The Transumanza

Tratturi and Transumanza :
Across the land and the romance of it all...('cause certain emotions must be shared...)!

Come and ride with us , experience the sound of the cow bells, the clatter of the horses, the rediscovery of an ancient world where the pace is dictated by nature...

What is the "Transumanza" ?  
From the Latin comes the word  "trans (through-across), and "humes"  ( ground - land). Transumanza is the traditional springtime herding of cows and sheep from lowlands to higher mountain pastures, a movement of people with their livestock during the summer and winter seasons. In mountain regions (vertical transumanza) it implies movement between higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. Herders have a permanent home, typically in valleys. Only the herds travel, with the people necessary to tend them.  The ritual starts at the end of spring and the beginning of autumn, between grazing areas, in most cases, covered on foot, under the watchful eye of sheep herders.
"The Tratturo" is the name used to describe the path followed by shepherds and their animals to reach  geographical regions and climatic conditions: in the autumn to the warmer lowlands of Puglia, in the spring to the mountains of Abruzzo and cooler Molise that offer green and abundant pastures.
Traditional or fixed transumanza occurs or has occurred throughout the inhabited world, from Austria, to Ireland , from Spain to Scandinavia, from Lesotho to United States.
It is often of high importance to pastorals societies, the dairy products of transumanza flocks and herds (milk, butter, yogurt and cheese) often forming much of the diet of such populations. 

  On the Shepard's path, a journey  to re-live the true vocation of our land.
Since ancient times, the story of Southern Italy and its people, going as far back as the Samnites and the Romans has been shaped in large measure by the harsh mountainous character of their territory.
Abruzzo, with two of the highest peaks in the Apennines mountain range - the Gran Sasso, at an altitude exceeding 9,500 feet, and La Majella, to the south, also over 9,000 feet.

In Molise, there is the Matese, with elevations of over 4,000 feet. In the northern part of Calabria we have the Sila Grande and Sila Greca , including the part of the Crotone province. 
For some 3,000 years, the territory of regions and its people has been continuously conditioned by the traditions and life-style of sheep-rearing communities.


The high altitude valleys, rocky slopes and bleak, barren mountainous plains have been the ideal environment for sheep grazing, providing for many centuries  a livelihood for more than half of the population, and from pre-Roman times it constituted the basis of their economy, social fabric and culture.
In the beginnings of 16th, 17th  century, sheep-rearing began to decline, accelerated by a shift in land use from grazing to farming, as laws were enacted to encourage the growing of crops. 
The economic transformation began to destroy the traditional interdependent system of agriculture and sheep-rearing on which the economies of the two regions had been based for centuries. Many villages that once were mainly devoted to the raising of sheep, wool, cheese, etc., began to be de-populated and in some cases were abandoned all together.
The Podolica (Grey Cattle) is a breed of domestic cattle from southern Italy,  raised in the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise and Puglia. 
The Podolica was in the past mainly kept for drought work; meat and milk production were secondary to this. 
After the Second World War the progressive mechanization of agriculture meant that demand for drought oxen disappeared. The breed is now raised mainly for meat; in some areas it is also kept for milk.
The main economic activity of many Southern Italian regions , which for centuries, shaped its life-style and culture, has left an indelible mark on the culture , traditions and customs of South Italy, so much so that  concerted public appreciation and awareness of the “tratturi” has given an impetus to restore their historical significance to the regions’ rich cultural heritages.

The revival of the 'transumanza', is now part part of the tourist landscape, offering unique tourist attractions for trekking, horseback riding and a chance to mingle with locals for a more authentic traveling adventure.
Interesting enough, it was a German tourist who took an interest, learning more about “tratturi” and “transumanza” and encouraged the two regions of Abruzzo and Molise to re-discover this heritage.

People who have had the pleasure of  visiting  Abruzzo  and Molise in recent years and traveled on state or rural roads connecting various villages and towns, have noticed something new – occasional markers placed on the shoulder of these roads reminding travelers that they are approaching a " tratturo", or tracks, not easily discernible, that, over time, formed paths in the seasonal migration of sheep and other animals, referred to as the transumanza.  

Each marker provides a graphic description and history of a particular “tratturo”.

These “tratturi” were about 350 to 400 feet wide and extended for distances of 250 to 300 kilometers, connected to inland areas of Abruzzo and Molise. The  ancients paths “tratturi” followed well-developed routes, established over centuries of regular use.
From the Roman period onward, and in particular during the reign of the Aragonese (Spanish occupation of parts of Italy in the 11th to 15th centuries), these routes were rigidly determined and legally protected by edicts issued by governors of the regions.


Historical research that continues to this day has identified five main “tratturi” in the regions: L’Aquila-Foggia; Centarelle-Montesecco; Celano-Foggia; Pescasseroli-Candela; and Ateleta-Biferno.​​  The "tratturi" also provided the regions with particular characteristics and the earliest routes for travel and communication.
A faithful companion of these shepherds is the sheep dog or mastiff, which Abruzzo claims is the best breed in the world with a natural instinct to protect sheep and other animals against predators.
These dogs are also easily trained to control the movement of sheep.​

Excerpts adapted from "TRATTURI e TRANSUMANZA" 
(Shepherds’ Tracks and Transhumance ) By Lucio D’Andrea

The phenomenon of the transumanza was not unique to Italy. It developed and was practiced in many parts of Europe. 
Although there were cultural and technical differences, the underlying practice of taking advantage of remote seasonal pastures was similar.

In Switzerland, for instance, this form of migration was and still is prevalent with the rearing and grazing of cattle.
They are taken during the spring and summer to pastures in higher elevations of the Alps, 8,000 to 10,000 feet, and to the lower valleys in the winter.
One of the marvelous moments during those hikes was to hear the sound of cow bells.
In Abruzzo and Molise, the stability for the seasonal movement of flocks between the two regions and Puglia was provided by the institution of laws, “Lex Agraria Epigraphis”  (agrarian laws) instituted by the Romans, designed to regulate the use of public grazing lands and routes for the movement of livestock or "calles", later known in Italian as “tratturi”.
During the Middle Ages, seasonal migration came practically to a halt, due to political destabilization and feudal conflicts, making the “tratturi” unsafe.

“Transumanza” surfaced again under the Normans in the 1,000 to 1,100 centuries, in particular under the influence of the Benedictine monks.

In Abruzzo, it was the Benedictines who had the greatest impact on the social, economic and cultural development of the region.

The Benedictines contributed greatly to the promotion of the raising of sheep, making the region Europe’s leading producer of wool.
The intrusion of government regulation on such successful enterprises surfaced under the rule the Spanish King Alfonso I of Aragon, who established in Foggia, Puglia, a “dogana”, or custom house, used for the collection of taxes and duties from the use of the tratturi and grazing rights for the sheep.
Regulations were also established as to the time of the year the livestock was permitted to migrate.

In early May, all forms of livestock migrated to the Appenine pasture, whereas the migration to the south, toward Puglia, was more diversified: sheep and goats entered Puglia in mid-September, and cattle in mid-December.

For a sense of the incredible numbers of sheep that grazed in Abruzzo in the past, research suggests that as many as 3 million sheep were grazing in the pastures of Abruzzo. 

During the seasonal migration, shepherds would walk hundreds of kilometers in the company of their livestock, a walk that would average three weeks ore more to reach the grazing pastures.

It was a rugged life, lived in isolation, in the open, physically bound to the caring of their flocks for 10 to 11 months out of the year, and conditioned by the grazing needs of their flocks and available pastures.
The legacy of the “antichi tratturi”  is being promoted by the Molise region by  proposing that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designate “Tratturi and Transumanza” as World Heritage site.
Interested in giving it a shoot?
From Apulia to Molise - Organized by the Colantuono Family - Usually  the end of May.  Departure from the town of  S. Marco in Lamis, Foggia Province. in the 
 Cavalieri del Tratturo - Molise

Northern Calabria - Sila Greca 

Francesco Carlito Berardi  - Calabria Trek

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