Discovering the Ligurian Riviera
December 12, 2021
A few kilometers from our farmhouse in Diano Marina is Toirano, a beautiful medieval village where we decided to go to visit the Ethnographic Museum. We thought it would be interesting to learn about the production realities of our ancestors, and especially the means at their disposal, to understand how far we have come since then and, at the same time, realize how much we still have in common.
Reaching Toirano by highway is very simple. Just exit at Borghetto Santo Spirito, turn right and continue for a couple of kilometers. Once arrived in the village it is not difficult to find a parking space: we are far from the traffic of coastal tourism!
The entrance ticket to the museum costs 3 euro, and allows a 2 euro discount to visit the famous caves of Toirano. An opportunity not to be missed, since this is one of the most popular attractions in the area!
The Ethnographic Museum of Val Varatella is located inside the Palace of the Counts D'Aste (later acquired by the family of the Marquis Del Carretto), a beautiful building that has seen numerous renovations and extensions over the centuries. The objects preserved inside the museum are endless and divided into eighteen sections based on the activities they were destined to: agricultural, handicraft, etc.. A part of the museum, moreover, is organized in the main floor of the Palace, where reproductions of some rooms of the ancient owners are set up. In short, a dive into the past to discover the daily life of a small reality of the Ligurian hinterland.
From an initial nucleus of about a hundred objects collected by some volunteers, the Ethnographic Museum of Toirano has gradually grown its collection over the years thanks to the generous donations of the inhabitants of the village. Never as in this case, therefore, is the public dimension of a museum perceived, thanks to the shared participation of the community. From the common past come not only objects, but also oral testimonies, memories and curiosities that otherwise, most likely, we would have lost.
Here, then, is the main reason to visit the Ethnographic Museum of Toirano, like any museum. To vivify the memory of a not so distant past, yet very fragile. Taken as we are by the obsession with progress and modernity at all costs, we risk forgetting our origins, or rather the peasant roots that still form the basis of our economy. Of course, today we can enjoy enormous advantages that make work more agile, but fatigue is still a constant, as well as uncertainty related to weather conditions, the changing market, etc..
The visit to the museum opens with the section dedicated to agricultural work, located on the ground floor, in the rooms where once there were the stables. In addition to agricultural work, of course, there are also objects related to craft activities and domestic life. Here, moreover, you can take advantage of the lovely inner garden, in the courtyard of the ancient Palazzo D'Aste Del Carretto, to observe rare plants and some millstones of ancient oil mills, slate lintels and a 16th century marble basin.
The first two sections are dedicated to the cultivation of the olive tree and the production of oil, the most profitable activities of the area. The set of objects present here includes scythes, billhooks and axes for the daily work of pruning and weeding, while plows and harnesses were used to transport materials.
But it is perhaps the reconstructions of the traditional "gumbi", or ancient oil mills, that attract the most attention. In the museum there is one from the 17th century, which worked thanks to animal power. The crushing of the olives took place by means of millstones, moved by wooden and iron gears, activated by the force of water.
More minute, but nonetheless important, are the old objects necessary for the sale and preservation of oil, such as the instruments of weight and measure: the ancient scales and the "quarte".
The illustration of the objects of peasant life continues with the following sections, the ones dedicated to the cultivation of vine and to the production of wine, as well as the one of wheat. Here we observed with interest all the tools needed for the care of vine, as well as objects useful for the preservation of wine, casks and flasks, all dated back to the end of the XIX century. Very beautiful are also the sickles used to cut the wheat, or the ancient wicker baskets used to divide the wheat from the chaff.
Jobs that have almost completely disappeared were fundamental until not so long ago. In order to rediscover their charm, it is enough to visit the section of the museum dedicated to the work of shoemakers, carpenters and farriers, with their tools that remind us of the hard work of a manual but however creative job.
We end our visit to the sections of the ground floor with the reconstruction of some rooms of the typical house of Toirano. A beautiful fireplace with a slate mantle is in the center of the room, with an oven and an antique stove, fed by embers. Among the objects of the kitchen there are mortars for pesto and for grinding salt and pepper, copper pans and various frying pans for the preparation of traditional dishes.
Some majolica crockery coming from Albisola and Savona belonged to a middle class, as well as the beautiful wrought iron bed in the bedroom.
Finally, on the second floor of the museum we find the "mezzanile", that is the service rooms of the building where some children's clothes and old toys are now preserved, together with devotional objects such as wooden crucifixes, prints coming from local sanctuaries, ex-voto, while some chests preserve the bride's trousseau.
Very interesting is also the reconstruction of a nineteenth-century dining room, with painted ceiling and typical furniture of the time, a pendulum clock and the precious ceramic dishes, not to mention the bedroom with the necessary for personal cleaning.
A museum is more than a building in which objects are kept: it is the place of memory, where time takes on a new value. Visiting the Ethnographic Museum of Toirano is an experience we recommend to anyone who has a sincere interest in getting to know this corner of the Ligurian hinterland!
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