Monday, 23 June 2014

Perarolo Then and Now

The Door of Perarolo is a novel that spans the first five years of the second decade of the nineteenth century. At the height of the rafting trade Perarolo was a busy little river port, situated just below the junction of the Piave and Boite rivers.  By the end of that century, as the photograph below shows, huge quantities of timber were to be seen stacked along the right bank of the river Piave (the river is the dark area in the bottom left corner of the photo).  I am indebted to the late Bortolo de Vido for sending me this photo during our lengthy correspondence some years ago.  Bortolo was also very helpful in my researches for The Door of Perarolo by providing me with information concerning the priest of Perarolo, don Giuseppe de Vido.

Perarolo at the end of the nineteenth century

[courtesy Bortolo de Vido]
Towards the centre of this view can be seen the church of San NicolÒ - clearly not with the same wooden frontage as seen in the photos in the previous blog post, 'A First Look at Perarolo'.  Nor is the campanile of the same wooden construction.  A further puzzle for the reader of this blog post: this is not the same church of San NicolÒ as the one described in The Door of Perarolo!  The church in the photo above is aligned with its axis orthogonal to the riverbank, whilst the previous church, described in the novel, had its axis parallel to the river's flow.  It was also situated a little further upstream.  To find out more you can read Mario Silvia and Antonella Guzzon's excellent little book Perarolo.

Perarolo in 1890 

La Via del Fiume p. 281, permission Cierre Edizioni]
The Belluno artist Alessandro Seffer (1831-1905) painted this scene (above) of life in Perarolo in 1890. This [RH] section of his canvas shows the church and the campanile as it existed at that time.  The bridge shown  in the centre of the painting spans the Boite river while the one to the right bridges the Piave.  The depiction is a somewhat artificial one, in that the rafts (shown of the left bank of the Piave) were built and launched further downstream from the right bank- around the bend in the river to the south, as seen in the Bortolo de Vido's photograph and certainly not at the confluence of the two rivers where the water, when high, was most turbulent.

Perarolo, a little further downriver  

La Via del Fiume p. 280, permission Cierre Edizioni]
The left-hand section of Seffer's canvas shows the timber stacked by the river shore ready for the sawmills or for the construction of zattere.  The sawn timber was loaded onto the rafts bound, out of Perarolo, for the next port on the river - Codissago.  The two figures seen on the far shore to the right are washing linen in the waters of the Piave.  It is apparent from this painting that Perarolo was at that time vulnerable to flooding.  In 1884 the scogliera - a defensive wall, visible in the photograph at the start of this post - was constructed to protect the village, after the disastrous floods of 1882.  The floods are not the only dangers: earthquakes in the region are not uncommon; also, the steep slopes of the valleys of  the rivers in Cadore are prone to landslides which can block a river's flow, unleashing a tremendous force of flood when the waters are finally released.

The Reverend Alexander Robertson, D.D., arriving by coach with his 'fellow traveller' (this rather coy description is all we get from him) writes in 1896 as follows:
'... our road gradually descended until  it brought us to the level of the river.  Following its bank a little way, we entered Perarolo at the junction of the Boite with the Piave.  Running up the side of a great mill-race that is taken off the Boite, and crossing it and the parent stream by a strong stone bridge, from which we got a glimpse of the King of Cadore, the giant mountain Antelao, with its crystal ice coronet, we drew up at Albergo Koffler, or Corona d'Oro, a good, comfortable, old-fashioned inn.'
Throughout the region the wooden bridges, often swept away by floods were being replaced by stronger stone ones.  Perarolo prospered around this time, as did many towns and villages in Cadore, from the tourist trade.  

Many small inns and hotels were available to travellers such as Robertson, such as this modest inn at Valle di Cadore (just north of Perarolo and marked on the map below).  The church at Valle is featured on the cover of The Door of Perarolo.  

In Cortina (where a modern-day James Bond skied down a mountainside pursued by an avalanche), towards the end of the nineteenth century, a traveller could choose from many hotels - such as these two in the advertisements section of Robertson's book.  

The sisters Barbaria sound intriguing, but given the choice, I think I would have thrown in my lot with the Ghedina brothers, if only to to find out what a dependence was.

All the hotels of Perarolo that catered for rich English clientele are long gone. But you can find comfortable, affordable accommodation, as my fellow traveller (Sally) and I did in 2012, at Elena and Mirco's Il Cidolo.

Robertson gives us an insight into the state of the church we see in Bortolo's photograph, and also the campanile, which once stood by don Giuseppe's church, destroyed in 1823 by the floods.
'On the right bank of the Boite the witnesses to the catastrophe are the recently-built houses, and an old weather and water beaten campanile that stands deserted and solitary near the water's edge.  The church to which it once belonged went down with the flood, and the one that took its place stands further removed from the river.  I'm afraid it would not take a very strong flood to make it, too, collapse, for its walls and vaulted roof are full of gaping cracks, the result of earthquake shocks to which it has been subjected.'

The Boite valley northwest of Perarolo

[Touring club Italiano: Veneto, Fruili Venezia Giulia map]
The priest of Perarolo, don Giuseppe de Vido was famous in his time for writing 'satiric verses' relating to Napoleon.  When the contents of these verses reached the ears of the French Emperor, the priest had to flee Perarolo to seek refuge for a while near Treviso.  Napoleon relented when he heard that the priest had given comfort and last rites to soldiers dying after the fierce fighting between the French and the Austrians in 1809 and offered him an appointment as Honorary Bishop of Torcello (near Venice) which don Giuseppe refused. He chose to instead in Perarolo. The name 'de Vido' is Cadorino for 'from [the family]Vido'.  'Vido' is 'Vito' in Italian, from Saint Vitus.  Don Giuseppe was born in 1750 in San Vito di Cadore, a village in the Boite valley northwest of Perarolo  - marked at the centre of the map above.  He died in Perarolo in 1826.

Also marked on the map is the railway.  Perarolo station is situated to the south of the town.  The dotted line on the map (lower right-hand corner) shows where the railway line enters a tunnel.  

Part of the Padua - Calalzo railway line on the approach to Perarolo station

[© Peter Alexander Gray 1998]
The ability to bore tunnels through the hillside enabled the railway to go where main roads could not.  This - together with the building of dams for HEP and also to draw off of water for irrigation of crops - meant that the rafting industry, like the coaching industry across Europe, would come to an end.

The end came as WW2 finished.  Already logs from the forests were being loaded onto trains bound for sawmills in the south.  The cidolo at Sacco, upriver on the Piave (where the menadàs worked sorting logs for the Cadore sawmills throughout the nineteenth century) was demolished in 1947.

When I arrived in Perarolo on that day in 1998 I had only the knowledge I had gleaned from reading books such as La Via del Fiume I hadn't the advantage of the research I was to undertake during the next fifteen years.  Nor was there in 1998 the great wealth of information that exists nowadays on the Internet.  I visited the church of San NicolÒ and afterwards I took a photograph of the war memorial close by, which commemorates Italy's finest hour in WW1 - when the Italian army triumphed against the might of the Austro-Hungarian forces in the battle that raged along the banks of the River Piave.

But at that time I was totally unaware of the fact that the Italian Royal Family holidayed twice at Perarolo - staying at the Palazzo Lazzaris in 1881 and 1882.  The palace was restored between 1996 and 2002, which explains the many signs work in progress on my first visit to Perarolo in 1998.  As well as the restoration of the Palazzo Lazzaris much other work in restoring Perarolo's fine buildings has taken place.  A 'must see' for anyone visiting Perarolo is Il museo del Cidolo e del legname.

You can learn much about the history of the river post of Perarolo by visiting the museum.  But the last raft has left Perarolo for Codissago - the drawing off of water for irrigation has lowered the level of the rivers.  

The Speck factory stands today on the right bank of the Piave where the zattieri used to build their rafts. Speck is a meat product used in Austrian and Italian cuisine.  The factory creates work for the people of Perarolo and the environs.

In the introduction to his book Through the Dolomites from Venice to Toblach Alexander Robertson called Cadore the 'Scotland of Italy'.  People such as my editor Sally and myself who live in Scotland take this as a compliment!   Recently the Great Tapestry of Scotland was the subject of exhibitions throughout our country.  This month's post of Sally's blog Scotpot  features The Great Tapestry, and is well worth a look.

Next month's post of this blog (The Door of Perarolo) will be the July post bag, in which I will try to address questions from readers, both of the novel and of the blog.  So please do write to me with your queries at and I shall try to post answers to all your queries.  Thanks in advance!

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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