The village of Pierle sits in a little-visited corner of northeastern Tuscany near the border with Umbria. Even if you happen to travel the minor Route 34 between Cortona and Umbertide, you might pay no attention to the village amidst the trees on a hill north of the country road. What you would notice is the ruin of the local castle that looms above it, the Rocca di Pierle. (“Rocca” means “fortress.”)
The Rocca was an irresistibly picturesque ruin, so we drove up to have a look. Later, we learned construction began there in the 11th Century.
We strolled down the single unpaved street between the houses at the foot of the wall. It was midday in late July, and there wasn’t a sign of life. The ground floor windows were all shuttered against the heat. The pale, solid stone walls of the houses — some as old as the castle — glowed slightly golden in the sun. There were no shops or “attractions.” It was merely a cluster of residential buildings, not a “tourist destination.”
We listened. From the second floors of the houses we heard voices, chatting over the clatter of utensils on dishes. A cheerful, appealing sound. It was lunchtime, il pranzo. As it does in Italy, life had stopped to make space for gathering together for the meal. All was peace. These were, probably, farming families, and there were tractors and other farm equipment parked on the outskirts of the village. At that season it was almost certainly haying-time. The residents were taking their break in a pattern unchanged since a feudal lord occupied the Rocca. The lord was no longer present, but life went on unchanged.
Unchanged, perhaps, but not unaffected by the outer world.
At the edge of Pierle sits the local church, San Biagio a Pierle.
As you can see, it’s small. It was built in the 11th Century of the same local stone as the rest of the town, and reconstructed in the 16th Century. It has a modest campanile for two bells and a round early Romanesque apse.
Outside the church, we spotted a small memorial. There are thousands like it in villages, towns and cities across Europe. It listed the names of local men who died in WWI.
There were approximately 40 names on that monument.
Pierle is tiny; there can scarcely be 100 inhabitants. While the parish of San Biagio obviously includes outlying farms and homes, the size of the church indicates a small population. In such a place, 40 dead would represent an enormous percentage of an entire generation of young men. They probably would have fought and died not far away by how we measure distance today, to the north, on the southern edge of the Dolomites and later, during the terrible retreat, in the plains below them. Then, it was almost certainly the farthest those young men had ever traveled. So many of them never returned.
Standing there, looking at those names, it was a moment of inexpressible sadness to think of the grief and sorrow that would have gripped little Pierle. One tries to put it in context, but the scale of such loss is almost impossible to grasp.
The sun shone down on us, on Pierle, on the church and the overgrown, crumbling tower of the Rocca. The air was still, except for the quiet sounds of lunchtime conversation drifting from the houses.
To my knowledge, no veterans of that war to end all wars now survive, and only a relative handful of humans are still alive who can recall those years of their childhoods. “Remember us,” the monument asks. “Ricordaci.”
Life continues in Pierla: relatively unchanged, perhaps, but not unmarked.
© Brad Nixon 2016
The “gallery” on the Italian site for Rocca di Pierle, listed above, shows more photos. HERE is the Wikipedia listing for Rocca di Pierle (in French).