2016 was a banner year for earthquakes in Italy. More than 300 people lost their lives in two series of shocks that hit the center of the country—especially the region of Umbria—destroying small towns and their treasures. Nearly a year later, authorities are still removing rubble and trying to restore roadways, many closed and impassable, to affected towns and villages.
But the spirit of the Umbrian people remains indomitable.
One very small town, Castelluccio (“little castle”), with a resident population of around 20 souls in the village proper, was severely damaged last August and completely destroyed in a second, more severe quake in late October that took down the bell tower—the highest structure in the town—and the castle. In combing through the rubble, rescuers retrieved a shaggy sheep dog puppy, which was promptly restored to its owner who in turn donated the pup to the local fire brigade for training as a rescue dog.
The pup’s owner was one of a handful of local farmers who annually plant the crop that has made Castelluccio famous: lentils. Tourists (including a group of American hikers in May 2015—a year before tragedy struck) have long come from hither and yon, traveling over winding roads through the verdant Sibillini Hills of Umbria to reach this village perched on a hill nearly 4800 feet in elevation—the highest village in the Apennines—and savor the delicious lentil soup which is the local specialty.
This past March, local farmers, despite having lost their homes and now living in campers in the vicinity, asked and obtained permission from local authorities to venture through the dangerous rubble-strewn roadways to access their farmlands and plant their traditional crop. With help from the army, their tractors got through—Castelluccio lentils will live on!
The Castelluccio area is also known for its spectacular “fioritura”—the annual blossoming of acres and acres of mostly red and yellow wildflowers that annually drew 250,000 visitors in early summer to witness nature’s beauty spilling over plains between the green Apennine hills.
There is now limited access to the area; not all roads are passable. Some, which have had to be re-routed and newly built, are not yet traffic-ready. However those on horseback—riding is a popular local sport—and hikers will be able to see the fioritura up close.
The earthquake damage in central Italy was extensive. In nearby Norcia, the Benedictine church, built over the birthplace of twins St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, was—except for the façade—otherwise destroyed. But local survivors are determined to carry on their trade and traditions. Their energetic commitment is inspiring. Castelluccio, long famed for lentils and flowers, will live on because of the spirit of its people—worthy descendants of the nobles who once inhabited the little castle on the hilltop.