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Off the beaten track
Triora - Village of narrow lanes and witchcraft
all data refer to year 2000

Traveller's Memories: index

  This page is in memory of
    my Grandmothers and Grandfhaters.
This document contains both my impressions and a formal report about the village.

The Voice of Soul

If you arrive in Triora just after the sunset or in a rainy or foggy day you feel at once to be in a magical place.
Between the lanes that we, Ligurian people, call carügi, you can still hear the voice of silence or the sudden noise produced by a black and lonely cat which is strolling around.
Life still flows slowly here, far away from big and crowded places. Somewhere you can see the soft light of a little lamp twinkles through the steamy windows and some shadows move behind them.
Sometime the silent is broken by the soft and echoed trot of a mule or a donkey, but as soon as you can see it, it disappears, shadow amidst shadows, along the labyrinth of narrow lanes. It seems so easy to get lost between the tall black houses crowded together, lanes crossed by arches, the flights of steps and the underground caverns. Stepping out, fountains and public washhouses are the last memories of a not so far past when agriculture and breeding was the only richness of this kind of small country towns. If you listen by the ears of the fantasy you can still hear the sound produced by undreds hoof of sheep and goats, or the happy songs of the washerwomen.
All along the lanes there are ancient workshops where people sell cheese, the famous "Bread of Triora", books, postcards, food.
Taking a look around you discover that everything is made of rocky briks, wood and slate, the dark grey stone used to roof houses, to build stairs and chais or to decorate the door slabs.
Sometime the figures carved on the slabs placed above the doors seem to stare at you with their serious faces, sometime it is almost impossible to understand the meaning of the signes carved on slate... Signes belonging to Celtic-Ligurians shaman tradition or belief on witches and witchcraft....
Witches and Witchcraft, dark presences... This Triora is also famous for.
The red line of the sunset is leaving the place to the night. There is nothing more nice to see than the twilight while the valley below resonates of the sounds of the bells of churches.
The long shadows of the walls and arches crossing lanes fade away and you feel alone just near the place called "La Cabotina", the place avoided by everyone after the twilight.
"La Cabotina" is the extreme part of Triora village and situated on a steep escarpment amidst a forest of pines, chestnuts and beeches. There is a flavour of magic in that was supposed to be the residence of the "Witches of Triora". A mystical silence is the master of the ruins of a group of about ten houses eaten by ivy and blackberry bushes. Inside the tumbledown houses, at the light of a pale lamp, there are only few memories of the poor women lived there: a fireside, a broken chair or table, a window without glasses, a crashed door. Time stopped to flow 4 centuries ago, after the massacre.
The whistle of the wind passing through the windows and the rustling of the leaves make you have goose pimples and each time you hear a sudden noise behind the cornes the heart start to beat fast, remembering that far day of the 1587, when a special commisar in the vest of Vicar of Inquisition start to burn more than 50 women who lived here, accused of witchcraft.
The strange and unaspected jingle coming from the last house makes you realize that something strange is going to happen. A dark shadow crosses fast the lane. You start to freeze as soon as an uncertain light is switched on, but the fear fades away as fast as it has came: the last house of "La Cabotina" is a nice shop named "La Grande Foresta" (The Big Forest) where a small group of craftwomen produce objects made of clay. Inside, the shop fornitures are made of wood, a big window offers a spectacular view of the valley and a big stove maintains warm the place during the winter. Everywhere on the set of shelves there are Trolls, Dwarves, boxes and candelabras of various colors, shapes and size, incense and essences burners and many other little objects belonging to Celtic Tradition. A soft New Age melody comes from a couple of hidden speakers. The seller is not a witch at all, but a very kind, handsome and lovable blonded girl with two big sparkling blue eyes who greet people with a soft and calm voice.
So what about the witches? The voices about the strange presences are only tales? May be, but well then why cats and other animals avoid that place? In November, as the fog or low clouds wrap up the small village, what are those strange black dressed figures who move fast along the lanes, without doing noise, like gosths? Who laughes so loud and who lightes fires in "La Cabotina" without leaving any trace the day after? Ask people who live in Triora, the answer is always the same, told by low voice, like a whisper: the souls of the witches burned in the 16th century.
So remember... Never be alone near "La Cabotina" after the twilight.

Triora at a Glance

Triora rises west of Sanremo (about 25 Km away as the bird flies) 776 m above sea level.

Triora village

The town, which faces southwards and dominates the outlet of the Argentina Valley, is completely medioeval and concerves traces of the old Celtic-Ligurian villages. Characteristic are the caves and portico's, the tall black houses crowded toghether, the lanes crossed by arches, the flights of steps and the underground caverns.


Triora is an ancient town who's origins are pratically unknown. All that in known is that after being owened by the Aleramici it passed under the Arduinic standard and later under the Counts of Ventimiglia.
In a document dated the 18th March 1202 Triora is dipicted as a fortress which bound alliances with the villages on the nearby valleys.
In 1200, although still belonging to the Counts of Ventimiglia, Triora had acquired half of the fortress of Dho (the Celt name of the village later named Castelfranco and finally Castelvittorio in homage to the first king of Italy).
On the 21st of February 1260 Triora was sold by Bonifacio Count of Badalucco and son of Oberto, Count of Ventimiglia, to one of his brothers in law who sold it to the Commune of Genoa.
Passed under Genoa, Triora was promoted head of a jiurisdiction with a Governer: it's jiurisdiction extended over the villages of Bajardo, Dho, Ceriana, Montalto and Badalucco and also had the prerogative to inflict death penalty.
Triora rebelled against Genoa but was defeated and since then became a faithful ally.
In the XV century the Mens General Parliament of Triora drew up their own statutes (reformed in the following century) basing the life of the town on them.
The standard life in Triora during the XIV century must have been quite high going by the number of works of art (portals, inscriptions, casts of arms) and the number of illustrious men, expecially men of letters. Unfortunately this century also brought other non so edifyng things such as the belief in sortilege and witchcraft. The first case was recorded in October 1587: the genoese government immediately sent a special commisar in vest of Vicar of the Inquisition.
The territory of Triora has often been a theatre of war: 1625 and 1671 between Genoa and Savoia; 1794 between the Kingdom of Sardinia and France.
The jiurisdiction that Triora received from Genoa lasted up untill the Declaration of the Republic of Liguria (1797 March 31st) when Napoleon dissolved it and the town was riunited to the French Empire (1805). After the defeat of Napoleon Genoa was ceded by France to the Kingdom of Sardinia and Triora passed definitely under the house of Savoia.

About the Village

Slate has forever given the people af Triora the "ciape" (square tiles made of stone) to roof their houses, to build stairs and chairs and to decorate the door slabs which can still be seen today. The artisans have left door-posts and sculptures which seems to want ingentle the narrow alleys of the town. Unfortunately many of these were abrased in 1797 during the period of Ligurian Republic.
Encarved slab Among the slabs placed above the doors, particularly embelleshed are those in Vicolo (alley) Zunzelli such as the figure of a man with an austere face and long hair, beard and mustache, in Via (street) Sambuglia (The Annunciation, probably engraved in the XV century), the City Gate of Largo (square) Tamagni (which dipicts two seated lions flanking a coat of arms), and the 15th century gate in Piazza (place) della Collegiata.
Also in slate are the little columns typical of the entrances to the wealthier houses.
On the external wall of the parish (Via Giauni) one may admire a bust, sculptured in stone (1555) of a franciscan monk clutching a pair of glasses in his right hand.

Ruin of City Gate The town of Triora was built in an easly defendible position but in case of need it was rendered even more secure by walls and fortifications.One could enter the town through five different Gates, (now almost entirely dismantled) which were close by heavy bars at night.
At the Gate of the High Fountain, so called for the presence of an ancient fountain, one may still admire a stone arch, an embrasure used for defence against the enemy, and the small entrance (now walled up) to the exciseman's room. Inside it is possible to admire intersecting arches and vaults which form a play of lights underlining the bauty of these ancient constructions.
The Gate Peirana, so named because it linked the town to the church of St. Peter, of which today there is no trace.
It was the principal entrance to te town and the oldest gate of Triora ad demonstrates the ogival form of its arch. The gate was destroyed during the 2nd Word War.
Gate Anfossa which leads to the church os St. Bernardino.
Gate Colombera, situated in the lower part of the town it was moved further uphill after a siege.
The fifth gate who had no name was near the castle.

Of the existing five Fortresses only a few ruins remain.
At te top of the town soar the walls af an ancient castle (the Castrum Vetas Triorae as remembered in the old statutes). Rebuilt by Genoa when she bought the town in 1260, the castle was an important strategic point.
The Fortino (block-house). Built by the Republic of Genoa, executions were carried out there (later the executions were carried out on the hill of Gallows).
It was used for a long time as a frontier post and customs office between the Riviera and Piedmont. Transformed into a cemetery in 1865, it was enlarged and plastered, covering the ancient embrasures of the original fortress, in 1895.
La Colombera (The pigeon house) so called because pigeons were breed there.
Four arches of the patrolwall still remain remembering the siege layed down by the Franco-Piedmontese in 1625.

In Triora, as well as in many Italian town one may find a lot of big and small Churches.
The Collegiate church is so called bacause officiated by rectors coming from the most important families. The church was dedicated to Our Lady of Assumption in 1430 in the years when the parish was transfered there from the church of St. Peter (which no longer exists), built outside the walls. The church had three vanes: today, on the southside of the square one can see the capital's of the black stone columns. Transformed from romanic style in the 1770's, it was reduced to a neo-classic style in 1837 (date engraved on the outside colums).
In the baptistery there is a valuable marble font above which hangs a wood incision by Taddeo Bartoli of Siena.
The Oratory of St. Jhon the Baptist a wooden statue in lifelike size dipicting the Saint. The statue was made by the genoese artist Antonio Maragliano 1664-1741).
The statue is a valid expression of the art of this genoese master who manages to infuse a breath of life into this piece of wood.
From Corso Italia it can be seen the Church of St. Bernardino. The Portico has romanic origins; the interior is decorated with afresco's of the life, passion and death of Christ, attribuited to Giovanni Canavesio (1490). The church may have originally been dedicated do St. Bartholomew and only later to this Saint who in 1418 preached in Triora.
The Church and Convento of St. Augustine were built thanks to the legacy of Dr. Augustine Oddo in favour of the Augustines of Genoa. Only the principal wing of the convent still exists. The barrel voulted church contains a ligneous group dipicting the Mercy with the Blessed Antonio Botta. On the second Sunday after Easter, the statue with the cross is carried in procession to the mountain.
The Church of St. Catherine is situated on the road between Triora and Goina. Built in the Lombard style only two zalls with gothic inscriptions, dated 1390, still remain.

The town of Triora has a very nice Ethnographic and Witchcraft Museum, testimony of the country people's culture.
The museum is inside a three storeyed house from ground floor down to second level downstairs and is divided in six themes:

Ground Floor:
- Room 1: the animals of the forest.
- Room 2: a special citizen of Triora, Miss Brassetti.
- Room 3: archeology and prehistory.
- Room 4: arts and craftsmanship.
1st Downstairs Floor:
- Room 5: memories of the past (various ancient objects).
- Room 6: wine with the most dissimilar containers.
- Room 7: the kitchen in its primitive structure, its objects and the archaic lighting system.
- Room 8: milk and its processing.
- Room 9: chestnuts, from the gathering to the transformation in flour.
- Room 10: ancient jobs, trades and crafts as well as their implements.
- Room 11: life in the fields, with implements of the hard work of the countrymen.
2nd Downstairs Floor:
- Rooms 12 to 14: legend and history about witches and witchkraft, extensively documented by hallucinating documents that talk about terrible tortures and unmerciful interrogations.
Just before entering in the last downstairs floor, on the right a pair of steps permit to enter into a very small botanical garden that has been set up recently, with some of the magical and medicinal herbs still used by country people today.
At the ticket office one can also buy books about cusine, history and general culture... I am not sure if there is something written in English or French.

If you need more informations about Triora, feel free to ask me.

Traveller's Memories: index
© Paolo Botton