Forty-five minutes north of San Remo, near the French border and Monte Carlo, is a small mountain-top village called Baiardo (Bajardo) that has seen the best and worst of the last 2000 years.
Before the Romans came to power, the top of the mountain (next to our houses where the ruined church stands) served as a Druid shrine. Some of the old stone columns have survived the years and can still be seen . Later a castle took the place of the shrine and then in the 12th century, that castle was replaced by a church. In 1887 several hundred farmers gathered under its arches to celebrate Ash Wednesday before heading out to work on their small terraced fields. However, most of them never made it, as during the service, the mountains were shaken by an earthquake and over a hundred people died when the church roof collapsed.
After the earthquake most of the villagers abandoned their mountain-top homes to move a little further down the hillside, where we now find the centre of Baiardo. Many of the houses right at the top fell into total ruin. But one of them, just to the west of the church on the edge of the terraced hillside, was bought by a family of musicians. They practised cello and piano in the rooms that had once housed peasants and farmers.
Then the Second World War changed everything again. The nation split into three distinct camps: the fascists, the partisans who fought against the fascists and the independents who chose not to take sides. The region around Baiardo was a bastion of the partisans and an area of extreme and violent activity. The family of musicians took to their instruments and their quiet lives in an attempt to ignore the war around them. Then, in 1944, a series of threats forced them to abandon their house suddenly in the middle of the night.
Twenty five years ago this house was purchased by Arrigo Speziali (Director of A.C.L.E.) and his wife, whose vision was to return it to its former simple glory. The windows were broken, the paint and plaster on the walls chipped, vines had climbed the stone and draped the terraced mountainside. But the walls that had held the house together since the 14th century remained solid. The arches that saved it from an earthquake in 1887 had held strong and protected it against further significant damage.
Now, the restoration of this and the surrounding houses is complete and the village of Baiardo, which was on the brink of dying out, is being brought back to life. Many other houses are being restored and the ruined church is being salvaged and reinforced to prevent further damage.
People are beginning to move back to the top of the mountain.