In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian, offers a fascinating look into the heritage of a small Italian town in the Apennine hills, known for its artisan work in copper.
The little town of Agnone, nestled in the Apennine hills in Alto Molise, home of my ancestors, hides a very proud heritage of artisan craft. Here, you’ll find the oldest bell foundry in the world, and the only one by Papal appointment. Beyond that, you’ll discover the main industry of the town which brought it wealth and prosperity during the Middle Ages: copper. Today, sadly, most of the workshops are silent, but at one time the centro storico buzzed with the sound of little hammers deftly refining and decorating the many utensils and vessels. There were once 13 copper foundries and over 300 family botteghe – Agnone was not a town of peasants, but of artisans.
Work started in the foundries along the Verrino river, where water turned huge wheels, pounding the copper into basic shapes. Cold winters and chilly autumns and springs in the mountains were the only way the craft was possible, as hours were spent in front of a hot furnace or over a constant flame.
Work in the foundries was extremely hard. Rough articles were brought into town to the master copper-smiths to finish by hand. The production was huge, and copper stamped “Agnone”, achieved the highest price in the marketplaces of Italy. This is because the town had brought in strict rules of manufacture, not only for copper but for all the trades – bronze sculptors, stonemasons, jewellers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, and many more.
In 1457 these regulations became law and anyone found cheating the standard was fined heavily. Thus Agnone was able to maintain its position as one of the 5 cities of Italy to produce the best artisan work. Today every house in Agnone proudly displays inherited copper utensils. Wine, marmalade and tomato passata are still made in vast copper pots, handed down through the generations. Cooking in local kitchens, we get to use these ancient tools – the quality is superb and clearly not just for one lifetime, but for several!
Agnone’s Museo del Rame is right next door to the workshop and shop of master coppersmith, Franco Gerbasi. Franco is 4th generation, and has taught the trade to his sons who work beside him. They sell copper vessels all over the world, the most popular being for distillation, but so many other items, impossible to list.
Franco spent years collecting the copper pieces and archive material, and raising some financial support for the museum. When asked why he simply responds, “Per non dimenticare……….”
LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine Italian study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.