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The history of the Fantasia olive press is both the history of a family and a community – a souvenir of an obstinate and rural Abruzzo which resisted progress even after the Second World War. It is the history of an economy which was linked to the products and whims of the land, and which disappeared into oblivion and was then brought back to life in 1997 thanks to the efforts of Francesco Fantasia and the collaboration of the local council.
The documents gathered over years of research by Doctor Fantasia span more than two centuries and this paperwork enabled the reconstruction of historical events which had taken place in Raiano, like the fall of the Bourbons, the Murattiano period, right up to the fifties of the last century.
For sure it was still in use in 1949 and although its construction date is uncertain, it was possibly built in the first few years of the 18th century in accordance with the wishes of Raimondo Fantasia. However, it was subsequent to his son Francesco’s acquisition of three hectares of land near the gorge of Saint Venanzio, that the Fantasia family took up the business of olive oil production which continued even after the closure of the press. According to the inscription on the arch above the entrance to the press, it was probably the same Francesco who, in 1844, implemented the only modern element by introducing two manually operated mechanical presses. A century later, after the advent of electrically powered machinery, the press closed.
Today the Fantasia olive press is a noteworthy souvenir of times past. When the hand-picked sacks of olives were tipped out from shoulder bags into the “pit”, the millstone turned slowly, drawn by a stubborn mule and as the sun set, the farmers’ comings and goings intensified and carried on throughout the night.
The history of the olive press unfolds as we pass from one of the museum’s information plaques to another and we are able to imagine the olives beneath the millstone, the milling of the olives accompanied by the poker, the olive paste spread over the mats (“friscoli”- discs of woven rushes) impaled under the enormous wooden beam of the oldest press. In the hole below, the “master” collected the oil floating on the surface, slowly, with the “nappo” – a metal disc similar to a big flat spoon. In another completely dark room, called “Hell”, the remaining liquid was decanted into a pit so that every last drop of this noble product could be collected. Nothing went to waste. The oil, then more than now, was considered gold by the local community.
The oil lamps, the work jackets hung up, the small oval barrels created to match the shape of the packsaddles, the work tools leaning against the millstones, hung on the walls: everything is there, ready for use, as though it were a moment before opening time. The cobbled flooring polished by the donkeys’ hooves, the run-off channels for the waste water brown through centuries of use, the oak screw in the press, all contribute to the impression that work is about to commence.