A fairytale dinner for the Bolgheri DiVino event
7 September 2021

Our wine museum is enriched: a snake in the vineyard to tell the Genius Loci

For the ancient Romans the Genius Loci was the Spirit of the Place, a minor deity who watched over the place and its inhabitants. They often depicted him as a snake. Moreover, placing a snake on a building meant consecrating it to the Genius Loci.

it was very symbolic and evocative for me to place this snake on our winery: I ideally consecrated it to the Spirit of the Place, a conception that is the basis of all our work.

Here is the text that I have put to describe the installation, made with lasar-cut corten on a drawing of mine inspired by a fresco from the Roman era:

In ancient Roman times, a snake picture on a building meant that it was consecrated to the Genius loci, the Spirit of the place.

There were numerous Genii in the ancient Latin culture. They were benevolent spirits who watched over each person, communities, places … The Genius loci watched over the place, as well as over its inhabitants. It was depicted as a snake, an animal that lives in the soil, considered a symbol of luck.

To have its benevolence, you had to invoke it and make it offerings of perfumes, flowers, fruits, focaccia breads and wine. Above all, the place had to be respected. The Genius would then have been benevolent, would have revealed itself filling the place with its sacredness and protecting it from evil and bad luck.

On the other hand, if the inhabitants had been hostile to the place, had devastated it, had exhausted its resources, the Genius would have denied himself. It would have emptied the place of its presence, causing misfortune.

In later ancient times, he/she was represented as a human figure, surrounded by local plants and animals. The Genii, in general, were often also represented as winged people. They remained in Christianity, in the figures of Guardian Angels and Patron Saints.

IN ARCHITECTURE In the 1960s-1970s, the concept of Genius loci was introduced into the discussion on the meaning of “place” by architects Aldo Rossi and Christian Norberg-Schulz.

Genius loci thus began to be used to define the complex multiplicity of elements that make up the intimate identity of a place. It includes its intrinsic characteristics, made up of geographical and structural elements, both natural and artificial, but also intangible and changing elements, such as the historical and cultural stratifications, the “character” of the place, the colors, the variations of light, …

IN THE WINE. Between the 70s and 80s, prof. Attilio Scienza, inspired from the architectural debate, introduced the use of the term Genius loci to recall the complex concept of wine-growing territory. Similarly, the term terroir had been introduced in France.

The deep bond between wine and territory is the heart of the Italian wine culture, a legacy of thousands of years, born truly in Roman times.

However, a new term was needed because the wine-growing territory goes beyond the common definition of territory, with its geographic characteristics, of soil and climate. It also includes intangible and changing elements, such as history and cultural stratifications, all those elements that have shaped the wine-producing landscape over time, created and transformed the winegrowing and winemaking traditions, as well as the variations of the vintages (both in terms of climate and of work choices), etc. All this is summed up in Genius loci.

annalisa motta
annalisa motta
Biologa specializzata in biologia vegetale, da oltre vent’anni sono vignaiola a Guado al Melo, a Bolgheri (Toscana), con mio marito, dove produciamo vino territoriale ed artigianale, in modo sostenibile. Il vino per me è una passione trasversale: lo si capisce veramente solo mettendo insieme scienza, natura e cultura. In origin a plant biologist, from over 20 years I am a winemaker at Guado al Melo, in the Bolgheri DOC (Tuscany), with my husband, where we produce terroir-expressive and artisan wines, following a sustainable philosophy. Into the wine I have found all my different passions: in fact, we can understand it only by combining together science, nature and culture.

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