Culla di Bratto, The Magical Cradle of the Lunigiana

What do the symbols mean? Who carved these cradles?

Have you ever gone to a museum highlighting the artifacts that tell the story of how things were done in the olden days? How it works here in Italy is that the population donates the things they’ve been hiding away in the attic or barn because the village has decided to introduce tourists and children to how those days long ago were lived, and provide for the older citizens a remembrance of things past.

On one of those days when the weather has turned balmy, and the powers that be decided to air out the museums and palazzi while allowing anyone into them without charge, we headed into the Museo Etnografico della Lunigiana, the Lunigiana’s Ethnographic museum, resplendent in its scarlet overcoat, lazing on the bank of the Bagnone Terrente which was nearly dry this time of year.

The doors were open, so we pushed our way through and waited to let our eyes adjust. Were there ticket takers? Maps? Literature?

Finally, a woman pushes open the door and clatters down the stairs. She gives us a paper and lets us go to explore as we please. We discover lots of things, but what provoked discussion was a room lined with old, rusty tools. In the center of the cramped and cluttered space were baby cradles. Of them, one caught everyone’s eye. Later I would search the internet to find several references to it as a “well-known Culla di Bratto.” All I know about this famous artifact of 17th century life was that it sounded dirty to say its name.

culla di bratto
Culla di Bratto, the Magic cradle from La Lunigiana

A mystery (to the four of us) had turned into an enigma. What made this one special, or different, and who did it? Why did everyone seem to know about it but us?

A bit more poking around and I found someone who needed to unravel the story. He wasn’t a blogger or a historian, it was a Ben Hatke, a man who knows his way around wood. Mr. Hatke was asked to create a replica of the famous cradle.

Hatke made a very fine video of the process that you should see by punching the button below. The thing is, he tried to use old techniques for the cradle, and modern computer-controlled routing to make the design on the front and back. This meant that the design had to be drawn by an artist, uploaded to the computer, and then the computer fed the data to the router to make the design in the sides of the cradle. It took 7 hours (!) each side to replicate the carving.

One of the things that excites me more than anything else in creative projects is when Very Old Technology is combined with Emergent Technology. This is why the concept of 3D printed specialty arrowheads appeals to me so much—it combines one of our earliest human machines (the bow!) with something entirely new. It’s all in the video:

A Complicated Cradle

Getting a handle on the object’s mystical properties continued after Hatke’s work.

The idea is to have the cradle of Bratto rediscovered. The dream is to reproduce it and start small artisan workshops. To get there, it is necessary to nurture a creative process that starts with courses and experiences on the graphics of the magnificent decorations, natural colors and wood joints. Our goal is to nurture curiosity and knowledge around a magical object. Our common thread is “creating in nature” in contact with in materials and places that generated this object. The cradle is a symbol of life, and we want it to become a symbol of re-birth of the life of a border village, nurturing ideas and dreams related to creativity and craftsmanship, respecting the natural environment.

Tuscany’s official tourism website weighs in:

“The cradle of Bratto, between tradition and re-creation” project is particularly important. Bratto is the last town in the Municipality of Pontremoli before the Brattello Pass, famous for the extraordinary skills of local artisans in building furniture and wooden objects. Finely decorated cradles are symbols of this centuries-old tradition, with one of these still preserved in the Ethnographic Museum of Lunigiana. This fine manufacturing work that was formerly considered a valuable object and manufactured in the 19th century in the town of Bratto is linked to the project as it pursues its aim of rediscovering its now lost history and workmanship, setting up small artisan workshops capable of reproducing it.


Upon looking at the time, we arose in a flash and headed for the exit of the museum. We had a restaurant reservation, and it was approaching. There was no one womaning the kiosk at the door, which several of us tried. We were, alas, locked into the museum. After finding an alternative exit, we wiggled latches and one grudgingly opened; we had finally found our way out. Like magic.

Where to Stay in Villafranca in Lunigiana

If you’ve a hankering for paella or other Spanish dishes, you might consider staying the night in the nearby town of Mullazzo, at Hotel Ristorante El Caracol.

For other hotels, click the button below:

Top hotels in Villafranca in Lunigiana

More on the Museum and the Hamlet of Bratto

museo etnografico della lunigiana
The Lunigiana Ethnographic Museum

Bratto, population 34 (less in winter), is in the midst of a forest. If you’re looking for well-shaded paths to walk, see Wikiloc Trails, Bratto.

Read more on the Ethnographic Museum of Lunigiana

Lunigiana Map and Guide

Hidden Tuscany: The Lunigiana App

More on the Lunigiana Historic Territory of Tuscany

Hidden Tuscany: The Lunigiana

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Pasta Fagioli with Alcide

Aulla, a Town in the Lunigiana

The Caves of Equi Terme

A Gorge Adventure in the Lunigiana

Home Again: The Bar Rotondo

Culla di Bratto, The Magical Cradle of the Lunigiana originally appeared on , updated: Jun 09, 2024 © .

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