The rustling cypresses of Villa Capelletti, lined up as soldiers, trace green and odorous lines that, here in Umbria, we used to associate with ancient manors. Emblems of an ancient aristocracy that, concealed by a cool shade, protect its intimate secrets.
Custodian already of ancient locomotives and of the Museum of Folk Traditions and Peasant Arts, today Villa Capelletti Renaissance complex in Garavelle also hosts an extraordinary museum that we can consider as a unicum for its characteristics, but also for its location in a region like Umbria, which doesn’t have an outlet on the sea. A Malacological Museum.
The hidden treasure
Malakos has collected about six thousand specimens, but “only” three thousand have been shown: the true treasure is in the drawers of the luminous showcases filling the corridors, arranged by thematic pathways that arouse exclamations of wonder not only to children, but also to adults, fascinated by delicate architectures lying on blue quartz in the showcases.
To welcome the visitor, there is a room that is the diamond-point of the entire exhibition: in this deep hole that opens on the main corridor of the villa, has been recreated a coral reef. This is the content of one of the three containers, seized by the State Forestry Corps, doomed to illegal souvenir trade. It contained specimens of blue coral, that is to say the rare fan-shapes Heliopora coerulea, embalmed turtles, crustaceans, and all the wonderful beasts populating the reef. They tried to place them faithfully recreating the natural levels, transforming an irreparable damage into a learning opportunity. In observing that incredible shapes and architectures, it is difficult not to feel apprehensive: an entire atoll has been eradicated, its variety destroyed. Despite the tremendous efforts of curators – Gianluigi Bini, Debora Nucci and Giacomo Rettori – there is like a death patina that does not allow us to really understand the immeasurable wealth of the coral reef: all the colors, indeed, are lost, everything is cloaked from a kind of opacity, with some wan red tips – red, blue, brown. The result of a scandalous act made by scrupulous smugglers.
Guardians of Biodiversity
I take a picture of two of the curators present there – biologist Debora Nucci and Professor Gianluigi Bini – right in front of the recreated reef. They set themselves as watchmen: protectors and guardians of the planet’s biodiversity, a unique and vulnerable treasure. The visit of Japanese princes was emblematic, herald of a culture in which shells are part of the royal treasure.
However, it is difficult to imagine this tranquil place flurrying for the Japanese Kings. Today the villa is surrounded by a relaxed atmosphere and of deep calm. As if it wants to make me feel better what I see. I can even talk with Gianluigi Bini, curator of the exhibition, naturalist, marine biologist and paleo-anthropologist, but first of all, a great adventurer. Animated by an insatiable curiosity, the scholar has traveled long and wide to the world until he landed on the Philippine coasts, where he discovered a gastropod yet unknown to science. He called it Cinguloterebra binii, giving half of his name in the baptism of a new specimen.
The Professor tells me about his travel as well as of the innumerable dangers in which a scholar – especially in some parts of the World – can run: mangroves, for example, are inexhaustible labyrinths in which it is easy to get lost, while river rivers can be infested by some species of sharks that swim along their course. We are talking about all those interstitial areas between different ecosystems, which hide every kind of pitfalls, such as poisonous snakes and mollusks.
Experiences reflected in the choice of setting up not just a biological area – where you can discover the features that allow the recognition and classification of shells, such as the architecture that characterizes the species, why they are colored, how they reproduce and what are the deformations they may incur due to pollution – but also a bio-geographical area, organized in order to show the Planet’s variety, including the abysses or the above-mentioned “hybrid” areas, placed between sea and mainland. There are also raids in Prehistory, with fossil specimens that let you glimpse the innumerable forms in which those beings, which have become stone blocks, would have evolved.
An Ancient history
Taking advantage of the curator’s willingness, I challenge the question that has been running in my mind since I heard about the show.
«Why did you set up a collection of a kind in Umbria, considering that the last time the region saw the sea was thousands of years ago?»
It is precisely in that ancient prehistoric sea that refers to Gianluigi Bini by answering me: «When I returned to Italy, I found myself in Città di Castello (the curator is comes from Tuscany, ndr) and here, in this quiet place, I remained. Here, where the sea once covered everything.»
This one it’s an ancient story. A story that Umbria cares in the bowels of its mountains, sometimes erupting red ammonites or shells of bone blaze. A story that is now also kept in Malakos‘s belly.
To find out more about the initiatives dedicated to children, visit the Facebook page.
Openings: every morning from 10am to 12am (no booking) | all afternoons on call | Monday closed.
More on Città di Castello