mouthfeel´. Timorasso on the other side is a more heavy style white, with often more power, structure and mouthfeel. But the idea of creating an ´isola bianca´ might be of interest to both.
So maybe this weekend we have seen something revolutionary happening in Southeast Piemonte. Something that soon will draw international attention to the area. Will there be one day when people will say: for the big red wines you have to go to the Langhe for the big white wines you have to go to the ´isola bianca´, Libarna?
It was an interesting day: not only the awakening of Libarna after 2.000 years but also the start of collaboration between two promising wine regions. Whatever will happen, the amphitheatre of Libarna is there, open to every visitor and I am very sure that this will become an important tourist destination in future. And, if the consorzios of Gavi and Colli Tortonesi would decide to built an enoteca (not sure they will – there are too much enotecas at this moment in Piemonte… but if.. ) dedicated to their white wines, for sure Libarna would be the right place for such an enoteca regionale. But before that much water must pass the Scrivia river below Libarna… But in Italy everything is possible.
Photo: a reproduction of the theatre of Libarna
Photo: tasting Gavi DOCG wines at the archeosapori event (excellently served by Paolo Novara)
Photo: tasting of Colli Tortonesi Timorasso at the archeosapori event, in front the famous ´salame nobile del Giarolo´ one of Italy´s best salames, all served with much professionality by Micaela Vassallo
For more information, read: Piemonte Wine and Travel Atlas by Paul Balke