Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful: we inttroduce with this quote of William Morris the house with rye thatched roof, which is still visible today in Gambarogno, in the Centocampi mountain pasture on the Monti di Caviano: it’s useful and beautiful at the same time!
In our area it seems unthinkable that there are buildings with rye thatched roofs, first of all because we had given up rye for disappearance, and secondly because we don’t understand how such a roof can protect from the rain….
…Yet in the Middle Ages this type of buildings existed, and were quite widespread, and continued to be present until the nineteenth century, when, due to repeated fires, their construction was prohibited.
The presence of thatched roofs in the Centocampi is recorded until the second postwar period, to cover stables and barns.
Thatched roofs are typical of various European architectures, especially of the British Isles, but also of Sicily and Poland.
Straw is a readily available, lightweight, waterproof material much more than you think. This is why it was used above all in the islands, where the transport problem is particularly acute. The only drawback was the flammability, of course, but the peasants had thought of this too, and in fact they made the support structures in chestnut wood, while using birch wood to tie the bundles of straw together. In the presence of flame, the birch burns before the chestnut, in this way the support of the covering burns and falls before transmitting the flame to the beams.
Recently, a certain type of country and sustainable architecture has revived the thatched roof, suitably waterproofed and treated to be non-flammable.
The possibility of seeing such a building still exists, as long as you are willing to walk for a couple of hours. A well-restored specimen equipped with various didactic panels is present in the Centocampi, near the Monti di Caviano.
Centocampi, the name suggests, is a beautiful agricultural plateau that opens at the end of a rather steep mule track that starts from Caviano, a 5-minute drive from Zenna, on the border between Italy and Switzerland. The path, which begins in Caviano and leads up to Centocampi, is well marked by the classic yellow signs.
The area in the past was entirely cultivated with rye, which provided bread to the people, and precisely straw for the roofs. Then for many years, from the 40s to the 70s, the area was abandoned, and with it also the old farmhouses. In 1975, Walter Keller, carpenter and farmer, returned to live and work there. About ten years later, the manager of the Gambarogno Tourist Board, Nicola Nussbaum, together with the farmer Christian Spiller, managed to bring back hundreds of rye sheaves to the Centocampi and rebuild, together with Keller, two farmhouses exactly the same as those typical of a hundred years earlier.
Now, for practical reasons, one of the two farmhouses is covered with simple metal sheets, while the other has the beautiful and typical straw roof.
The pitches of the roof are very steep to allow snow and rain to flow quickly.
It is a cover that must be replaced every year, and for this reason part of the land has returned to being cultivated with rye, as it once was.
The farmhouses are built with dry stone walls, using local stone but without the use of lime.
On the initiative of the Ticino Tourist Board, thanks to the presence of detailed educational panels, children and adults can understand how the peasants once lived, and appreciate all the ingenuity and aesthetic wisdom that underlie such an example of architecture.