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There is no other place in Italy that can be considered, for its traditions and connection to its past, more unique than Ripe. First thing you see when approaching the little town in Le Marche region, just a few miles away from Ancona, is the sign announcing “Ripe, il Paese dei Mestieri”. Ripe is a fortified village of medieval origin, which was once part of the Vicariato di Mondavio. Its history has been marked by different families, like the Malatesta and the Piccolomini, with a time when the control was in the Church’s hands. Then, it was followed by Giovanni Maria Varano, the Duca Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the Conti Andreani, again Piccolomini and the Marchese Giulio della Rovere. Under Napoleon’s Reign, Ripe became eventually part of the Province of Ancona and later, with the restoration of papal power, returned to the delegation of Pesaro and Urbino. In 1860, when the Kingdom of Italy was born, Ripe definitely became part of the Ancona’s province.
Ripe has today no more than four thousand people but the tradition of the handcrafts traces its roots back to the war, when the hard work of craftsmen helped keep the skills and the abilities typical of the local “mestieri”. Those people are now still remembered for being the “guardians” of the ancient crafts while the little town has initiated its path towards modernity, through progress and development, without losing the contact with the past.
The word “mestiere” has a very special meaning in Italian, as it includes the ability of doing something not for profit and it also relates to the identity and the features of the place where it is developed. Nowadays, the fame belonging to Ripe comes from the fact that there is at least one person in town for each “mestiere” that we may be aware of. For this reason, it won’t be hard to run into “the Architect of Little Things”; “The Cooper of Truth”; “The Shoemaker of Missed Steps”; “The Candle-maker of Tears of Light; “The Rope-maker of the Rainbow”; “The Designer of the Leaves of Wood”; “The Blacksmith of Nostalgia”; “The Carpenter of Tender Roots”; “The Blacksmith of Good Cooking”; “The Goldsmith of Light”; “The Good Gardener of the Moons”; “The Embroiderer's Smile”; “The Seamstress of the Dolls”. All these names make each mestiere even more attracting and special, in the way it can be related to a certain person in town or a specific family tradition.
Many of the oldest craft shops in Ripe still exist, and the ancient traditions are kept alive not only by transmitting the art itself, with skills and techniques, but it is also made of very strong cultural values which include the hard work, the recognition of the creative potential of every person, the sense of belonging to the land and the local traditions. That’s why, when you walk in each of these shops, the rhythm of time is not marked by the need of producing a big quantity of products, on the other hand you will feel the passion for the work itself and will see the attention to details.
The need of promoting the tradition of these artcrafts among young people has led to an important project, the birth of an association, all volunteer-based, that - launched in Ripe a few years ago - is now growing and expanding in the area of Senigallia. The organization introduces itself as free in spirit and mission, and tries to pass down, especially to the younger generation, the utility and the beauty of this practical knowledge, usually expressed by making things with their own hands. This is, as said in their mission statement, “a game in which the brain, the muscles, the eyes, the fingers coordinate to give shape to things”. The project also involves schools where workshops for students have allowed special activities such as the cultivation of vegetables, the craft of potholders shaped with fruit or ornamental paper flowers, the hand-making of small containers with the technique of weaving.
Another important part of the project is represented by the Bottega dei Mestieri: the place displays an exhibition with the original creations of the artisans of Ripe who, thanks to his professionalism and passion, have given a new visibility to their town. As shown by the guide called "101 Things to do in Le Marche”, Ripe has become one of the main destinations of the region, where the exhibition and the related workshops are an opportunity to experience the typical traditions and the history behind the Italian “mestieri”. By putting together passion and humility, the knowledge of these artisans has now turned into an asset for the community and an example of how to promote local traditions to be both aware and proud of.