Photographing the Colonia di Rovegno: tips from Tim Brown

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting to know British photographer Tim Brown through our @visitaltavaltrebbia Instagram account and asked him if I could repost a picture he took in Rovegno a few years ago.

Here is the image that started our conversation:

On Tim’s website, I came across his great project called Totally Lost, which also features La Colonia di Rovegno, a place I know well from the many stories told by my grandfather.

Besides its controversial past, La Colonia is undoubtedly a historical landmark sadly rotting away in silence in the woods around Pietranera and Foppiano. Over the years, it has been heavily vandalised and left to its fate, its story being forgotten or ignored by the new generations.

With his work, Tim has been leading a “photographic and video research throughout Europe to discover, survey and map the abandoned architectural heritage of the Totalitarian Regimes of the 20th century in Europe”, which also brought him to several regions in Italy and specifically to Alta Val Trebbia.

I am always very happy and a bit surprised to hear about foreign visitors coming to the valley, as I think it’s a very hidden secret for tourists to discover, especially when coming from abroad and having to deal with transportation and language barriers.

To encourage more photography lovers to come and discover La Colonia, I asked Tim to share his experience and give a couple of tips to anyone interested in discovering this very special site.

My hope is that the echo of the centuries and peace inspired by this place will help make its story better known and spark a constructive discussion (in Italy but also abroad) about its historical value and what can be done to preserve it and restore it for future generations beyond all ideologies or political beliefs.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I have had various careers over the years, including geophysicist, computer programmer, and acupuncturist. However photography has always been an interest, along with a love of Italy and all things Italian. I decided to study for a Bachelors degree in photography in 2013, graduated with first class honours and went on to study for a Masters qualification. Both my final projects were based in Italy, one exploring the old colonie and the other in Rome. I am currently training to teach photography. When not in Italy, I live in Leeds in the UK.

Tim Brown, photographer and lover of all things Italian

When and how did you first get to know about La Colonia di Rovegno and what in particular made you want to visit it?

I first discovered some of the seaside Colonie along the Adriatic coast by accident and after having done some research I decided they would be the ideal subject for my photography degree project. I wanted to explore both coastal and mountain settings and spent a week based in Genova with the aim of exploring the coast and venturing inland to Rovegno and also Montemaggio.

What route did you take to arrive in Rovegno and what memories do you have of the journey itself?

I took the bus from Genova and can’t remember how close it got me but I spent a long time checking timetables there, and to ensure I could get back again at the end of the day. I particularly remember the clean, clear air, the views as I started to climb and the deep green of the forest.

Getting to Rovegno and the Colonia (courtesy of Tim Brown)

What are your main memories of Alta Val Trebbia and did you visit other villages besides Rovegno? 

My main memory is of the quiet and peacefulness of the area. Of my many visits and much walking during the course of the project, the trip to Rovegno stands out. I visited the lovely town of Bobbio on a separate occasion, that time travelling with a friend by car from near Milan.

What were your impressions of La Colonia during your visit?

I found it hard to imagine how it must have been when occupied, and the scale of the building felt  large and intimidating in relation to its purpose of accommodating children. However, the building is stunning, particularly in the way it rises out from amid the forest and in its use of elevations, angles and curves. Its use as a wartime prison adds another, sobering dimension to its history and feel.

An interior image of the Colonia di Rovegno photographed by Tim Brown

What tips would you give to other photography lovers who want to take a photo tour of La Colonia?

Take a tripod, I didn’t and wish that I had. Be prepared to spend time in and around the building, to get past the initial feeling of awe and in order to get to know and feel it.

“The building is stunning, particularly in the way it rises out from amid the forest”, says Tim.

Are there other places in Alta Val Trebbia you would like to photograph in the future?

I would like to spend more time exploring and walking in the area. I would have liked to visit Colonia Devoto too, though I think this is in a neighbouring valley, but I couldn’t find a feasible way of getting there and back.

Below  you can see more pictures taken by Tim on his visit:

For anyone wanting to know more about La Colonia, Tim shared the following links to current crowdfunding projects to preserve abandoned heritage sites in Italy.

Spazi Indecisi: 

Museo Diffuso dell’Abbandono:

Note: the Colonia di Rovegno is an abandoned and decaying site, so if you do enter it will be at your own risk.

A piedi tra Bobbio e Torriglia: Valentina Scaglia e il progetto Trebbia Trail

La giornalista Valentina Scaglia e’ l’ideatrice del percorso Trebbia Trail che nel 2012, assieme all’organizzazione Le vie dei Canti, portera’ in Val Trebbia un primo gruppo di escursionisti lungo l’itinerario a piedi che collega Bobbio a Torriglia. Abbiamo chiesto a Valentina di raccontare come nasce Trebbia Trail e cosa questa iniziativa puo’ offrire alla Val Trebbia. Continue reading

Trekking trail from Bobbio to Torriglia: Valentina Scaglia and the Trebbia Trail project

Journalist Valentina Scaglia is the creator of  the Trebbia Trail project, which will bring a first group of trekkers to Val Trebbia in 2012. The excursion will be organised through the organisation La via dei Canti and will develop along the route between Bobbio and Torriglia. We asked her about the idea behind the project and what it can offer to  Val Trebbia. Continue reading

Bobbio alle spalle della Gioconda

Lo scorso gennaio siti internazionali quali The Guardian o il Daily Mail in Inghilterra hanno dato eco alla tesi, avanzata dalla studiosa d’arte Carla Glori, che vedrebbe il Ponte Gobbo di Bobbio ritratto in uno dei quadri piu’ famosi del mondo.

La ricerca di Carla Glori verra’ pubblicata a inizio 2012 da Edizioni Cappello in un volume intitolato LEONARDO – Decifrazioni e scoperte – Volume primo:  La Gioconda. In memoria di Bianca.

Ma come e’ nata questa ipotesi inedita? Lo abbiamo chiesto all’autrice in una breve intervista: Continue reading

Bobbio as the background of the Mona Lisa painting

In January 2011 international websites such as The Guardian or Daily Mail reported the thesis exposed by art historian Carla Glori which recognised the landscape of Bobbio as the background of one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Carla Glori’s research will be published in 2012 by Edizioni Cappello in a book entitled LEONARDO – Decifrazioni e scoperte – Volume primo: La Gioconda. In memoria di Bianca.

What is the origin of this new thesis? We asked it to the author in a short interview.

Continue reading

Di prati, castagni centenari e poesie: Fabrizio Lo Presti racconta Giorgio Caproni

L’attore genovese Fabrizio Lo Presti ha diretto e interpretato il film Statale 45. Io Giorgio Caproni, un progetto che alterna passaggi documentaristici a performance teatrali e ricostruzioni cinematografiche sulla vita del poeta. Gli abbiamo chiesto di parlarci del dietro le quinte del film e del suo rapporto con la poesia di Caproni, figura indissolubilmente legata alla Val Trebbia.   Continue reading

Of fields, century-old chestnut trees and poems: Fabrizio Lo Presti tells the tale of Giorgio Caproni

Genoese actor Fabrizio Lo Presti directed and starred in the movie Statale 45. Io Giorgio Caproni, a project which combines documentary, theatrical performances and cinematic reconstructions of the life of poet Giorgio Caproni. We asked him to talk about the “backstage” of the movie and his relationship with Caproni’s poems, which are deeply linked to Val Trebbia. Continue reading

C’e’ voluto un elefante…

Surus: il monte/elefante che Paolo Guglielmetti ricollega alla battaglia del Trebbia

Ironico che per promuovere la valle ci sia voluto un elefante. Surus, l’elefante del Trebbia, creato dall’occhio del fotografo Paolo Guglielmetti e’ diventato a sua insaputa promotore della Val Trebbia. Ironico che una creazione di fantasia si faccia portavoce del bisogno della valle di aprire al resto del mondo, ma anche una metafora azzeccatissima per la Val Trebbia: una bella addormentata in attesa di essere riscoperta, una creatura incantata e dimenticata dal tempo che puo’ tornare alla vita grazie alla fantasia e all’iniziativa degli abitanti e degli amanti della valle in cui riposa. Abbiamo chiesto a Paolo Guglielmetti di raccontarci il dietro le quinte della nascita delle fotografie che ritraggono Surus, dell’omonimo giornale/fumetto e del suo legame con la Val Trebbia. Continue reading