Updated: Nov 13
✒ In the present modern world we are used to hearing about “sustainability” and
“sustainable development”, concepts applied to different contests and fields of knowledge. As a matter of fact, their use is quite recent dating back to the first Environmental Conference of the United Nations in 1972 but aleady defined in the previous Brundtland Report of 1987. But can we state that before nobody talked about sustainable principles? Or about the management of natural resources fully respectful of the times necessary to Nature to regenerate its provisions, thus allowing the future generations’ availability? Actually, this kind of examples can be found going back in time, even some centuries ago.
Here is then that digging in the historical-cultural roots of a specific geographical area we can make interesting discoveries. This is the case of a mountainous territory in between Susa High Valley and the Department of High Alps (Hautes-Alpes), where during the 1300 a form of governance particularly illuminated developed and it introduced social regulations ante litteram in order to establish a more equal distribution of wealth, an improvement in education and the Alpine ecosystem respect. The Republic of Escartons is all that. A territory where the Dauphin (= territorial governor) allowed great territorial autonomy to the mountain communities, sovereign from the political point of view.
In 1313, an official document , the Grande Charte (the Great Chart) as confirmed by the Dauphin Umberto II il Vecchio (Umberto II the Elder), inaugurated a pioneering example of inter-territorial cooperation that included five departments corresponding to the valleys of: Briançon, Queyras, Oulx, Pragelato and Castel Delfino. Each Escarton included other sub-territories with autonomies, modelled after the ancient Rome, but that enact laws from below. Within these boundaries, a form of government very similar to a modern “republic developed whose fiscal system was shared by the communities (escarter= equal tax allocation) and not by the feudal lords or noble families, almost completely absent in the area of reference.
All that brought to the blossom of commercial activities also encouraged by the Salt Road and by the move of the Pope’s seat in Avignon. Therefore a local “bourgeoisie” (middleclass) was born and it was aware of the common rights and duties including the obligation to participate to the community’s decisions, as to elect the Consul Guide, and a sustainable management of the collective woods, exploited by the whole population according to precise rules. Territories that are charged of civic use still nowadays. The socio-political experiment which involved more than forty thousand inhabitants, was so successful that, in the French side, it stayed unaltered until the 4th August 1789.The Italian side was given to Piedmont by the Utrecht Treaty of 1713 maintaining, nevertheless, all the rights and fiscal privileges until the final annexation with the Savoy Kingdom that gradually contributed to its dissolution thus losing any tight with the French culture in 1860 (Italy unification under the Savoy House).
A prosperity that lasted over time thanks to the following discovery (since the half of 1400) and exploitation of metal ore deposits such as: graphite (Col de Chardonnet), iron (Monêtier), gold (Briançon), silver, copper, lead, tin and cinnabar (Oisans, Exilles e Cesana).
Modern anthropologic studies talk about “Alpine paradox” referring to this historical anomaly where the mountain populations were culturally more open than those living in the next plains, with a literacy degree unthinkable to achieve elsewhere in Europe, in the Middle Ages. In fact, nine inhabitants out of ten were able to read, write, and make maths calculations, up to and including, in some cases, philosophical, artistic and linguistic knowledge. Being always a cross-border territory of Occitan tradition, the area covered by the Escartons already saw the practice of various foreign languages.
The glorious past Age relives today through the architecture and historical mementos kept by the Heirs of the local families. MONACŒCOART® collected the direct witness by Andrea Terzolo, Mayor of Oulx, (Susa High Valley), who allowed us to visit exclusively a private house in the historical centre.
Photos >> 1. The inner courtyard of Casa Bermond 2. The part used for agricultural activities (Oulx - Old Town, 6th October 2023) © MonacoEcoArt.com
MONACŒCOART® : Mr. Mayor, what makes these lands so special in comparison with others in the Alpine area?
Andrea Terzolo: If we think of prosperous valleys as the ones in Trentino, the typical mountain house is the lodge with its gable roof , the adjacent stable, the kitchen, the bedroom and the barn. In the historical centre of Oulx on the contrary we can find houses clearly in city style with a cloister structure as in the villas of the ancient Rome, that divided the residential side from the one devoted to agricultural activities. In Bermond House (where we are now) each environment surprises us for its sizes that are very large comparing to the average. An architectonical characteristic that we cannot even find within a few kilometres from here, in the well-known Bardonecchia ski-station resort.
This domestic environment served also as a family business with a private oven, double stable and a cellar for the provisions, typical elements of the alpine tradition but more advanced than normal, a testimony of greater well-being, within the limits of a hard life according to modern canons. We must notice that the owners have no noble descents but they are full-fledged middle class (bourgeois).
MONACŒCOART®: What is then the essence of the Escartons?
Andrea Terzolo: Being able for a non-noble family to affirm itself in a society thanks to the privileges given by the Dauphin who let them be free. The living room of Bermond's House was conceived with this function. We are talking about the beginning of the 1700 when the Escartons were already in decline on the Italian side; but this social revolution is destined to leave a mark in the following centuries. The atmosphere we can breathe is that of a palace in the city centre of Turin, making us forget that we are in the Alps, more than one thousand metres above the sea level.
The mementos show also the family’s interests in arts, literature, and culture, as a consequence of the zeroing of illiteracy, both masculine and feminine and an equal acknowledgment of the inheritance rights over the land and real estate properties, in a territory particularly fertile for crops and livestock. An extraordinary circumstance for the age, integral part of our cultural identity that now we want to rediscover and make it known. ***
🔸MONACŒCOART® would like to thank the Municipality of Oulx for the collaboration.
🇮🇹 To read the Italian version please click: VERSIONE ITALIANA
By Maurice Abbati
Springer International Publishing