I was recently asked a really good question, what is the history of your house? My immediate answer was that the house was originally in three parts. My ex-husband and I bought the first part of the house from an English author – I didn’t even get out of the car before I decided it was perfect, just from the look of the house and the wonderful views – you get an idea of that from this photograph ‘Roofs with a View’. Some years later we bought the second part of the house, also from an English couple and then finally the back part of the house was purchased from an Italian film director. Over the years I have spent time restoring and converting it. That was my answer.
Afterwards I was thinking about ‘what is the history of your house?’ and I realised I was thinking in rather narrow terms.
Like many old Italian country houses it will have started much smaller than it is now. In fact, you can clearly see the older part of the house and where it has been extended, right down to where a window has been blocked in and is now part of an internal wall (I have made features of those as I rather like them). Traditionally, the daughters moved in with their husbands and the sons had their wives come to live with them, which often entailed building on an extra room. Of course not so long ago the downstairs of the house was given over to animal rooms. Our dining room is over what was once an old pig sty and is now a bedroom. Keeping the animals downstairs over winter provided additional warmth to the house as the heat rose from the animals below.
Our bedroom is the old cantina of the house, it had old olive and wine vats and oak barrels – our en-suite bathroom used to be used for smoking meat and had a black ceiling when we bought the house that we had to have sandblasted before we could use it. The outside oven had a storage space and when we demolished it to build my studio on the back of the house it was full of maize that was obviously being stored as animal feed. You can imagine the family that lived here in those days slaughtering and smoking their own animals and growing and making their own olive oil and wine. I often think of them standing looking at the wonderful view.
Thinking more widely about the history of the house, in one of the downstairs rooms there is the sign for the Red Brigade painted on the wall and local tradition has it that members of the Red Brigade evaded the authorities by hiding in the house. The Red Brigade (Brigatte Rosse) was a left-wing paramilitary organisation that was notorious for its attempts to de-stabilise Italy in the 1970s and 80s. They famously kidnapped and murdered the former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
The old couple that used to own one of the olive groves below us would often stop to chat on their way past our house and the old gentleman would tell me about the war and how the English Tommies hid in the mountains behind us and he used to take provisions up to them on the back of a donkey. Indeed this whole area is well documented for the activities that took place during World War II. The Trasimene Line was a German defensive line during the Italian Campaign. One book written on the subject ‘The Trasimeno Line June-July 1944‘ is full of old black and white photographs of the many towns and villages around us, showing the movement of troops and the war damage. Amazing to think that battles took place in the fields where now I take photographs or paint poppies and sunflowers.
So my answer to ‘What is the history of my house?’ was a mere snapshot in time – don’t get me started on Hannibal and the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 BC…
Before you go
My name is Dorothy Berry-Lound an artist and writer. You can find out more about my art and writing at https://dorothyberryloundart.com.
Thank you for reading!