Brisighella, virtually unknown to Americans, is one of the "Borghi più Belli d’Italia", a Città Slow, and has won an Orange flag from the Italian Touring Club for for excellency in tourism, hospitality and the environment.
The friendly woman at the tourist office grabs what looks like a shard of glass from a bowl, scrunches down and scrawls a wavy line on the pavement.
"Gypsum," she says "is what the town was known for in Medieval times."
Gypsum is used in making mead and can condition water for any kind of beer making. Drywall has gypsum, as does fertilizer. In the ancient world after deforestation, gypsum was employed in place of wood. Gypsum is used in making cement; the Romans used it. It makes a strong mortar.
The three hills of Brisighella, "Tre Colli" are loaded with gypsum. So it's no wonder then that the medieval town is built around the trade of the valuable mineral. The “Via degli Asini" cuts through the town in the form of a 12 century covered street built into the city wall with light provided by open arches. It was once used by the "birocciai", the cart drivers who transported the gypsum from the quarries above the town.
The hills above Brisighella are no longer mined. One is crowned by La Rocca, a fortress originally built in 1228 that has been recently restored. Inside is a multimedia presentation on the history of the territory. Another hill holds the famous Torre dell'Orologio, the clock tower with a clock showing (and ringing) 6 hours. It rings all night, so you'll be glad for fewer rings if you stay nearby. The clock tower was once the Castrum Gypsum, the Gypsum Fortress, but it's been remodeled into what you see today. The third crag is capped by the 18th century church of S. Maria di Monticino.
Brisighella has a train station on the Florence to Faenza line. It is the first stop after you leave Faenza. (See a Rail Map of Italy).
Brisighella is in the province of Ravenna, sitting pretty between the Lamone River and the three hills. See a map below.
We don't often get into shopping on Wandering Italy. But there are some things you should know about the environment for economic and cultural exchange in the town. Artists are actively sought and nurtured here. Brisighella seems to have "gotten" the message that traveling and wandering folks just might prefer quality, handcrafted goods over tourist crap. Good for them.
First let me point out to you a shop for hand-stamped cloth. Stamperia Bertozzi on Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, 10 makes the same kind of hand stamped cloth (using rust!) you can also find in Carpegna. They are members of Associazione Stampatori Tele Romagnole; the trademark "warrants that liners are made using hard carved wood blocks hard-beaten with a mallet." Great tablecloths and throw pillows, among other items.
And then there is Sandi, who runs a shop called "Sartorial" in Brisighella. The Italians call what Sandi does as "refashioning". A walk around the shop and you'll be calling it sartorial art, as Sandi does. Nothing is exactly what it seems. That short skirt with the flashy colors? Look, it's made from a discarded umbrella!
What do you get when you combine recycling with artistic creativity? Sandi's creations: handbags, lingerie, hats, all from recycled materials. You have to see it to believe it. It's the cucina povera of the sassy seamstress with a big side helping of artistic sensibility. People bring her stuff. She makes something modern out of it. Art to wear.
Sandi also makes jewelry for folks allergic to metal.
And believe me, when you walk in it's not like walking into a Goodwill. You'll think you're in a very exclusive shop of a top fashion designer.
But enough. Just go. And if you're a guy, bring her something old to work on. There's just not enough guy stuff in there.
Sartoria, Via Naldi 13, Brisighella.
Ca' Ma Va - Merende & Ristoro on Via Poggiale is a new restaurant. You may wish to be enticed by pictures on their facebook page.
Tel.: 0546 81166
(There is a shop next to the tourist office selling typical products of the region, including the special olive oil called Brisighello, a DOP product.)
There are four hotels in Brisighella and several agriturismi (farm stays)
The markers represent the Rocca (castle) on the left and the clock tower on the right.