3. Underground


3. Underground

Underwater Tales

The Bormida Valley includes an extensive territory that stretches from the Ligurian Apennines in the hinterland of Savona up to southern Piedmont. These are the places that have given rise to Atlas Bormida: a collection of stories, a choral work of revelation, a space where visions and documents, sound experiences and stories strike sparks off one another.
Necessarily partial and subjective just like any work of fiction, Atlas Bormida does not focus on the best known places, the most popular images, and the official histories. It is consistent with the land where it was born: a complex, polycentric, and contradictory valley. Those who wander through these places and discover other stories will continue this opus.
by Alessandro Sciaraffa
28 audio tracks, recordings of a world
undeclared but real. Experience sound
literally immersive that can be chosen,
turned on and off. To change tracks
click on the sound player in the top right.

Dens, Abysses, and Bear Teeth

Taken formLa leggenda del Buranco.
Streghe folletti e apparizioni in Liguria
, Ugo Foscolo Editor, Firenze, 1900, by Baccio Emanuele Maineri.

“We will continue to gather rumors and stories and anecdotes about alleged mysteries and difficulties in exploring the Buranco (grotto). Except for some trivial events related to natural causes, imagination has run wild ever since the remote past; and not a few of those, who wished to satisfy their curiosity by ascending there, attempting - visually at least – to know something about the abyss, can in good faith have divulged some incidents which, even under their vivid impression, would not lose the honest character of authenticity. Of the remainder, the genesis of some legends, when they were not invented out of the blue and colored by the quirkiness and loveliness of art, reveal themselves clearly and with full spontaneity to the shrewd scholar. Of course, until recent times, and before the last two successful explorations were carried out, no one would have been able to give a serious or reasonable answer to the questions by the curious people above the depth of the dreaded abyss. They'd say, "It's true that you can see the bottom with the naked eye, but that is not the final point of the abyss; the stones that were thrown down there for centuries, when landing there, would continue to tumble, almost pitifully, becoming lost in an invisible hole where any noise or thudding ceased: that is where the horrible mouth opens...” Thus, the rumors and the fantasticating had all the more reason to persist and become transformed, as long as there were no proven and authentic explanations by the opponents. The cloud of mystery still surrounds the deep, dark well; and until recently, even the most natural cases were consolidated by the legend's epic prestige.
Read what was written by Reverend Bartolommeo Ferrari, the worthy rector of Carpe, a small village with few more than two hundred inhabitants, which was an autonomous municipality not long go and is now part of the town of Balestrino.

«At the end of September, or the beginning of October – I don't remember the exact date - in 1879, my brother-in-law Santino Parodi, his cousin from Sestri Ponente, Ettore Cadenaccio, and I went for a hike on Mount Calvo to enjoy the view from that height. Supplied with good provisions and a long-range spyglass, we set off early in the morning and when we reached the famous Buranco, we took a break to have breakfast on the soft grass right on the edge of depth.

«However, I was just sitting there when after a few minutes the two curious and wary cousins, having picked up some stones, were looking into the precipice and threw them one after another to make some noise. And then I heard them shout, "A dog! a dog!" I stood up and went to them, and looked. I saw nothing. The dog had disappeared into the hollow part. We threw down bread and meat to lure it to come out; but in vain. Soon afterwards, we continued on our way up, lingeringly, hoping it might reappear. On the way back, going near the abyss again, we gave it a fleeting glance; we no longer saw the animal, there was no sign of it.

«We didn't make a big deal about the apparition; and we thought that the dog had been thrown down there by someone, perhaps to get rid of it or out of cruelty, as sometimes happens.
«Was it just some hallucination those two had had? I don't believe so, since both of them repeatedly affirmed having seen it; they mentioned its shape, quality, and color: it was a watchdog of average size and reddish color with white spots. And the fact was the subject of new discussions in the evening; and even to this day, my brother-in-law asserts and repeats that the apparition was true, as if he'd seen it yesterday.

«Il non essersi poi rinvenute ossa di animali nelle esplorazioni fatte di recente, non mi par prova che non vi possano laggiù essere stati animali: è notorio che più volte s'è visto sbucare da quel profondo corvi e altri grossi uccelli carnivori, capaci di asportare resti mortali.

In recent explorations, the failure to find any animal bones doesn't seem to me to be evidence that there weren't any animals there: it is well known that we have sometimes seen crows and other large carnivorous birds capable of removing mortal remains emerge from that depth. We should also take into consideration that it is no short span of time that has elapsed, in which the wind, the snow, dry leaves, and any other bits of dead things could have hidden and buried not only the bones of small animals, but I'd say, also those of a human skeleton ...»

So no attempt was ever made to explore the abyss? There is no need to take the tales of long ago seriously, as did that poor devil and old Juniper; and I wouldn't even know how much credence to give to the experiments of descent, which they would like to have made in more recent times.

Black Graphite, Andrea Botto | Osiglia

So the memories of Buranco were increasingly losing their value, and there was no longer any danger of them making anyone tremble, except perhaps those few simpletons who, in recalling certain tall tales, say they believe them .... and that pigs might fly. And in truth, the theory of St. Thomas is now most highly accepted, and times have changed indeed.
Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis - Times change, and we change with them, rightfully sang the poet; but that time the hero challenged the danger without giving it a thought, and the last faint glimmerings of the legend went out forever.

We will continue to gather rumors and stories and anecdotes about alleged mysteries and difficulties in exploring the Buranco (grotto). Except for some trivial events related to natural causes, imagination has run wild ever since the remote past

One morning in September 1891, a certain Peter Canavese, born in Serra di Pamparato, but who had lived mostly in Toirano, who was a young man just over the age of twenty, and Ambrose Vigliano, also from Toirano and about the same age, who was then living in America, set out on the via del Giovo path with the deliberate purpose of lowering themselves down into Buranco. They came there equipped with ropes, and soon began their preparations.

Therefore, after tying a thick rope to a tree trunk, the most resistant one they could find on the bank, they lowered themselves into the depths, and Canavese grabbing onto it, light-heartedly trusting, went into the opening, dangling from the rope on his way down while his companions watched. Slipping down quite easily, he covered a space of five or six meters and stopped to rest; then he bravely slid down another four or five meters into the depth until he was able to set foot on a ledge or boulder; after catching his breath, he continued again, letting himself go down another six or seven meters; at which point he encountered another ledge, from which he obtained a brief and not very sturdy foothold.

His stamina was beginning to fail him and along with his stamina, his confidence; He looked down into the well and the depth appeared incalculable and terrible. Looking up at the top, he did not feel able to make the climb back safely; remaining suspended there was impossible, while the rope was slipping from his hands...
Down and down, as his energy left him, he closed his eyes... and plummeted.

As luck would have it, the feared depth was relatively short: eight to ten meters; and luckily he fell on top of what seemed to be dry leaf litter three or four meters thick: therefore he suffered no damage. Nevertheless, he was stunned. He began to look all around in fright, and the bleak appearance of the place, the dim and uncertain light, and the penetrating moisture were more distressing to him than the exhaustion of his body, and he believed he was lower than he actually was. He was trembling all over, and had neither the strength to return to his companions nor to cry out, although he heard their voices from above, which in calling out his name and being able to see him, gave him courage.

He took some matches out of his pocket and lit a candle he had brought, curious to see his temporary prison. On some moist foliage not far away, he saw a big frightened lizard, and it seemed that the circumference of the pit did not exceed ten meters. He raised the candle, and with great surprise saw a large opening between the north and the east, as he says, a sort of cave decorated with some stalactites about ten meters tall and perhaps fifteen meters in length, where the ground was entirely covered with damp sand. He observed where he was without daring to venture further, because fear of the unknown made him more and more afraid, and bleak images passed through his mind. He felt frozen to death and oppressed; the desire to climb back up became more intense. A half-hour spent in that age-old tomb already seemed an incalculable delay to him.

From what I have said, it seems that, while largely made based on the lucky explorer's calculations, the Buranco can only be of a modest depth, that is to say, not greater than twenty-six or twenty-seven meters, not enough to give rise to the strange ravings of popular imagination. Pietro Canavese was a young man of ordinary stature, with long limbs, a noble aspect, polite manners, and to judge by his own features, not very suitable for strenuous tasks; then he became employed in the service of the Marquis Marcello Gropallo in Genoa. With the assistance of his friends, and without the awareness of the danger to which he had exposed himself, he managed to break the centuries-old spell that the strangest tales, under the collective name of legend, had acquired with regard to Buranco.

But did he really break the spell with his descent? Was the description that he gave a true and accurate one? The answer lies in the following pages."

The Battle of Mombaldone

On Settembre 8, 1837, an army led by the Duke Vittorio Amedeo I and the French Marshal De Créqui thwarted an attempt of Spanish occupation at the Mombaldone castle. The battle, along the banks of the river Bormida, was one of many during the second war for the succession of the Duchy of Monferrato, which in the European arena of the time, involved fighting between France and Spain. The Spanish attempt to conquer Mombaldone was aimed at helping to secure the Camino Real, that is, the connection between Milan and the Spanish possessions in Finale Ligure. The outcome of the battle forced the Spaniards to use the longer and more arduous route through the Erro valley instead. The most famous representation of that event is the painting by Francesco Gonin "Vittorio Amedeo I conquers the Spaniard landlord under Mombaldone" (Royal Palace, Turin). Another representation is in the Palazzo Taffini Hall of Battles, in Savigliano.

Dens, Abysses, and Bear Teeth, Andrea Botto

Underground - The pony

Gemma del Carretto and grandson (interview transcript)

Gemma Del Carretto - Until 1428, Mombaldone was more underground than above ground, apart from the castle. Those who came could not imagine that there was anyone there, as if it were a deserted place, or whether the inhabitants were all dead. Once again in time of war, I'm speaking of 1940, 1945, it was possible to hide thanks to the underground passages. In fact, there was a tunnel, dug by the Templars, that went from the Abbey of Spigno, connecting with the Mombaldone castle and from there, continued towards the castle of Denice, or else to Moncastello where there was another monastery in the middle of the town. In this place there are still a half-ruined room, where it is always terribly windy, and a tunnel leading to Mombaldone. In time of war, people would hide here, there was never anyone around. So just imagine in the 1400s… Before the enemy could reach it, they'd be killed because of being spotted so easily. In 1428 they begin to erect the rooms. After the discovery of of America, Mombaldone arose above ground and was constructed in this way, but there are still the tunnels, some viable, and some not.

Gemma Del Carretto – Up until 1637, Mombaldone had never been besieged because it was well defended, but on July 12th of that year, the Spanish attacked but did little damage, and then on August 5th , they returned in greater force, but still without being able to enter the town which was defended by three walls that were difficult to climb over. They came back again on September 8th, but on the previous evening, upon realizing the great danger, the Marquises Del Carretto had asked the nearby Savoys for help.
The Spaniards had eight cannons, while neither the Savoys nor the inhabitants of Mombaldone possessed any: this is why they despaired. Mombaldone was attacked on Sept. 8th. The Spaniards then knew that they had won the battle and possessed this feud, where it was said there were treasures.

Grandson – I don't know why they attacked us: because they wanted our land, our castle? But if they wanted it, why did they destroy it? There were cannons, arrows, everything ... complete devastation!!

Gemma Del Carretto – The Marquises Del Carretto saw that the Spaniards were about to attack. They went into the children's room, opened the belly of a wooden and papier-mâché pony, shoved all their valuables, jewelry, and crowns inside, closed its belly, and quietly went away.
The Spaniards were struck down by a stratagem implemented by the Savoys who, with the Del Carretto dynasty, defeated them and cast them out: the losers left the field with bowed heads and many dead. Ever since, on September 8th, the Festival of Mombaldone has taken place: there are still two cannon balls preserved in the church.

Grandson – Then the Marquises feared that the Spaniards would take the treasure, so they went into the playroom. They opened the pony's papier-mâché belly and placed the treasure there, which has never been discovered. Maybe it's still there today. My grandmother knows where to dig for it! There is a secret passage: Paul, my grandmother Gemma's first husband, who unfortunately died, was afraid it would be discovered, so he covered it with dirt. Now everything is all covered over.


Locations, routes and directions

Buranco in Bardineto. Andrea Botto