Rural houses - introduction

"Rural house is a work tool; the most important and heart-felt work tool that the soul of a farmer creates and it has the characteristics of a work tool: nothing is useless, nothing is superfluous, everything it has was born for necessity. Logical use of materials, the position of the buildings, adaptation to the climatic conditions, the candid building style of the region, the will to overcome the calm and rough simplicity with which the essential need for a seat or a roof has been solved in a primitive but still sufficient way, transform the rural architecture into a book of honourable building, full of wisdom"

With a rectangular plan, two floors and saddle or hip roof, farmhouse is a proof of a rare balance between nature and human settlement; a place where man has often and easily found shelter and in which one has lived the most important experiences of life, often hard but full of love for the land.

Rural houses - origin

Economic policy has not influenced only the number of rural houses in the area but also the specific planning of the buildings.

While the first testimonials refer to simple wooden, thatched cottages, used as temporary dwellings mainly during Middle Ages, the typology of rural houses developed more over the first decades of the 19th century.

The most important reason for the spreading of the farmhouse was the new farming contract of sharecropping, introduced in the beginning of the 19th century.

According to Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi (1773-1819), a theoretician of political economy, the concept of sharecropping is the following: "the sharecropper receives the already going holdings from the landlord, with a small dwelling to live in, with livestock and some rural tools, fodder and seeds ("). The sharecropper is committed to carry out with the help of the family all the works related to the land, receiving, instead of a wage, half of the harvest. The other half belongs to the landlord. The sharecropping spread widely in the area, appealing the economical needs of the population. As a consequence, the constructions built expressly for the sharecroppers' families and for the livestock and farm tools, started to rise up here and there in the area. This farmer's residence was initially a simple cottage which size depended on the dimensions of the cultivable land. The introduction of new building systems is one of the reasons why farm houses are much larger today.

Rural houses - evolution

The colonization of the countryside started during Middle Ages as the cities started to loose their importance due to the impoverishment of trading and with the birth and development of feudalism. Architect Renato Stopani talks about three generations of farm houses in an article of 1979, indicating three historical periods related to the fundamental phases of development of this kind of houses.

The first "generation" of rural buildings related to sharecropping date back to the 14th-15th century and was characterized by extreme simplicity. The architecture was primitive and realized by farmers themselves according to ancient models. The first "worker's homes" were often wooden (they were usual still in the 18th century) or built of clay.

The second generation of farm houses, starting from the 16th century, was represented by houses that specialized artisans (master masons) had built and which, following the traditional building techniques, were solid masonry constructions. They were a sound part of the equipment of the holding and therefore increased its value. In most cases farm houses were inspired by degraded medieval "landlord's houses". As a consequence, buildings with the form of a tower were built but their height was pretty modest, or just simple constructions with a quadrangular plan, built on another construction with the form of a tower.

Starting from the second half of the 18th century architecture was taken into consideration in the rural building. This is how the third generation of farm houses, the fruit of architectonical planning never used before, was born. This new model of farm house became popular especially over the following century (19th), determining a visible improvement of the rural buildings and the spreading of "planned" constructions.

Rural houses - shapes

The farm house of today is the result of a continuous changing of the forms and living standard with the time passing.

Farm houses can be classified on the basis of the forms, observing the presence of important or prevalent architectonic elements (loggia, tower, dovecote, internal and external stairs) and evaluating the more or less frequently appearing elements, in order to be able to create a category.

Evaluating the most simple and widespread forms, it is possible to single out two large categories, each of which can be divided into three subcategories.

The first includes the houses set above a stable. These are divided into houses with external stairs, internal stairs and those without stairs, set in a slope which natural inclination permits the entrance without stairs.

The second includes the houses set on the same floor with a stable or a rustico. These are divided into two types, depending on their setting: plain and mountains. In addition to these most simple forms, there are also rural houses belonging to a special category: with semi-internal stairs or with internal stairs and a kitchen on the first floor, or with the dwelling and rustico completely separated.

Rural houses - structure

Passing over the "cottage", a precarious construction that was considered an annexe to other farm buildings, on the tower with agricultural or defensive origins but which was certainly a dwelling, and on the "houses made of earth", some of them having survived but remained in the margins of the principal building, we would like to treat those structures that still today are identified as farm houses.

The builders of these structures have realized that the constructions belonging to a holding need to support the close relationship among residence, manpower and production.

The quadrangular form with or without dovecot tower dominated the construction of rural houses during the whole 19th century. However, the structure of large farm houses did not resist the following rapid, rural transformations.

There are some criteria (not written but dictated by the people's wisdom, transmitted from generation to generation) that have determined the building standards of the farm house. The first rule regarded the location of the house; it had to be convenient considering the works of the holding, to have salubrious air for the health of the sharecroppers, no to be exposed to the cold northern winds or to those blowing from swampy areas.

The distribution of the rooms was in line with the traditional "Italian house"; with a simple rectangular plan with two floors. Domestic environments (bedrooms etc.) were set above the rustico which was set on the ground floor and included the rooms for tools, cattle and barn. The second floor was connected to the first floor with stairs, almost always external and realized with adobes. Only later on the stairs were built inside the house. The floor was almost always wooden, while the roof was often saddle or hip roof, with a wooden bearing structure and bent tile covering.

Rural houses - ornamental pieces

Farm house does not present particular decorative elements, seen the generally simple and practical structure. Sometimes, however, modest but aesthetically valuable decorative elements are present on the frame of the brickwork, on the ashlar or on the chimney pot.


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Ornamental pieces