Transhumance in central Italy


Another interesting thing about the Gran Sasso (pictured above in a photo I took a few days ago) that is related to agricultural biodiversity, apart from the famous lentil I talked about earlier1, is that its grazing lands are at one end of a famous transhumance route.

Transhumance is the seasonal movement of livestock in search of pasture. The route in question, the Royal Shepherd’s Track, has been proposed as a World Heritage Site. Its other end is at Capitanata, near Foggia, almost 300 km away to the southeast.

The Track may have been in use for a thousand years, but until recently the future of this way of life in Europe was bleak:

…though transhumance seemed doomed a few decades ago, all of a sudden — thanks to the commitment of a number of dedicated players as well as support from people in high places (the EU, Slow Food) — it looks like it’s due for a reprieve…

A key player in the transhumance revival is Roberto Rubino of Anfosc,2 an Italian organisation devoted to quality cheeses made from the milk of animals that live outdoors (‘sotto il cielo’) in ancient pastures rich with hundreds of different grasses, wild flowers and herbs instead of being shut up in stables and pumped with artificial food…

Patrick Fabre of the Maison de la Transhumance in St Martin de Crau, Provence, is singing from the same hymn sheet. Like Rubino, he notes that animals fed naturally and grazing out in the open are healthier, while the meat (and/or cheese) they produce is of superior quality and distinctive flavour. Some of these regional products (Sisteron lamb, fromage d’alpage) enjoy Label Rouge and/or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, and command a corresponding premium.

  1. And thanks to Lorenzo for adding some useful details to the post. []
  2. Associazione nazionale formaggi sotto il cielo, or the National Association of Cheeses Under the Sky. []

11 Replies to “Transhumance in central Italy”

  1. I am currently researching transhumance in the West of Ireland and would appreciate any information, photographs of this practice in the Mediterranean region of Europe. I am familiar with the Vlach shepherds of Greece and hope to visit the Pindus Mountains sometime in the future.

    Thank you.

    Theresa McDonald,
    Doctoral Scholar,
    NUI Galway,

    1. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately we cannot really supply more information, although I do know that there is a bit of a renaissance here in Italy. Suggest you do some Googling and contact people who are directly involved.

    2. Hi Theresa

      You may like to make contact with Irish artist Elaine Reynolds. She made a video titled: When Cows Swim 2010.
      This work documents the passage of a herd of cows as they swim at dawn from the mainland to the island of Inishtirra / (Lynch’s island) on the river Shannon where they will graze for the summer months. Lynch’s herd continue to swim across each Summer following a long Winter spent indoors. They act out this timeless ritual as their cow ancestors have done for generations. Inishtirra island remains unchanged.

      1. Thank you Christine.

        There was a similar movement of herds of cattle from Achill Beg Island to the Corraun peninsula in the late 19th C. Achill Beg was deserted in the 1950s but one octogenarian remembered hearing about the practice from his parents. Today, cattle from Achill walk across a causeway, at low tide, to a smaller island off Bunacurry which is quite a sight to behold.

        There is a very active Artists’ Group on Achill, so no doubt many of them will be familiar with the work of Elaine Reynolds. I will check out your reference.
        Many thanks, Theresa

        1. Could you please elaborate a bit more on the Achill Beg/ Corraun or Bunacurry movements? Or give me sources, links, etc.? How to contact Elaine Reynolds? Thanks.

  2. A nice map providing an overview of transhumance in the Mediterranean can be found in:

    Elli MÜLLER: «Die Herdenwanderungen im Mittelmeergebiet. Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen, LXXXIV (1938), 364-70, and map (Tafel 31)

  3. In Klein’s classic book about the Mesta, the Spanish association that regulated sheep transhumance for 800 years, he makes fun of Spanish attempts to introduce similar systems in their American colonies.

    The Spanish apparently thought that the transhumance was necessary because sheep had to walk a lot to produce good wool; and hence they did not consider the differences in the geographical and ecological conditions between their American territories and the Motherland (link).

    Perhaps that remains an obstacle in thinking about agricultural development. Perhaps the reborn transhumance sheep products can prove them right.

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