Lake Garda : Environment and Nature

The 'Calchére' - In the Trento area of Lake Garda and the Upper Garda area of the province of Brescia, you can still find ancient lime furnaces, called "calchére" in the local dialect, which are usually near a river bank or along the slopes of a valley. There are 124 "calchére" in the twelve municipalities of the C9 Alto Garda and Ledro Area (Arco, Bezzecca, Concei, Drena, Dro, Molina di Ledro, Nago-Torbole, Pieve di Ledro, Riva del Garda, Tenno, Tiarno di Sopra, Tiarno di Sotto), and 40 more throughout the area near Limone sul Garda, Tremosine, Tignale, Gargnano and Toscolano Maderno.

How a "calchére" works
The "calchére" is, for practical purposes, built against an embankment. Shaped like a vat, it has a base with a diameter varying between 3 and 5 meters. It is between 2 and 4 meters tall and has refractory stone walls. There are two openings: one on the top, and the other - practically a door that is one meter wide and up to two meters tall with architrave - to access the interior, insert the limestone and remove the lime. Inside, a hole is dug below ground level that serves as the furnace. A roof built above the hole supports the material to be baked. Limestone or carbonaceous rock is scattered around it, arranged from the largest to the smallest stone. Once the door is closed, the heap of stone is covered with a sort of dome made of clods of earth or rock. Wood is used for the fire: usually fir, pine and hornbeam gathered in sheaves with a diameter of 30-40 cm and weighing 8 - 10 kg each.
After the fire is lit, two or three persons work in shifts for three or four days straight to keep the fire going and to keep the temperature inside the "calchére" high. Red flames shoot out from the top; near the end of the process, the flames turn bluish in color.
The lime cools quickly. The wall is knocked down and the furnace is unloaded during the following days. The large, heavy stones have turned into a soft, light white powder. Usually 180 - 200 quintals of wood are needed to produce the same amount of quicklime.

Lime and its uses
The "calchére" was a true source of wealth in the past. Lime was used in the construction business for mixing mortar, and for plaster, paints and pavements. Its use was so widespread in rural areas that courtyards and farmyards often had a "busa dèla càlce", a hole containing a certain amount of ready-to-use slaked lime. Lime was also used in farming for preparing the Bordeaux mixture and in industry for paper products.

A cultural revival
Recovery of these "fragments of history" began in 1990 by the Civic Museum of Riva del Garda in cooperation with the Environmental Recovery and Promotional Service of the Province of Trento, the C9 Area and participating municipalities, based on a project by Architect Osvaldo Dongilli. As a result, nine furnaces were restored. The same was done in the Brescia area of Lake Garda, thanks to the Mountain Communities and local municipalities. The objective of these projects is to encourage people to take tours in areas with restored "calchére", which also display educational descriptive panels for visitors.

To learn more:
E. FRUSCA, La calchera di Drena, Drena 1991 (film in VHS);
L. CHILLONI NONES, Le calchere dell'Alto Garda e Ledro. Percorso didattico per le Scuole medie inferiori, Riva del Garda 1992;
AA. VV., Le calchere del Comprensorio Alto Garda e Ledro, Riva 1994;
B. FESTA, Andar per calchere, in "AB (Atlante bresciano)" n. 29/inverno 1991, pp. 57-59;.



Text: Domenico prof. Fava

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