Theme: Revitalization of Rural Heritage Landscapes
by Ms. Ilenia Atzori
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Sardinia, Italy
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Museum Studies, Leicester University
Rural landscapes of Europe are products of a thousand-year-old collaboration between human society and nature. They are results of natural and cultural processes, telling the history of ancestors and originally setting the cultural premises of a territory. Keeping a balance between protecting, conserving and redeveloping heritage values of rural landscape is the premise for achieving rural regeneration.
This is how the EU-funded project Ruritage describes one of its six systemic innovation areas: landscape. Although the case study presented in this article is not included in the Ruritage project, this description is the ideal introduction to the revitalization of Genoni’s rural heritage landscape.
Genoni is a small town with a population of less than one thousand (approximately 800 people), located in an area called Sarcidano, in central Sardinia. Its territory covers an area of about 44 km2 and presents a remarkable variety of geo-morphological landscapes, archaeological evidences and cultural activities.
Among the features of this territory:
- its proximity with a nation-wide renowned plateau called Giara, house to a wide variety of plants and animals, especially the last European wild horses – the Giara horses;
- the presence of a geological and paleontological site discovered in 1980s, whose name is Duidduru.
How do these features contribute to the revitalization of this small town?
The so-called Giara (or Jara) is a large basalt plateau with a surface of about 45 km2, falling within the territory of different towns (among them: Gesturi, Tuili and Genoni) , and a height of 550 m above sea level, whose name probably derives from the Latin word Glarea (gravel). Its formation began around 20-25 million years ago, when this area was still submerged by the sea and sedimentary rocks were formed (especially marlstone and sandstone) .
This plateau is especially renowned for the so-called Jara horses, wild medium height horses (no more than 120 cm at the withers), whose coat can usually present very dark shades. Their strong body could be of great support in the farmyards of the surrounding areas; this is why until the last century they were used by local farmers to thresh grains and legumes. However, this coexistence with men had risked threatening their own existence, since they were not completely wild but not even forced into breeding.
In 1950s, the advent of mechanical threshers completely changed the farmers’ habits, breaking a centuries-old tradition. However, some breeders tried to crossbreed the Jara horses with other horses with the purpose to sell their meat, putting their very survival at risk.
It was around the mid-1970s that the Equestrian Institute of Ozieri committed to safeguarding their lives, by identifying them and trying to increase the number of the native Jara horses. Their story and their relationship with the local communities is told at the Museo del Cavallino della Giara (lit. translated: the Jara horses museum), in Genoni.
This is a small ethnographic museum telling the story of the territory (vineyards and wine-making, the town and the countryside, food and people’s health) not only through objects and the building in itself, which is a former farmers’ house, but also through video interviews and arts.
In late 2014, the museum was completely reorganized and Pia Valentinis , an artist living in Cagliari, was commissioned a number of illustrations to improve the museum’s interpretation: the interviews realized for the museum’s renovation project were examined by the artist, who created the different illustrations; these were later associated to QR-codes that visitors can easily scan with their devices to learn more about the different stories objects can tell (FIG. 1). This expedient was meant to both make the museum more relevant to a larger audience and more appealing to kids and children. Valentinis’ illustrations and quotes from the interviews also became an illustrated guide to the museum.
The Paleo-Archaeo-Centre called P.AR.C. (fig. 2) is Genoni’s site to tell the story and the importance of Duidduru’s geology and paleontology. This small and unique museum is divided into a workshop area and two main sections: the archaeological section, about the archaeological evidences and findings in the territory, among which the Santu Antine Nuragic Holy Well is the most remarkable example (with its depth of around 39 m it is the deepest Holy Well of the island): besides a diorama, visitors can also explore the inside of the Holy Well thanks to the museum’s goggles and a 3D reconstruction that also shows the view from the hill; the paleontological section, on the other hand, presents the strati-graphic interpretation and a number of fossil evidences, among which a stunning megalodon’s tooth found between Genoni and Nuragus.
The P.AR.C. Feels Education is a resource and a means to establish a dynamic way to communicate and learn and therefore focuses on a cultural return on investment for its activities. Such return is thus represented by an active participation of its visitors (especially families and children) in the cultural growth of the territory : finding the right balance between consumption, exploitation of resources and skills involved or history as a trigger for individual and collective futures are some examples of the topics addressed by the museum’s workshops.
Both the P.AR.C. and the Jara Horses’ Museum are run by the Giunone Cooperative, specialized in museum management, events organization and especially in the delivery of dynamic and creative workshops ; indeed, it is hard to talk about these museums without mentioning them.
The Giunone Coop.’s activities are classifiable under four main categories: paleontology (fig. 3), archaeology, recycling and environmental education. Besides, they also provide summer camps for children, which involve the whole territory both in terms of activities and accommodations and supporting services.
The Paleolab provides children with elements of paleontology, stimulating their curiosity with an active and lively approach. This workshop is focused on Sardinia’s geological history and especially the Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago) and Genoni’s territory with the Duidduru Geo-paleosite. Besides indoor lessons where they are shown the different strati-graphy and animals that populated our planet millions of years ago, children also visit the geo-plaeosite and see the fossils onsite; later, in the workshop area of the P.AR.C., they learn about fossil cleaning techniques, thus understanding the importance of fossils and of a paleontologist’s work through games, hammers, glue, chisels and a true micro chisel set, seemingly boring topics become an important and funny training activity .
During the ArchaeoLab, children are taught the technique used by the Nuragic civilization to create their famous bronzetti, bronze statuettes whose size ranges from few to about 40 cm, that could represent human beings, animals, furniture and tools, carriages and boats, as well as small Nuraghi, that were realized with a technique called lost-wax casting .
The recycling workshops are meant to raise awareness on recycling and an appropriate waste management. Through the use of different materials, visitors can learn while playing. These workshops are designed for both children and adults.
Lastly, the P.AR.C. SUMMER CAMPS (fig. 4), mainly focused on paleontology and lasting one or three days. These are study holidays for children where, through their ‘young paleontologists kit’, they will complete some field work under the supervision of a real paleontologist and other professional operators. These Camps are divided into indoor and outdoor activities, involving both Genoni’s museums and rural sites: at the P.AR.C., participants will learn about the different geological eras and how to clean fossils, having some hands-on experience with real geological samples. On the other hand, at Duidduru, they will see what a former seabed looks like with fossils from millions of years ago and learn more about the many animal specimen that lived in Sardinia’s Miocene. In addition, the Jara is an ideal setting to talk about volcanic eruptions, take pleasant walks and meet rare plants and animals, such as the Jara horses.
Children and their families often participate in more than one activity and -thanks to the online and offline word of mouth- more and more applications are submitted for both workshops or summer camps.
All of these activities, however, can be delivered not only thanks to the expertise and commitment of the Giunone Cooperative, but also thanks to a sound territorial network created over the years: overnight stays and meals are arranged with local companies (e. g.: local bakeries, agri-tourism, bed and breakfasts, stationery shops, etc.) and local food producers.
“Improving the quality of life in remote communities is directly related to the survival and enhancement of their culture, built heritage and landscapes. Conservation of these places creates a spirit of home while interlinking generations (…) to connect them to their past and reinforce a sense of belonging” . Creating a sense of belonging allows communities to feel more responsible for the territory they reside in and the heritage therein, thus building a greater awareness on the fragility and need for conservation and valorization of rural landscapes. As in the case study examined last time (See Counter-narratives: Culture as a trigger for tourism development), the town’s rural culture and landscape have been placed at the center of this revitalization process, becoming a resource for a socio-economic development: Genoni’s museums are non-replicable, since their meaning is in close connection with the territory, and highlight its cultural uniqueness.
This journey through Sardinia and the many facets of its rural identity started with the results of a survey conducted by Eurispes (an Italian private research institute) published in 2018about mainland Italian’s perception of Sardinia, according to which the island is mostly perceived as a tourist destination for its coasts and crystal-clear sea, but also as a place with a strong food identity. In these months, Sardinia has been presented under different points of view, showing that there is more to it than just the island’s sea and food, and that its identity should be perceived as more than just past traditions.
The Jara falls within the territories of Albagiara, Assolo, Genoni, Genuri, Gesturi, Gonnosnò, Nuragus, Nureci, Setzu, Sini and Tuili. Ref.: The villages | Giara Sardegna. (2015). Retrieved 22 December 2019, from www.giarasardegna.it/en/content/villages
 The Origins of the Giara – Parco della Giara – Escursioni Sardegna. Retrieved 22 December 2019, from www.parcodellagiara.it/the-park/the-origins-of-the-giara/?lang=en
 PALEOLAB – FOSSIL WORKSHOP. Retrieved 23 December 2019, from www.parcgenoni.it/en/2017-01-09-15-58-00/activities/paleolab-fossil-workshop
 Lo Schiavo, F. La produzione metallurgica. In La Sardegna Nuragica – Storia e Materiali (Moravetti, A., Alba, E., Foddai, L. ed.), Carlo Delfino Editore, Sassari, 2014; pp. 95-96.
 CARTACICLO – RECYCLING WORKSHOP. Retrieved 24 December 2019, from www.parcgenoni.it/en/2017-01-09-15-58-00/activities/cartaciclo-recycling-workshop; RICICLOLE’OLE’ – RECYCLING WORKSHOP. Retrieved 24 December 2019, from www.parcgenoni.it/en/2017-01-09-15-58-00/activities/riciclole-ole-recycling-workshop
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