Ecomuseum and his activities
Isaura, city of the thousand wells, is said to rise over a deep, subterranean lake. On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no farther. Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one.
Italo Calvino, The invisible cities
Thanks to its innovative approach, an ecomuseum is a dynamic body helping communities to preserve, interpret and enhance their own heritage in view of sustainable development. It covers a homogeneous territory and stretches beyond walls to include landscape, sceneries, physical and biological aspects, man-made work, and all those elements distinguishing and defining a territory. Not only do ecomuseums combine nature protection with actions to enhance and preserve cultural heritage, but they also help to develop the territory according to people’s requirements, since they aim to preserve the collective and historical memory of a place and act as ever-changing entities being enriched with contributions from various initiatives.
Our Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese testifies to, recovers and interprets historical memory, figures and events, material and immaterial culture, the relations between nature and man-made environment, traditions, activities, life and work habits, local products and how the man’s settlements and interventions have affected the landscape and the territory in Osoppo-Gemona plain (the so-called Campo), a geographical unit abounding in humid environments and waterworks. In this area, the man has been acting for centuries, drawing up and managing water, digging irrigation ditches, building embankments and factories and producing energy. Our ecomuseum works to direct the territory’s future development towards environmental, economic and social sustainability, responsibility and involvement of both public and private subjects and the whole local community.
In 2000, the company Prealpi Leader – GAL del Gemonese financed a project for sustainable tourism submitted by the municipality of Gemona del Friuli and the Cooperative Utopie Concrete. The project, called “Centro di Educazione Ambientale Mulino Cocconi“, led to the creation, in Ospedaletto di Gemona, of a Workshop for environmental education, along with a Museum of milling art and a Documentation Centre, to enhance and promote Gemona and the whole surrounding area.
This was the first approach to ecomuseums in the region: this model entails an advanced idea of territory museum, where documents, handmade products, buildings and oral accounts help to interpret the territory itself. The initiative aimed at “recovering the value of nature, landscape and memory linked to the presence and use of water in the area of Gemona, in order to promote an ecomuseum”.
In 2003 the ecomuseum took part in the first national meeting of ecomuseums held in Biella and it was included in the catalogue “Ecomusei. Guida Europea“, edited by Maurizio Maggi and published by Allemandi.
In 2004, upon the first regional conference on ecomuseums “Il territorio racconta”, the Association CEA Mulino Cocconi - Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese was created to manage the ecomuseum and involve local people actively. Ecomuseo delle Acque signed the Declaration of Intent of Sardagna (Trento), defining the aims and objectives of ecomuseums, and became a member of the European network Mondi Locali. In the meantime, other municipalities signed specific agreements to join the project: Artegna, Buja, Majano, Montenars and Osoppo.
In 2006 the region officially recognized Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese according to law no. 10 of 20th June 2006 on “Establishment of Ecomuseums in Friuli Venezia Giulia”.
In 2009 Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese promoted a regional network by signing a memorandum of understanding with ecomuseums Lis Aganis and Val Resia: all ecomuseums acknowledged by regional law 10/2006 joined together and set up a coordinating committee to optimize resources, exchange experiences and good practice, discuss the privileged role of ecomuseums for the territory sustainable development, decide together initiatives and actions to be carried out at a local, regional and national level.
Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese includes a particular geographic unit called Campo Osoppo-Gemona, a central area in the region Friuli Venezia Giulia. The river Tagliamento, which flows west, has shaped this alluvial plain bordered by prealpine mountains and hills. The plain originated from a large lake stretching north of morainic hills, immediately after the glacier of the river Tagliamento subsided 10 thousand years ago. But the lake hasn’t disappeared, it still survives in the empty spaces left by the gravel that has replaced it: today a large phreatic surface spreads a few meters underground and it sometimes surfaces creating a complex resurgent system of high naturalistic interest.
The ecomuseum area displays a number of both natural and human elements linked together by their geological history and by the common activity of exploiting water for irrigation, production, private use, thus showing that the territory is not made up only of environments with their abiotic and biotic components, but it includes also the history of those who have lived and worked there in the past (and who still do it) and the signs that have marked its landscape. A large number of natural sites (springs, lakes, streams, rivers) are accompanied by the many expressions of material and immaterial culture (water intake structures, irrigation ditches, mills, wells, wash houses, but also life and work habits, traditional knowledge, local productions), which make up a real system in Gemona area to be visited, read and interpreted through a network of footpaths and cycle routes.
The ecomuseum has become a focal point to interpret the territory since it is a tool to promote the natural heritage defining the identity of these places. In particular, the territory surrounding Gemona has an exceptional vocation for acting as a large educational workshop: here, citizens, not only students, can look for evidence of their own culture and history and especially for the underlying environment conditions, which are essential to cultural and historical continuity.
Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese has its main office at Mulino Cocconi, an ancient mill lying at the centre of the so-called Borgo Molino in the district of Ospedaletto, near Gemona. The mill dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, but a sawmill existed there already in 1431 and belonged to Mr. Martino De Brugnis. At the beginning of the 19th century, family Cocconi bought the building and took over the activity. The architecture of the structure, which hosted the millstone room downstairs and the miller’s housing upstairs, is simple and austere; some details in the stone elements framing the upstairs windows suggest that the building belonged to a wealthy family. Seriously damaged in 1976 earthquake, the mill has been restored and strengthening works on the outer walls have allowed the rehabilitation of the exposed stone façades.
Mulino Cocconi houses a Centre for Environmental Education, recognized by the Ministry of Environment within INFEA project and inserted in the regional network for Environmental Education. This centre encourages experience and interpretation by acting as a cultural reference, as a meeting and coordination point for all those who deal with environmental issues. It offers to citizens, in particular teachers and students, a number of opportunities and instruments to learn about geography, nature and landscape in Gemona area. The morphology of the prealpine environment and Osoppo-Gemona plain, vegetation and animals as well as human interventions over the centuries, are described there and water is the underlying theme.
There are three sections in the building: the Educational workshop, where the territory may be interpreted through exhibitions and learning rooms; the Documentation centre, that is a well-supplied library being constantly updated and a “memory archive” with a number of videos and recordings on material culture; the Museum of milling art, included in the minor museums circuit in the Province of Udine and housing an 18th-century millstone and a roller mill from the late 19th century.
To inform, train and educate on environmental issues, the Centre promotes and organizes various activities such as workshop experiences, visits and guided excursions, training and specialization courses, meetings and debates.
The Association CEA Mulino Cocconi – Ecomuseo delle Acque del Gemonese carries out several activities, in compliance with the aims set out in the regional law 10/2006:
a) in order to strengthen the sense of belonging in local identities, it collects and manages information, data and documents to be classified and used to plan promotion and enhancement initiatives;
b) in order to awake communities and institutions and involve them directly in enhancement, research, active use and promotion of cultural, social and environmental heritage -including traditions and knowledge passed on through generations-, it facilitates relations and exchanges with local, regional, national and international institutions and associations and it also organizes cultural activities promoting information, debate and reflection on knowledge transmission, environmental education and sustainable resources management;
c) in order to preserve, restore and enhance traditional living environment and pass local culture down, it carries out study and research activities on nature, history, art and cultural issues; guided trips and excursions are organized to encourage the knowledge and enhancement of the ecomuseum’s heritage;
d) in order to promote and support scientific research and teaching activities on local history and traditions, it organizes training courses, seminars, conferences, informational campaigns and exhibitions, and it publishes and distributes scientific, nature, teaching and tourism literature;
e) in order to recover and use the original local languages in the various activities, it gives teaching advice to schools of any type and level and promotes intercultural and scientific programmes in the local language for students as well as training courses for teachers.