The first time the forest staff had accompanied me. “There is an incredible forest of black pine”, they told me on the phone, “that must be over three hundred years old”. Of course I did not believe it but I went to see. And there, in the forestry centre of Moggio, there was a not-very-large section of black pine trunk on show. Its rings, so thin that they could hardly be distinguished by the naked eye, had been carefully counted by the head of the centre.
“It’s more than 400 years old!”, he said, looking at me proudly. “Incredible isn’t it?”. We climbed a very narrow road, set between rocky curves and beech trunks, which before Grauzaria turned towards Monticello and from there was immediately transformed into a mule track, now a mountain bike trail called “The troi dai borcs” (Circuit of the Moggio Villages), but wide enough to let us pass in a Fiat Panda 4×4. The narrowest parts were caused by the proximity of the old houses of Borgo di Mezzo and Morolz, two small and ancient hamlets, truly enchanting sites. After the last house, the path, with its ups and downs in the woods and the streams that occasionally crossed it and descended into a wild but not hostile environment, immediately fascinated me. We were heading for Moggessa di là.
“It is a unique “forbidden forest”.
When I was a boy, when I heard of a forbidden forest, I thought it referred to ancient legends of bandits hidden in the woods. Only later did I realise that it was meant “forbidden” in the sense of cutting wood, except in very special cases, because it had an important function for the community. Most of the time these functions are hydrogeological (to protect against rockfall or avalanches), but sometimes they can also be for economic reasons (to increase the value of the timber by assuring very old and large trees). What is certain is that, even if not a direct objective, over time these forests also take on an important ecological value, thanks to their age and the important impact they exert in the environment in which they grow for hundreds of years.
The forbidden forest of Moggessa di Là was established for essentially protective functions, over the centuries having to fulfil the difficult task of acting as bulwark against rockfall to defend the small village. Its particularity lies in being mainly constituted of black pine, while almost all the forbidden woods bearing a protective function are prevalently beech.
Stepping down a steep slope, after the last bend, we found ourselves in front of the small village.
“Just think that these houses until before the war were home to more than 700 people. Since the 1976 earthquake, they are practically uninhabited, and many are in ruins, but some owners have started to restore them and come to spend the summer months here”.
I looked at the narrow lanes of pebbles, the many fountains still with running water, the stone houses, many with vine shoots that still climb the outside stairs, basking in the heat of the south-facing walls. The ancient construction style of the buildings emphasises the history of the people who lived here for many centuries. They highlight the hard work of life in the mountains but, incredibly, also the desire to create something beautiful. You can guess this from the attention to detail, sometimes insignificant touches, but still precious that you can still see walking through the stone-paved lanes, where ever no motorised vehicle could ever pass.
Enchanted, I stroll through the old hamlet.
“From here you go down to the old mill along a path, then, going up the valley, you get to Mogessa di qua. Lots of Austrians come to visit these places but almost no Friulian knows this forest.”
“I will return”, I think to myself, while I admire the ancient green guardians on the slope that have defended these poor houses for centuries. Houses that only the “orcolat” (note: this is what an earthquake is sometimes called in the Friulian language, due to the fear that it inspires) has been able to knock down, together with the mountain spirit of its old inhabitants.