On September 7, 1920, there was an earthquake which was centered in the Garfagnana region, the Colorado-like mountainous area sharing the northwest corner of Tuscany with the Lunigiana. The extent of destruction was immense… from the Big City of Aulla past all the towns & villages climbing along the Aulella River Valley to the Carpinelli Pass and all of the towns & villages of the Garfagnana to nearly Lucca. Much of Codiponte was destroyed. Il Poggiolo was a different looking farm-house on evening of September 6th… for instance, there was a high stone wall surrounding what was the vineyard, the Loggia and the terrace to L’Appartamento Azzurro were rooms of La Casa Grande, there were many more windows on the vineyard-side of the house and a good bit of Il Poggiolo was stucco-ed. We know because we have photocopies of photographs taken in 1916 of Il Poggiolo. All gone after 5:55AM on September 7th.
Most folk had little money to re-build. Earthquake chains were a known item, and at the time, any old iron forge could make & install them fairly cheaply. Roof cordoli, sub-floorings, low-center-of-gravity bricks or picking & re-stucco-ing the stone walls of a house were either too expensive or yet-to-be-specified. Most just patched up walls, dismantled & modified sections of houses & out-buildings and what was not tumble-down piles of rubble was re-plastered & painted, as quickly and as inexpensively as possible to erase the traces of the tragedy. The tell-tale signs of structural damage from the earthquake were often ignored… covered-over & forgotten.
I used to be an interior designer. I even taught it. One item of My Personal Design Philosophy with which I tried to inspire clients & students alike was this… often, humble means can bear more creative fruit than all the gold, glass & Glory of say, a Versailles. Unavoidably, many still yearned for what could be had by a Louis XIV… or any other rich person about. An irresistible & expensive look of early 20th Century Italian interiors was flocked wallpaper. I love the idea of such wall-covering… or, carta da parati, but who today would want to feel they are living inside a lined box? Not back then. Responding to the market… in grotesque americanese… painters of the day concocted huge rollers with stencil patterns chiseled on them. And, off they rolled simulated flocking…
Ecco… of the Florentine symbol, Fleur de lis, in an innocent Copenhagen Blue. And a what? A lotus seed pod in sepia. Such quaint & recognizable designs sprouted across umpteen quickly plastered interior walls in the houses of the earthquake struck area. The above examples are from a house just off the Piazza Civico in Codiponte belonging to a couple… two of the sweetest folk in town… tackling the job themselves with its reconstruction. They had inherited the sins of the previous owners… fast & clever plaster & paint job disguising gaping seismic cracks in the house’s stone walls from the 1920 earthquake… when they were revealed by falling plaster from the 2013 one. I had caught them loading up a tractor at the bottom of the stairs to the re-do filled with shards of the now demolished stencil work. I said how sorry I was that this vestige had to be sacrificed to structure but, they were justified in doing so. I suggest they leave at least a portrait painting size panel to commemorate the house’s history. They said they had already thought to do so. Good. They gave me a few shards as a souvenir.
I may be guilty of the pot calling the kettle black but, not really. Though L’Appartamento Azzurro had broad boarders of applied stencils where the walls met the ceilings and around doors & windows in a nearly French tri-color flag combo of red, white & blue, there was little to save. All had practically faded away from salvation after 25+ years of abandonment to the elements of wind, rain & sun through long shattered windows & doors. Not such a big shame this loss of a bit of Il Poggiolo’s history. Too late. For the couple it is. Gone. Really gone some of the best examples of decorative stenciling I have laid eyes upon. Ever. Gads.