Santa Maria Maggiore is a magical village located in the Valley of Poets, in Piemonte, between Switzerland and Lake Maggiore. The valley is so called for the numerous artists who were born here and for the wonderful views that inspired them to create famous masterpieces. It is a place immersed in nature, guardian of an ancient tradition to which the population is very attached: that of chimney sweeps. Retracing the history of the place, it emerges, in fact, that many of its inhabitants worked as chimney sweeps.
Men and children who, in order to survive, have carried out a very hard and unprofitable job with great sacrifices. A job in great demand because in all the houses there was a fireplace, which was the only source of heating during the winter season. The profession of chimney sweeps became so famous that they were also called to work in Northern European countries.
History of an ancient profession
Santa Maria Maggiore (Verbano-Cusio-Ossola), at the foot of the Lepontine Alps, in addition to being the most important village in the valley, is also the starting point for discovering the naturalistic, cultural and artistic heritage of the area. Since 1500 it has been called the "town of chimney sweeps". This can be seen from some historical documents of the time, which speak of this territory using the name of Kaminfeger Tal, or valley of the chimney sweeps.
Many valley dwellers emigrated to Milan, France or Flanders, but the harshness of the work did not allow any of them to make a fortune. Many children, precisely because they were thin and therefore more suitable than adults to enter chimneys, were exploited, underpaid and forced to live far from home during the winter season. Many of the chimney sweeps who emigrated then returned to their country, where they built their homes.
The museum and the chimney sweeps meeting
In Santa Maria Maggiore, in memory of the chimney sweeps of the past, on the roofs of the houses and on the historic buildings you can admire various installations depicting these much loved figures, here called ruscà. In the village there is the chimney sweep museum, located in the park of Villa Antonia. Inaugurated in August 1983 and renovated in 2005, it traces the entire history of this ancient profession. On the ground floor, chimney sweeps' tools and clothes are displayed. On the first floor there is a multi-sensory path, unique in its kind.
Here, the visitor, wearing a pair of headphones, identifies himself with the life of chimney sweeps. In Santa Maria Maggiore we also organize the International meeting of chimney sweeps, which annually, in the month of September, hosts thousands of tradespeople from all over the world. The very folkloristic event includes a large parade along the streets of the town, much followed by tourists and onlookers.
(Photo: Chimney Sweep Museum, Facebook Page)