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A journey through the Past

in Photography , Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today was the feast of San Giuseppe, and a public holiday here in Ticino. I decided to take advantage of the unusually warm weather to head off to the Valle Bavona region, a tributary valley to Vallemaggia. Up to the early 20th century Valle Bavona, and many of the other sub alpine valleys in Ticino, had a thriving population. Life was not easy, and certainly the industrial revolution didn’t have a lot of impact. These days, the thread of tiny vilages, with their stone houses huddled together for warmth and protection, are largely deserted. In many cases the houses, known as “rustico”, have been converted to summer holiday homes, in a few cases by descendants of the original inhabitants. A few are still lived in, by the people who cling to the valley life. And many have fallen into decay and ruin.

I drove up to the end of the valley road to see when the cable car, which takes you up to the higher alps, opens. The answer was “June”. On the way back down, I glimpsed a few shapes on the opposite slope, which turned out to be a small church tower and a few houses. I’d never noticed these before. They’re hidden by trees, and in summer would be pretty much invisible. There’s no road up there, but I looked around for any indication of a path - since there’s still a lot of snow around, I didn’t hold up much hope, but I eventually found one on the other side of a footbridge over the river.


After stumbling through various snow drifts (snow shoes would have been a good idea) and stopping off to photograph some attractive blue / violet flowers colonising patches of snow-free ground, I eventually found my way to the village.

It turns out it’s called “Prèsa”, which if I ignore the accent, and pretend it is Italian rather than the valley dialect, could be translated to “Taken”, which I found rather apt.


Clearly some of the buildings have been taken care of, in particular the small church tower. There are around 10 houses still identifiable, and probably more under the snow.  These places always have a melancholy air to me. I can only imagine a hundred years ago, on such an unseasonly warm day, heralding spring, that the place would burst into life, with excited children running around, men and women taking a little time to enjoy the warm air, and everybody thinking ahead to warm days in the alpine meadows.  Unrealistically romantic, I know. Life was very hard in these places. However, I do believe that these people enjoyed a much stronger sense of community and closeness the we do now.

On my way back down to the road, trying not to get lost in the woods, I couldn’t shake off the image of being followed by a bunch of excited children, delighted by my clumsy attempts to avoid falling over the snow and walking into trees. Maybe there were days like that.