Population trend

Mountains inhabited since prehistory, depopulated recently

Sant'Anna di Valdieri | Emilio Milanesio Archive

The Maritime Alps have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and have seen an overall increase in population until modern times. These mountains were inhabited to levels that we struggle to imagine today. Just to give an example, just think that between 1610 and 1630, Entracque, at the time the largest village in the Gesso Valley, boasted a population of 4500-5000 inhabitants: today it has less than 900 residents. Every corner was cultivated, mown, grazed. Hamlets that are now reduced to a few crumbling walls hosted large families: clothes hanging and children's voices resounded where now the only song is that of the wind in the leaves. In summer, when the fields required the work of all arms available, large families answered the call. In winter, on the other hand, when the mouths to be fed were too many to keep, many emigrated to the plains or to France.

The fate of the economy, changes in the political arena, wars and epidemics have caused fluctuations in the local population over the centuries. But the turning point in the Alps around Cuneo was in the first decades of the twentieth century - in part because of the two world wars, and from 1921 the symptoms of an unprecedented depopulation that is still in progress manifested themselves.

The villages in the mid and upper valley quickly lose inhabitants: something has broken irreparably in the balance between people and resources in these uplands in the transition from agricultural to industrial society. The cities in the plains in the decades of the economic miracle offer new opportunities for more profitable employment in industry and services and less severe living conditions. Thus the Alpine subsistence economy became less appealing to an ever increasing number of mountain dwellers, who from the end of the nineteenth century take the path of definitive emigration. Some move to the city, but many leave for neighbouring France or embark to seek their fortune on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. These are one-way tickets.

The villages that resist depopulation the longest are those lower in the valley, easier to access, while the villages farthest from the main roads are abandoned first. Today the population in all the municipalities in the Park has settled at levels where, albeit with some difficulty, essential services can be maintained: the school, the doctor's, the post office, some heroic grocery store . However, each valley and each village has a history of its own, closely linked to the geographical location, the employment opportunities that have arisen over time in the area, and the degree of development of the tourism sector: all factors that together have determined the face and fortunes of each individual village.