Traditions of the Alps of Piedmont
Ancient Jobs in Maira Valley

Maira Valley, Alps of Piedmont: ancient traditions

A rich history of craftsmanship and trade: fine drapes, clothes, cheese, horseshoes, footwear and… anchovies

Article by : Verticalife
Pics from: Historic Archive
Published: Tuesday, 06 March 2018

Maira Valley, wild and unspoiled land in the Alps of Piedmont, has a rich history of craftsmanship and trade: fine drapes, clothes, cheese, horseshoes, footwear and… anchovies.

“Ooo anciuìe, anciuìe!”
(“Anchovieees, anchovieees!”)

A white linen sack on the back, a few clothes, the classic broad-brimmed hat and a hard will: the anciuìe (anchovies sellers) used to descend from the high valley to Dronero (at the beginning of Val Maira) and travel by train towards Genova, in Liguria, to buy anchovies from the local sellers.
The fish peddler was a seasonal job, a bare necessity to survive the harsh winters of Val Maira, while it wasn’t possible to grow the land due to the snow and freezing temperatures.
From September to March men and boys from the remote hamlets of this valley in the Alps of Piedmont travelled to the Liguria coast with their peddler license on hand, while women remained in the villages to care for the children, the elder and the livestock. Once bought the anchovies – usually for 3 or 4 coins per kg – the valley inhabitants returned to Val Maira to sell their goods, wandering with their wooden cart (called “caruss d’anciuìe” – literally cart of anchovies in the local language, the Occitan) from hamlet to hamlet, fair to fair, yelling “anciuìe, anciuìe!”.
During spring and summer the inhabitants of Val Maira returned to the mountain pastures to harvest rye and hay.

Ancient traditions of Maira Valley, Alps of Italy

“Bottai and Pelassiers”
(Coopers and wig-makers)

Mastering ash woodworking wasn’t a job for everyone: coopers from the Maira Valley were highly requested in the wine lands, from the Langhe to the Monferrato regions for their ability to craft wooden containers, vats, buckets, barrels and presses.
They were also famous for producing the “caruss d’anciuìe”, used by the anchovies peddlers to store the barrels containing salted anchovies to be transported and sold in the valley. The wood artisans were almost all from the village of Tetti di Dronero, and they awaited the return of the anciuìe every year to get paid with the revenue of the anchovies trade.
Another itinerant profession of this remote valley in the Alps of Piedmont was the one of the “pelassiers”, which was practiced throughout 20th century: during winter they descended from the high valley to cut the hair of women willing to sacrifice some of their hair in exchange for a strap of cloth or a foulard to cover the head after the hair was cut. The hair collected was then processed by the pelassier to create different wigs, to be sold to the Italian and French nobility.

Val Maira - Alps of Italy: ancient traditions

The Seles Museum

Located in the ancient San Rocco church, in the hamlet of Borgata Chiesa the Museum offers a nice overview of the ancient traditions of Val Maira, focusing on the ancient job of the anciuìe, and showcases the typical clothes and tools and plenty of other interesting stuff, and on the fishing and fish transportation and trade in Maira Valley.

Open all the sundays from 23 June to 1 September, 10-12 am and 2-6pm.
Comune di Celle di Macra
B.ta Chiesa, 1 – Celle di Macra (CN)
Tel 0171 999190 - Fax 0171 999835
e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
web www.comune.celledimacra.cn.it

Maira Valley, Alps of Piedmont: ancient traditions

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