A brief history of the Alpe Loasa in english
The very beginnings of settlemet in Valle di Muggio
To begin very early: The Valle du Muggio was populated in early middle ages. It was hard to settle in the mountainous region, but it had one big advantage: In the lower regions, malaria was endemic. On the way from Chiasso or Mendrisio to the Valle du Muggio, you pass through Morbio Inferiore and Morbio Superiore. «Morbio» has something to to with morbidity: That's where people got sick from malaria, while further up, they were fine.
The start of alpine farming in Valle di Muggio
But only in early modern times—from the 17th century on—alpine farming started to spread through the steep slopes of the valley, and it reached its maximum only in early 20th century.
The first reference to Alpe Loasa
We don't know exactly when agriculture on Alpe Loasa started. In 1780, Pietro Neurone drew the first map of the region. On Alpe Loasa, a few little huts were indicated. On the map, this clearing is called «Alpe Rovasio». Well, the ending «-asio» is nothing else than «-asa» but «-asa» is dialect while «-asio» is good italian. And for the «R», we suggest that Pietro Neurone just took an «L» for an «R», for he wasn't working extremely careful: His maps contain valleys which don't exist and so on. Neurones interest lay with the borderline between the Ticino and the dukedom of Milan, which is indicated astonishingly accurately on his map. «Lovasa» finally turned into «Loasa» or «Lüasa».
The meaning of «Loasa»
What does «Loasa» mean? We can only guess but a professor for italian language who lives nearby suggests that «lova» in dialect has something to do with gliding. But why? Have there been landslides? We rather don't think so. Rather, there has been a lot of wood chopping, for clearing and for firewood production, and there may have been slides—similar to nowadays playground slides, but miles long—to send the trees down to the valley.
The alpine transhumance model of livestock farming
At that time, and till 19th century, Loasa was the alp of Morbio Superiore, i.e. people from there used it for transhumance. Transhumance means migratory livestock farming. The cattle spent the winter times in the lower regions, mainly in sables, and was fed with hay. In summer times, it was brought to the higher meadows, and the grasslands in the valleys were used to make hay. Often, there has been transhumance in three stages: Winter was spent in the village, spring and autumn were spent in the «Monti» and summer was spent on the «Alpi». Here in Valle di Muggio, there was mainly a two-stage transhumance while at the Lake of Como, the three-stages transhumance was practiced. So you can see the big yellow house from here. That's the Alpe di Carate. On the south-eastern slope of the mountain ridge, there lies Monti di Carate, while the village of Carate lies at the shores of Lake of Como. That's also the reason why the border between Italy and Switzerland only rarely follows the watershed line in this region: The highest slopes of the «swiss» side of the mountains were first explored from farmers from Lake of Como.
Of course, mountain farming was extremely hard work. First, the forest had to be cleared. All the region originally was covered with forest, mainly beech trees. While farming spread, more and more forest was cleared, and on its maximum about 100 years ago, you could have walked up to Alpe Loasa without ever crossing a forest: It was all meadows and chestnut orchards.
With industrialisation starting in Milan region, there was a lot of charcoal producing in this valley. And now, in 19th century, some of the «Alpi» were turned in yearlong farms. People earned a little money with charcoal and a few farm products, but they mainly did subsistence farming, i.e. they lived directly from the crops, the dairy products and the meat they produced themselves.
The creation of Alpe Loasa as we know it
At that time—we guess some 150 years ago—the main buildings of the Loasa as we know them today have been built. Imagine how hard the work must have been: The rock needed to be cut and with the material from there, the terrace was built. So the wall we are rebuilding stems from that period. And how did they cut the rocks? They didn't have no explosive. So they drilles holes into the rock and filled it with water in winter times. While freezing, thje water expands and thereby breakes the rock.
The nevèra coolhouse
A building particularily interesting and very typical for the Valle di Muggio is the nevèra. They had to do with butter making. Butter was a very important product for it was—as cheese—a technique to conserve the milk with its precious ingredients. In order to make butter, the milk first has to rest some 24 hours. During that time, it must be cooled. Usually on alps, the milk is cooled in creeks, but in Valle di Muggio, the creeks run dry in summer. Therefore they built this nevère and filled them with snow at the end of the winter. If it was well done, the snow melted completely only in autumn so the nevèra could serve as a cooling facility all the summer long.
The life of the family Rossi-Cereghetti in early 20th century
We know that in the first years of 20th century, a father with his children—Giacomo Rossi—came from Lake of Como to the Alpe Loasa (the mother of the children had died). It seems that the Loasa had been void before. One of his daughters married a local, a Cereghetti. Several grandchildren og Giacomo would be born on Loasa, and the family stayed till mid-20th century. They're cash crops were vegetables, mainly cabbage (broccoli!). Once a week, a man of the family went down to Caneggio with a donkey loaden with vegetables to sell them on the market. With the money they earned, they mainly bought chestnut flour. They had many more animals than we have nowadays: In 1911, they had 14 milk cows, 7 young cows and 3 calfs, 1 bull, 1 mule, 1 sheep, 7 pigs, 32 goats and 40 smaller animals (rabbits, chickens, cats…).
They has other sources of income, however: the charcoal and the smuggling business. The Loasa gave shelter to both smugglers and custom officers. Does that sound strange to you? Well, the smuggling took place exclusively from Switzerland to Italy, mainly in tobacco and alcoholics. Therefore, the Italians tried to stop it. In the 1930s, they built the iron fence all around the border, of which you can find the remainings still nowadays. And the caserns of the custom officers (the Guardia di finanza) were impressive… In Switzerland, some poeple even were registred under the profesion of a smuggler. For swiss autorities, that was no problem… Only during 2nd world war, there was smuggling into both directions. From Italy, rice and oil were smuggled into Switzerland. And refugees. Some of the local people helped them but if they were caught by swiss military, they were usually sent back to Italy. Particularily in the last period of the war when Italy was occupied by the germans, sending back a jewish refugee was almost identical with a death sentence.
There have, by the way, been no fightings in 2nd world war in this very region, but in 1st world war, the austo-italian front line was nearby. On the summit of Monte Bisbino, you can see the trenches.
But in peace times, there was quite some tourism here, more than nowadays. On the italian side there were many hotels, pensions and huts. Only few of them are still tourist facilities today: The Rifugio del Bugone or the summit restaurant of Bisbino. On the swiss slope of Bisbino, there was the restaurant Cavazza on the neighbouring alp of Loasa. It was run by a family Zanetta. The grandson of the last innkeeper, Angelo Zanetta, is now an old man but still comes very often to his little house on the path from Bruztella to Loasa.
Liberals vs. conservatives
In 19th and until about mid-20th century, there were fierce political tensions between liberals and conservatives, which in 1843 even led to murders. It was on the Visitation day when there traditionnally is a pilgrimage to the chapel of Saint Mary of Monte Bisbino. It's a popular gathering, peolpe drink wine, some of them drink too much… At that time, Vacallo had a liberal priest while Caneggio and Bruzella had conservative priests. At the pilgrimage day, some conservative extremists stabbed down the Vacallo priest and a man who was with him, but they survived. The policeman who tried to arrest the offenders was killed. After his funeral, some of the mourners went to Bruzella and shot down the Bruzella priest and one of the offenders of the Visitation day who was with him. Stll 100 years later, the rivalry existed. In Cavazza restaurant, the were often gatherings where people were dancing. But the priest of Bruzella, still a conservative one, said a good christian shouldn't dance and the children were afraid of him.
The decline of alpine farming in later 20th century
When after mid-20th century the farmers left Alpe Loasa, it was still used for a certain time as summer meadow but wasn't inhabited in winter any longer. The forest in Valle du Muggio reconquered many of the cleared areas, alp buildings fell into ruins. The Alpe Loasa among them: Some of the basements of the house, the vaults of the stables and the roof of the nevèra collepsed and more and more Treen growed on the meadows.
The beginning of the Loasa cooperative
Than, in 1984, the history of our project began. A few young people from german speaking part of Switzerland bought the Alpe Loasa and started to live there as a community. It was a time when many swiss-germans went to Ticino and tried to start a new life far from the blesings of modern civilisation. With the help of countless young volunteers and over years, the core group of our Loasa-pioneers started to renovate the buildings and clear the meadows from trees. They lived ob the Alpe Loasa during summer times. For many years, the situation was quite precarious. The couple from the core group had to leave Alpe Loasa when their children had to go to school. Many tenants followed each other, not all of them were beneficial to the Alpe Loasa… but if we compare the photos of 1984 with the condition of Alpe Loasa today, it's incredible what they performed.
Alpe Loasa today
In 2008, a young farmer became our tenant. He was on Alpe Loasa with his family for 8 years but had to leave end of 2015 because his children have to go to school. He left the Loasa in a very good shape. As a successor tenant, we were happy to find Uta.