The transhumance

Among the signs of the past that remain more or less clear to tell the story of Capitanata, there is the network that was the plot of a millennial practice, transhumance. An ancient custom, already attested in pre-Roman times, which will be regulated in modern times by Alfonso I of Aragon, through the establishment in 1447 of the Royal Customs of the sheep’s Mena. The warp of this network was designed by very long grassy paths classified, according to the width, in big and small tratturi (grassy, stony or clay path) and branches. Along the tracks there was the periodic migration of the flocks, which descended from the cold altitudes of Abruzzo and Molise into the mild plains of the Tavoliere.

Twice a year, in October and May, these green highways were populated with herds of sheep that crossed them alternately: as the autumn season approached they left the mountains and headed south, to return to the pastures of mountain at the first hints of the summer heat. There are many testimonies that attest to the rich heritage of works, traditions and social relationships handed down by the civilization of transhumance. Stone memorials, taverns and votive chapels that demonstrate the transit not only of shepherds and flocks, but also of devotees and pilgrims, and affirm the ritual dimension assumed by the rhythms of agro-pastoral civilization. For this reason, the roads of transhumance are often intertwined, sometimes overlapping, to the ways of faith.

This is the case of the itineraries used by pilgrims to go back to the Sanctuary of the Gargano consecrated to Saint Michael, the saint revered by the shepherds, who dedicated numerous caves and votive chapels to the Archangel. Despite the great changes that have affected the agricultural landscape, many places in the Tavoliere and the Daunia Subappennines still evoke the ancient system of tratturi (grassy, stony or clay path). And so, the places to stop and rest become significant topographic notations through which to reread the material and immaterial culture of this extraordinary civilization.

Roberta De Iulio