Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Codissago... home of the master raftsmen of the Piave, the zattieri di Codissago.  The village can be found on a map of the region to the north of Belluno, on the left bank of the Piave River.  Castello Lavazzo can be found on the right bank, to the north, while Longarone is situated on the right bank, to the south.  (‘Right’ and ‘left’ are as seen by a zattiere standing on a raft looking downriver).

N to S: Castello Lavazzo, Codissago and Longarone
Carte e Pianta Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21

The zattieri di Codissago not only navigated the most treacherous waters of the Piave, they also built the rafts in Perarolo, having walked through the night to start work on their construction at daybreak.  

Commemorative logo from the 2008 walk
In 2008, my daughter Jenny and I were invited to join the descendants of the zattieri di Codissago on their annual commemorative walk.  

Around midnight we left our hotel in Belluno and, in a car borrowed from an Italian friend (thanks, Barbara!), drove to Codissago.

The walk commenced at a pre-arranged house in the village and, through the night, stopped at many on the small villages en route.  The first stop was at Termine where refreshments were provided for us all.  We were joined there by two cars driven by carabinieri who were our escorts on the long walk north.

It'd been a long hike through the night, but we were nearly there...
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008

By daybreak we were on the final approach Perarolo, where the photo above was taken.  The reception in Perarolo was marvellous, with much feasting and celebration!

Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008
In Codissago, the church where Lucia and Saverio were married still stands, but times change, and all commercial rafting on the river has now ceased.  This was partly due to the arrival of the railways - but also the progressive industrial and agricultural use of the water resources up to modern times has taken its toll.   From the 1940s onwards, water was taken from the rivers and streams of the Piave valley via a network of dams and tunnels for the generation of HEP (hydro-electric power) at the power generating station at Sovèrzene.  Some of the water was also diverted onto farms for the irrigation of crops.  As a result, today the Piave has no longer the depth of water required for commercial rafting.

Apart from one occasion (for a RAI TV documentary, when water was released from the dam near Pieve di Cadore), there has been no rafting of the Piave in recent times.   

The quay where the zattere were to be seen moored in twos and threes has gone, and the small quarry close by has been gated up, and is used now as a centre for driving instruction for would-be motorists!  

The church still plays a major part in the lives of the people of Codissago
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008

The church may be grand and beautiful, but a hundred years or so ago it wasn't the only place of worship...

Small is beautiful?
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008
A perspex screen prevents entry to this tiny chapel, once a place for Christians to meet and pray together.  To the top left of the photograph you can glimpse the bell tower of the main church of Codissago.

Coro di Codissago and zattieri standing on a three-section zattera
In the town, life goes on.  There, as everywhere, the future is with the young people, the new generation.  Coro di Codissago are a local choir (see the link in Useful Links), seen here standing on one of a number of zattere constructed and sailed down the Piave, filmed for the RAI TV program.  Note the clever, simple mechanism for joining the sections together - this mechanism allowed the rafts to pass over the rough river bed without the sections breaking apart.  The 'rope' used by the zattieri when constructing the rafts was made simply by twisting lengths of hazel shoots.  The shoots were immersed in water in stone troughs for long periods before  they were twisted (this sheared apart the fibres and made the hazel pliable) to make the 'rope'.  A traditional zattera had two forward-facing oars at the front and two trailing oars at the stern.  The handle of one of the forward-facing oars can be seen at the left of the photo.

The bell tower of the church at Castello Lavazzo
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008

Across the Piave, upstream from Codissago, is found the the village of Castello Lavazzo.  So-named in the time frame of The Door of Perarolo, the place name nowadays has been changed to Castellavazzo after a recent referendum.  

To the back of the village was a quarry where stone blocks were extracted for building stone, columns, lintels and so forth.  These were passed on a conveyor close by the church across the river to Codissago and thence, via the rafts, downriver.

The travel writer Amelia Edwards sketched the village in the early morning while staying at the inn at Longarone in 1872.  The bridge over the Piave (bottom right-hand corner) leads to Codissago.  The description of the inn in her book Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys is the basis of the description on the inn where Padrig Droug had his office in The Door of Perarolo.   

Castello Lavazzo as sketched in 1872
She says: 
'LONGARONE , seen at six o'clock on a grey, dull morning, looked no more attractive than at dusk the evening before. There had been thunder and heavy rain in the night, and now the road and footways were full of muddy pools. The writer, however, was up betimes, wandering alone through the wet streets; peeping into the tawdry churches; spelling over the framed and glazed announcements of births, deaths, and marriages at the Prefettura; sketching the Pic Gallina, a solitary conspicuous peak over against the mouth of the Val Vajont, on the opposite bank of the Piave; and seeking such scattered crumbs of information as might fall in her way.'  

I'm afraid she wasn't very complimentary in general about her stay in Longarone!  Before breakfast that same morning she also sketched the Spiz Gallina - the Hen's Beak.  In the book she labels it 'Pic Gallina'.

Looking South down the Piave valley from Castello Lavazzo
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2008
In modern times the 'Hen's Beak' still towers over the left bank of the Piave (you can glimpse the river, shrouded by trees along its banks, at the foot of the image towards the centre), and the church at Codissago (seen left of centre) remains.  But Longarone as Amelia Edwards and others at that time knew it was largely destroyed, fifty years ago, in the Vajont Dam disaster of October 1963. Yet in those fifty years much new industry has arrived into Longarone, and modern factories have been built, providing work for the people of  succeeding generations.  The zattere no longer ply the river trade, but the community around the towns of the valley hereabouts is alive and vibrant.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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