Eugenio Cirese



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Traditions - The Pagliara: example of dying out rural architecture *

The agricultural landscape of Molise has been transformed in recent decades but a building next to disappear demands attention: the Pagliara (the barn). It is a sort of shed made of straw, built to contain hay and forage but also to be used from time to time as a shelter for men and animals. In the countryside of Molise only a few remain, old and in bad conditions, abandoned or being abandoned. Rare are those who still perform the original function, and those that preserve the original form and features. In fact they have been gradually replaced by buildings of zinc sheets on wooden framework and, lately by metal boxes , which are the fastest and least problematic in terms of functionality and maintenance.
The "pagliara" is the clearest expression of rural architecture that arises to meet the immediate needs and that is erected in a few hours of work using simple materials available in nature. Even if it is a seemingly elementary building, its implementation needed "qualified" workers, peasants more skilled, specialized. They did not receive a specific reward, but drew as many days of work by the "purchaser", a practice which occurred, and still recur, in less specialized services, such as those related to major deadlines of agricultural work (harvesting of wheat, of corn and grapes).

pagialraThe Pagliara was usually built near to the farm since it was a support building connected with the small farming. It was used as storage for straw, hay and forage, which needed to be stored in dry places. Straw was used daily for the "lettèra", i.e. to renew the soft layer that is placed beneath the animals of the stable, this layer thickened after some time, was periodically removed and piled out of the stall into the compost heap. The equipment needed for the construction of Pagliara was prepared in advance: the wood for the skeleton, oak or elm, had to be cut in late spring, with the waning moon, the observance of this rule (extended to all agricultural activities, especially those of the harvest) is essential if you want logs which are easy to be debarked and, above all, unassailable by wood-worms. The stubble ("restoccia") should be collected in summer in a field of wheat harvested by hand, grubbed, freed from the earth of the roots and arranged in small bundles. The lake and river canes can be taken at any time of year, more frequently when needed, as well as the wild willow branches.

* Worked for the graphic documentation: Giorgio Granite. We thank Messrs. Giovanni Greco, Livio Macoretta, Alfredo Pizzacalla, custodians of an ancient tradition: without their help the realization of the Pagliara here illustrated could not have taken place.

pagliaraLeveled, if necessary, the land to better accommodate the structure, the first step is to adjust vertically the two bearing logs (fercìne), inserted in deep holes of about 1 meter, on the top of which is placed a cross trunk (filiegna). Then the perimeter is marked with a dry stone wall of a single row of stones that perform the dual function to act as a support base of the poles of the structure (kerriente), preventing them from rotting in direct contact with the soil, and at same time to guarantee greater stability to the structure. The plant, rectangular with rounded corners, easily solves the problem of the slopes , which are leveled, and the difficulties associated with the straw covering the vertical plane.
In the perimeter of stones is left the space for a small entry; opened in a marginal position on the short side facing South –South-East, for obvious reasons of shelter from cold winds.
A skeleton of sturdy logs and poles (ieatte), more or less long, more or less thick depending on the specific function, is the backbone. On the primary structure (the fercìne and kerriente) is applied, tied with twisted and elastic willow branches (torte), the secondary structure, made of poles (ietta).
The next step is the coating, which consists of two layers. Is evenly distributed on the skeleton a layer of lake or river canes, their tenuous diameter and thick foliage are particularly suitable to waterproof the building. Thereafter, is placed a layer of stubble arranged with regularity so that the roots are always at the bottom. Both the canes and the stubble are "stitched" to the skeleton through a system of poles laid horizontally and connected to the vertical ones below.

The surface of the upper part of Pagliara is completed with the aid of a particular planking. When the Pagliara is finished a cross of straw shall be placed on the roof above the entrance to protect it.
Routine maintenance is carried out frequently on the outer layer of straw, which is to compete with the weather, so that its waterproof and insulation capacity are regenerated uniformly.
In addition to the function which is proper of the Pagliara, it could also give answers to the needs of the farmer, and so from time to time it has been used as a shelter for humans and animals and as a storehouse of tools and victuals. Therefore many were built in the countryside, between cultivated fields, in areas away from the house of the farmer, especially when the latter was in the village. In many cases, particularly poor families found in the Pagliara temporary solution for emergency housing, often sharing it with the donkey and goats. In such cases, the Pagliara was equipped with a temporary partition wall and a small wall that, along the whole perimeter, helped the construction to be more developed in height to allow two levels in the inside: the animals living below , and the men on the "first floor". This solution was rather frequent, because it allowed to obtain, if not two floors, a barn on the ground floor and a loft above for hay and forage. In times not so distant, when the brickwork was not for everybody, the Pagliara has fulfilled a function of primary importance. The idea of a farmer of Castropignano can seem particularly pathetic to our sensibilities. This farmer given his condition of poverty built a series of close-ups pagliaras, each with a specific function: chicken coop, storage for food, stable for the donkey, sheepfold, bedroom, pantry…

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