Art and culture

Interview with Marco Mozzone president of the Ambiente & Cultura Association

July 26, 2023

Man without a sense of territory is lost, territory loses its meaning without man contemplating his roots.

MArco Mozzone

In the fascinating world of history and culture of Langhe and Roero, figures of extraordinary commitment and dedication emerge.

Prominent among them is the charismatic personality and fervent passion of Marco Mozzone, president of the Ambiente & Cultura Association.

With a career that has seen him primarily occupied in archaeology (with a specialization in grapevine and wine archaeology)-an interest he continues to pass on even as a professor of history-Mozzone over time has become a guiding light for those who aspire to a more sustainable and enriched world of cultural values.

In addition to this, he is the creator and proponent of the Alba Sotterranea (Underground Alba) project, which since 2011 has involved adults and young people who want to learn about the city’s roots (dating back more than 2,000 years!).

The Ambiente & Cultura Association is also concerned about safeguarding the environment with a number of initiatives in the pipeline.

But let’s learn more about this reality!

Alba Sotterranea - events
Alba Sotterranea, the archaeological tour to learn about the Alba of yesteryear

How did the Ambiente & Cultura Association come about?

Marco — I was born in Alba in a farmhouse on the Bricco delle Capre hill, a vantage point overlooking the whole city. I am very attached to my land and since childhood I have been passionate about science, history and archaeology.

The Association was formed in 2010 around the Federico Eusebio Civic Museum, Alba’s archaeological museum of natural sciences, together with a group of recent graduates.

The old director was retiring and the new one (Luisa Albanese) would be left alone. We needed a structure to operate, so we decided to establish the Association.

Since 2018, the operational headquarters has been located in the Church of San Giuseppe, hosted by the Cultural Center thanks in part to the intervention of Roberto Cerrato, director of the Association of Vineyard Landscapes of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato (ed. note: also UNESCO National Commission Expert on the Vineyard Landscape).

Who does the association involve?

Marco — We are about 200 members. As for the operators instead-active in various capacities-between 15 and 20 people.

We are archaeologists, historians, art historians, art therapists, tourism science graduates, tourist and environmental guides, geologists, and natural science graduates.

The average age is relatively low: between 25 – 30, at 42 I am definitely the oldest, and we are all from more or less this area.

What do territory and roots mean to you?

Marco — On our website is a quote of mine, “Man without a sense of territory is lost, territory loses its meaning without man contemplating its roots,” and it sums up what I think: territory for me, in the first instance, is the Cascina where I was born, it is home.

The deeper you go, the more you feel you have a safe place in the world.

Marco Mozzone

This is also true for those who collaborate with me: we identify very much with our places of origin.

Roots are the story of a place and are a constant discovery! The deeper you go, the more you have a sense of having a safe place in the world, a certainty in the chaotic universe around us.

Very often we pick up projects that were born 20, 30 years ago and even more, of people we have known, and immediately we feel like a link in a chain that keeps their story alive and ensures that the thread is not lost.

This happened with the project Dal Fundus Mallianum al Monte dei Sette Castelli (From the Fundus Mallianum to the Mount of the Seven Castles), which involves the enhancement of the archaeological remains of Magliano Alfieri. We rediscovered the handwritten notebooks of Patrizio Porta (former mayor of Magliano) and Sergio Susenna, the master precursors of the Civic Museum, who welcomed us almost as if we were their grandchildren.

We are trying to carry on their work, begun even earlier by Antonio Adriano, founder of the Gruppo Spontaneo del Roero, known for recovering peasant traditions and folklore, the Cantè J’Euv, etc…

We hope that after us, in a few years, there will be someone to pick up our baton!

Magliano alfieri - events

What are the main challenges the association has faced in promoting culture in the area and how have you overcome them?

Marco — Our defining project is Alba Sotterranea, which has been a real “burning” success right from the start and is one of the things we are most proud of because we have changed the mental image citizens have of the archaeological part.

We were lucky because there was a lot of dialogue with the institutions-who listened to us very benevolently-but we were also good because from there we were able to then fund subsequent projects.

The biggest challenges are the timelines in which you have to apply for funding, the submission of the calls in the right timeframe.

For example, for the exhibition Italia o Enotria: la vigna del Risorgimento (Italy or Enotria: the vineyard of the Risorgimento), held in 2011 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy at the castle of Grinzane Cavour, home of the Piedmont Regional Enoteca Cavour, the mayor at the time, Franco Sampò, listened to us, and we were able to pursue the idea thanks in part to the contribution of Senator Tomaso Zanoletti (president of the Cavour Piedmontese Regional Enoteca).

How do you come up with ideas for your projects?

Marco — For La Via dei Pellegrini. Landscapes and culture between ancient paths of faith and new treks (The Pilgrims’ Way. Landscapes and culture between ancient paths of faith and new treks) for example, we were at our venue for an initiative called Teatro dei Pellegrini (Pilgrim Theater)an educational show narrated by a guide, mixed with a form of Commedia dell’Arte that originated in the 1600s.

If you live the territory and look around, ideas come to you.

Marco Mozzone

On this occasion we viewed the studies of great local historian, Baldassarre Molino, in the archives of the Confraternity of St. Joseph, regarding the theater and the annual pilgrimage that was made from Alba to the Sanctuary of Vicoforte in Mondovi. We immediately became passionate about this story and decided to start a new initiative by joining a CRC call for proposals and winning it.

This was also the case with the Magliano Alfieri project, which we mentioned earlier. Also flocking to the commemoration of Patrizio Porta (who passed away in 2018) were members of the Friends of Alfieri Castle Cultural Association – of which Patrizio was a founding member – bringing with them archaeological material collected by him and Antonio Adriano.

That’s where it all started: if you live the area and look around, ideas come to you.

The elliptical dome of the Vicoforte Sanctuary is the largest in the world.

From your experience, are locals or those from outside more interested in your activities?

Marco — It depends a lot on the proposal. At the beginning, at Alba Sotterranea-which is the activity that makes the most participants-so many people from Alba came, even those who were previously skeptical about archaeology.

Now, after 12 years of visiting, there are tourists from outside the province, region and even outside Italy!

Other projects, however, are more aimed at residents because they involve local schools. I’m talking about La Mappa del Tempo (Time Map), which includes playful educational activities dedicated purely to children, which, however, is also a popular activity for adults and teens.

What are the projects you are working on?

Marco — For the Roero, the recovery and enhancement of the amazing – and unfortunately half-known – Oasi dei Canapali is starting.

This is a former gravel pit, now a Lipu Oasis, a wetland area just a stone’s throw from the Tanaro River, which-on the idea of former Magliano Alfieri Mayor-was excavated down to the water table by having it filled with water and then fenced off. It is now 6 hectares wide and within it there are trees, undergrowth, shrubs and brambles.

Having also repopulated with birds, two observation points have sprung up for bird watching and organizing events. For example, three years ago the Oasis hosted Darwin Day, the theme of which was evolution and where the public witnessed the impersonation of Neanderthals in a setting reminiscent of a Jurassic Park of yesteryear!

This is a prime example of how a quarry can be reclaimed, improving the landscape, and soon-for the next Darwin Day in the spring-it will be possible to organize more guided tours to the Oasis (which can only be visited with a guide), the Magliano Alto lookout, and the Museum of Theater and Landscape, which is one of two museums inside Alfieri Castle.

Magliano Alfieri - Fraz. St. Anthony's; remains of Roman walls
Remains of Roman walls in Magliano Alfieri, in the hamlet of Sant’Antonio

For the Alta Langa, however, a project is in the offing that aims to create an Educating Community between us, the Cinema Vekkio of Corneliano d’Alba and the Comprehensive School Institutes of Bossolasco and Cortemilia, which bring together the majority of the villages of the Alta Langa.

Spearheading the activity is precisely Cinema Vekkio within a national call called Educating Communities dedicated to children.

The aim is to create, in two and a half years, stable relationships between the institutions, Cinema Vekkio and the Ambiente & Cultura Association and all other entities in Alta Langa (associations and businesses) to increase and improve the quality of the educational offerings of elementary and middle schools.

Concretely, Cinema Vekkio talks to children and young people about what the Alta Langa they would like would look like in order to make a real “community pact“.

We are involved as educational experts and will survey all the places of interest in the area by making educational fact sheets and proposals for schools, after school and camp. All of this will end up in a map where both cards and experiences will be geo-referenced.

For the Bassa Lang a and the Langa cebana, so around Ceva, as we said earlier, we are developing the project The Pilgrims’ Way. Landscapes and culture between ancient paths of faith and new treks.

A 60/65 km itinerary – divisible into several days – starting from Alba winding through the hills of Barolo, UNESCO Vineyard Landscapes, and continues to Dogliani, descending along the course of the Tanaro River, pushing on to Mondovì and then Vicoforte where there is the Shrine of the Nativity of Mary and a visit to the Elliptical Dome.

It is a journey of faith that gives the opportunity to admire natural and architectural beauties, such as the Partisan Memorial in Bastia Mondovì which has an incredible viewpoint and history and the Chapel of San Fiorenzo (considered the Sistine Chapel of the Langhe), with its late medieval frescoes or the underground rooms at Casnea Briaglia, dating back to the Bronze Age and discovered a few decades ago by a local professor.

Bastia Mondovì – San Bernardo Partisan Memorial

In the meantime, we continue to pursue Alba Sotterranea, a tour led by a professional archaeologist for an itinerary that includes a selection of three stops from the city’s thirty-two archaeological trail, plus a concluding one at the F. Eusebio Civic Museum.

This project has between 12 and 15000 visits per year and allows us to fund all the projects just listed and future ones. Donations, institutional intervention, calls, and membership fees of course, also help.

How do you combine technological innovation with your historical-archaeological proposal?

Marco — The Time Map, has precisely the characteristic of mixing in-presence activities with the use of new technologies: for example, for the City Game, the kit is both paper and digital, through an application that provides geo referenced guidance.

For the Map of Time cartoon, in September, together with Cuneo’s La Scatola Gialla Workshop, 10 to 12 children in five days make a real cartoon about the history of Alba, taking care of drawings, lyrics and music.

Technology is also a useful tool for talking about the past: we use augmented reality and through QR codes make city sprites, or characters from Alba’s history, appear and, by asking questions, offer the chance to interact with the area.


In conclusion

Marco’s holistic approach impressed us with his understanding of the close relationship between environment and culture.

It made us reflect on the fact that preserving a community’s traditions, heritage and cultural identity is essential for authentic growth and shared well-being: it is through valuing our culture that we can learn to respect ourselves and the world around us.