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[image ALT: An old stone house on a low hill in a winter landscape. It is a farmhouse at Morávola, near Montone, Umbria (central Italy).]

A view of the largest farmhouse in Moravola.

In the late winter of 2004, having just arrived in the little town of Umbertide which would be my home for three months, I started walking the surrounding countryside, always a good way to get a feel for an area; and in the course of my very first walk, I came upon this place — or rather, was taken to it, as you may have read in my diary. At any rate, there's not much to it: five houses, maybe six, scattered a fair distance apart in the hills, at the end of what was then a single-lane dirt road, and for all I know, still is now.

My guide told me how the original owners had left in search of better farmland, more work, greater opportunities; how their houses had been abandoned for some time; how an enterprising group of people felt Moravola deserved better, and maybe if her houses were brought into the twenty-first century foreign visitors would appreciate her. It's a story you hear a lot in rural Italy, and often indeed the bargain is a good one for everyone: a revitalized village or area, and new people delighted to take care of it and call it home.

[image ALT: On the left of the photograph, the front of a rustic stone house; below, in the middle distance to the right, a large, very wide, low, dilapidated stone farmhouse. The houses are in Morávola, a hamlet near Montone, Umbria (central Italy).]

When I took this picture, the house to my left was the only inhabited one for a mile around or even more.

[image ALT: A large, very wide, low, dilapidated stone farmhouse in Morávola, a hamlet near Montone, Umbria (central Italy).]

Preparations were underway to start restoring the neighboring farmhouse.

These are isolated dwellings; what must once have been the main hamlet is on another rise in the landscape, about half a mile away — from which I took the photo that leads off this page. A cluster of stone buildings around the lane you see here seems to have got its start as a medieval watchtower; many such towers dot much of central Italy: over the centuries they become farms, or hamlets, or ruins. At the time of my quick visit, I got a glimpse of "a beautiful barrel-vaulted stone passageway" (as I recorded it in my diary), but overall, this was a dilapidated little place:

As we walk down the path, over the second door on our right, we can read an inscription. It starts out in Latin and ends in Italian:

fecit me
Angelo Felcino
Marchesi 19.3.1928

— that is:

Angelo Felcino Marchesi,
a carpenter,
made me

[image ALT: A rustic stone building, maybe three or four houses in a single structure, along a narrow lane of dirt and grass. It is Morávola, a hamlet near Montone, Umbria (central Italy).]

[image ALT: A photograph of part of a wall of irregular stone masonry; in the center a large concrete slab with a roughly carved inscription (transcribed and translated on this webpage).]

The story has a happy ending — or at least Moravola has reached a happy way-station as she begins her second millennium: thoroughly rebuilt, restored, renovated and extended in a low-key modern style, the watchfort now serves as a sophisticated retreat, for which its remoteness and quiet suit it very well.

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Page updated: 12 Jul 11