A recent research work has highlighted the presence of settlements “dug” in the earth in Monferrato, attributable to buildings and frequentations not yet punctually datable but used until recent times, around the mid-twentieth century.
In the Mediterranean basin, thanks to the particular climatic and geo-morphological conditions, the underground settlement has been widespread and documented since ancient times. In Italy there are numerous findings especially in the central-southern regions, such as the Sassi of Matera, Gravina in Puglia, the cave dwellings of Melfi, the underground churches of Torre del Greco, or Sardinia; while in the north, although it is a typology present in most of the Alpine and pre-Alpine arc as in the case of the settlements of the Berici mountains in the province of Vicenza, there are rarely real complexes made entirely by man and not only forms of use of existing cavities, sometimes closed to the outside by stone walls or, more recently, brick.
In the Municipality of Camino, and more precisely in the properties of the Vellano family, there are some groups of houses dug into the slopes of earthy sand deposits that settled in the Pliocene (5 – 2 million years ago) to form the hills south of the Po, geologically belonging to the sands.
The name “house” appears appropriate, since it is not the usual “crutin” (cellar in local dialect) pertaining to many Piedmonts’ homes in which the building extended underground in small rooms, mostly intended for the conservation of the best part of the vintage wine production; nor are these rooms dug into the side of the hill, adjacent to the farmhouse, used to shelter carts and tools during the bad season.
The isolated environments, or linked by a series of internal passages, obtained in the white earth sand of the hills of Camino, are real houses: houses, in which rooms dedicated to cooking and eating are recognizable: the kitchen; rooms for rest: the bedroom; the living room, with its characteristic wall decorations; the farmhouse with stable, the coops for poultry, rabbits; cisterns for the collection of rainwater; outdoor fireplaces, etc….
The Vellano family is working on the recovery of these volumetric documents which retain the absolute charm of an era of historical survival, probably identifiable between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, a period in which they were then definitively abandoned. This is a period of time full of difficulties for the Piedmonts’ populations that culminates, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, with a marked demographic increase, concomitant with an agricultural production insufficient to feed the entire population, not yet urbanized in nascent industrial cities. This period, so deprived of means of subsistence, made even the caves originally created most likely for other purposes, such as the shelter of tools for working the vineyards, coveted as homes.
These caves have been owned by the Vellano family for generations and were abandoned in the 1960s.