Valle Maira

Maira Valley

Valle Maira, one of Italy's Occitan/Provencal valleys, is located right in the heart of the Southern Cozie Alps: a delightfully picturesque unspoilt area which will amaze you with the beauty of its countryside.

In the height of  Spring, in Autumn and above all in Summer there is nothing better than enjoying one of the many hikes which the area offers; whether you prefer low-altitude strolls, or high altitude treks, there is an infinite range of paths to suit walkers of all levels, many of which are also suited for horse riding and mountain biking; all routes are marked and have equipped rest areas; they vary from 30 minute strolls to 10 day hikes.  Nature is totally intact and the area has fascinating history and rich cultural traditions.Winter and early Spring offer marvellous opportunities for trekking with skis and snow shoes and cross-country skiing. The range of ski routes is endless. The valley, one of the most beautiful, unspoilt Alpine areas is ideal for visitors who love nature, art, culture and local traditions.  This really is trekking country.

An enormous range of natural environments: glacial erosion with its typical “Ciciu del  Villar” formations, verdant woods in the heart of the Valley, endless high-altitude meadows. Unusual flora with rare species and many different types of plants found nowhere else.

A network of marked paths bearing witness to vernacular alpine architecture and immensely important religious monuments with mediaeval  frescos.
The Occitan /Provencal dialect, an ancient language of troubadours, has survived over the centuries and is spoken in Italy, France and Spain.
Once there was plenty of trade and constant cultural exchange between Valle Maira and surrounding areas, but more recently, these contacts have become steadily rarer. One positive  result of this isolation has  been to preserve the environmental and cultural heritage.
Occitania

Occitania

It is the civilization of the langue d’Oc, never to form a unified state, born around the year 1000 A.D., which is the first important civilization to emerge after the fall of the  Roman Empire.
Occitania stretches from the Pyrenees to the Alps, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, comprising  the whole of south-central France (Provence, Dauphinat, Auvergne, Limousin, Aquitaine, Languedoc and Gascony), the Val d’Aran in Spain and sixteen valleys in Italy, in the provinces of Cuneo and Turin, and a tiny part of the province of Imperia. Following a historical emigration even Guardia Piemontese, a little town in Calabria is Occitan, too.

The whole Occitan region enjoyed relative autonomy throughout the Middle Ages - the local lords had always to answer for their actions to the more powerful Catholic States – often, though, interrupted by mass repression and crusades ordered for political and/or religious reasons.
The tolerant culture of the Occitan region, the joie de vivre and the ”paratge“ conceived by the troubadours laid the foundations for the taking root of new religious ideas ever more distant from the corrupt official church, which gave rise heresy. The Cathars or Albigensians of Languedoc, vegetarian and non-violent, in 1200 constituted the best-known heretical movement, who were to be persecuted to the point of extermination by the Catholic Church through the political and military power of Paris: thousands were massacred or burnt at the stake.
The same fate was suffered by the troubadour poets, whose movement was eradicated once and for all, as they were perceived as being something like the troublesome journalists of later times.
Massacres and persecutions against the protestant movements which developed constantly in the  Occitan lands continued until the 1700s, as in the case of the famous persecution of the Waldensians.
In the 1700 and 1800s, with the birth of the nation states, Occitania, due to the absence of a strong military power, is shared out  between Italy, France and Spain. The consolidation of the official languages of the  three respective nations weakens the unitary nature of the region in its principal glue,  its language, which little by little disappears, though little harm is done to other traditions, such as  music and  dance, which have experienced a period of extraordinary vitality in the last decades.
Tradizioni

The traditions

Occitan and Provençal language and literature
Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy included phrases in three languages: the language of sì – Italian, the language of oil –  French, and the language of oc – Occitan, according to their respective words for yes.
”The langue d’oc is the first romance language to have written  grammars: just think that while Italian and  French had to wait until the1500 and 1600s  for their first grammar books, as early as  the first half of the1200s there were grammar books in circulation in the langue d’oc because foreigners wished to learn it in order to understand the troubadours' lyric poems  or to produce their own.“ (from ”Occitania, un’idea senza confini“ by E. Lantelme, A. Gebba and G. Galli).
Thanks to its political autonomy and economic prosperity, in the feudal courts of the south of  France, from around the year 1000, there develops the troubadouresque tradition, in the language of oc, which flourishes for around  two centuries until the crusades against the Cathars. The troubadours, occitan poets, sang of the ”fin‘amor“, that refined and perfect love and wrote ”tensons“, dialogues and debates, on playful or erotic themes.
The Occitan language, in its local variants, is still spoken today on Italian soil, especially in the mountain valleys of the province of Cuneo, although it is increasingly less common due to its replacement by the official languages. The vitality of the language is attested to by the 1904 Nobel Prize for literature awarded to Frédéric Mistral, the world-famous provençal poet.
The Occitan cross
So common today in historical displays and in the key places of Occitan culture, it has roughly one thousand years of history. Roughly from the year one thousand its history is tied up with that of the  local potentates of  Languedoc and of the  crusader knights. A certain testimony comes from the seal of the County of Toulouse, in which the Occitan cross, known also as the Cathar cross or cross of Toulouse, appears in  1211. In the same year it was engraved into the keystone of the cathedral of Saint Etienne of Toulouse. Its four arms and its circles symbolize numbers present both in Christian and pagan traditions.
Occitan and Provençal music and dances
Occitan music and dances belong to the great family of  folk musics and dances. In past centuries  they were neither codified nor written down, nor obviously filmed or recorded. What has come down to us is  the intertwining of contaminations of popular and  courtly dances from the  various macroregions of Europe and beyond.
Those areas less subject to migrations, trade and the passage of armies  have managed to maintain  their  traditions more intact, thus more ancient. In these areas, both in France and in the Italian Occitan Valleys, a number of researchers, some better known than others , were able to develop their studies over the course of the 1900s. These researchers include the Guilcher family in France, Sergio Arneodo in Italy and Giampiero Boschero in Valle Varaita. Thus, a process of partial codification has come about, with the result that the peculiar features that the same dance might exhibit from hamlet to hamlet, and even from family to family have been lost.
Many dances, alas, have been completely lost, since in the course of the 1900s, as a result of the mass  abandonment of the  mountain areas, the continuity between generations broke down in many areas. This time gap was particularly evident between the end of the Second World War and the nineteen-seventies, the period in which the rediscovery of the traditions and  the folkrevival began.
A fundamental role in the conservation of Occitan melodies and dances has been played by the popular festivities, such as  the baìe of the  various towns, in which periodically the whole population would come together for several days of merrymaking, with a well-defined script of plays, music and dancing.
Although today there are all the means available to codify rigourously music and dances, there is some reluctance on the part of the cultural operators of the sector, researchers, musicologists, musicians and dance teachers, for fear that these folk dances might lose their specificity, as their nature is to continuously evolve.
In the context of the cultural-folk events, one in particular must be highlighted: the roumiage de septembre, an international provençal gathering which for over 40 years has been taken place in Sancto Lucio de Coumboscuro, in Valle Grana, and which involves thousands of people each year. The whole event takes place in the mountains between Italy and France, the so-called Provençal Alps.

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by SINFOTEC