Bra, Slow City
Searching for an identity
Bra is a city of almost 30,000 inhabitants located in the heart of the deep and rural Piedmont, a few kilometers from Alba and Langhe, which, during the last century, has definitely focused on the industry, quickly transforming itself from being a crossroads of product trades of the area to be an industrial pole at first in the tanning industry and then in the production of plastics.
In recent years, however, Bra has again changed its identity, in a way returning to its old peasant vocation, even if revisited in a modern key, and has established itself as a reference point for the culture of good food, good wine and good life in general. This transformation, without any doubt, has restored color and liveliness to a city that, until a few years ago, was little more than an industrial agglomeration, perceived by those who visited it, as gray and cold.
From 2004, for example, students from all over the world have been attending the University of Gastronomic Sciences in nearby Pollenzo, studying to become gastronomes, experts with multidisciplinary training on food, able to orient their production and consumption towards more aware and eco-sustainable ways.
In addition, among the new activities that have enlivened Bra in recent years we cannot forget an initiative of international appeal, the great Cheese! festival dedicated to cheese and its culture, organized every two years by Slow Food, which saw, in 2018, 270.000 visitors who came to know and savor the tasty specialties of over 300 exhibitors.
An eco-sustainable city
Bra, however, is not only aiming at becoming a new destination for food-and-wine related tourism, but it is committed, with the active involvement of its citizens, for the improvement of the quality of daily life and for the promotion of healthy and eco-sustainable behavior.
One of the first measures that marked this change from the environmental point of view was the introduction of the traffic ban for cars in the historic center. Regulated in 2016 by subdividing of the main area into two smaller areas, one that is permanently close to traffic and one that is wider, where circulation is prohibited only in the evenings and on weekends, this prohibition has the stated purpose of inviting the population, as far as possible , to slow down one’s own pace of life.
Naturally, for such measures to be really effective without weighing too much on city life, in terms of productivity and well-being, over the years it has been necessary to create a parking system surrounding the entire historic center which allows you to leave the car easily and then continue on foot if you are heading to a destination in the pedestrian area.
On the other hand, contrary to what was feared, as often happens in these cases, the volume of sales of shops in the pedestrian part of the city center has increased, despite the crisis periods of recent years and the evaluation of citizens is definitely positive, both in terms of quality of life, both in terms of a better use of the beauties of their city.
In fact, the municipal administration is very inclined to involve the citizens in the initiatives of relaunching and transforming its city and often relies on the contributions, always very appreciated and stimulating, of the working groups that bring together the most active and proactive citizens of Bra on different themes.
A city to visit
The pedestrianization of the city center has also allowed to further enhance some artistic parts of Bra, which can now be visited in a more peaceful and silent environment. Among these the church of Santa Chiara definitely stands out, the eighteenth-century masterpiece by Bernardo Vittone, with its original four-lobed plan and its soft Baroque forms outlined in brick exterior. Entering the building you are struck by the light that, through the double perforated dome, enhances the frescoes and decorations in vivid and elegant colors. The three altars, completed in the last century, represent the fulcrum of the decorative system, illustrating themes of the Franciscan Order and, in particular, of the Clarisse nuns who commissioned its construction.
Always made by Vittone, at least in its current appearance, there is the splendid Palazzo Comunale, while other examples of eighteenth-century baroque are the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and that of Sant’Antonino. Among the attractions of the city you cannot miss the birthplace of Cottolengo, which offers a beautiful panoramic view, a look at the medieval architecture of Palazzo Traversa, which houses the Civic Museum, and a visit to the interesting Museum of the Toy, with a collection that always fascinate all visitors.
In short, for those who want to come to Bra it can’t be said that food and wine are the only attractions, but rather that the city has been able to give prominence both to their artistic beauties and to the excellences of the territory with a series of coherent and courageous policies.
Produce quality food in the city
One of the most interesting and popular initiatives in recent years has been the creation of 120 urban vegetable gardens, that is lots of farmland owned by the municipality and not otherwise used, made available to citizens who request them. The available plots are suitable for small cultivation of fruit, vegetables or flowers for family use, never exceeding 60 square meters, and this justifies the very appropriate name of “urban vegetable gardens“. Therefore, the citizens who, not being owners or tenants of other arable lands, request it and accept the regulation that prohibits the marketing of the products of the gardens, can temporarily enter into its possession with the payment of a few tens of euro a year.
In addition to redeveloping the municipal lands that ware abandoned, the initiative has made it possible for many citizens who had never had the opportunity to engage in an agricultural activity like that of the vegetable garden, made of patience, commitment and care for details, to experience how the relationship with the land improves health and mood, also giving the opportunity to eat healthy products, saving on daily shopping.
Bra and the International Slow City association
When talking about a slow city, one can often fall into the misunderstanding that one seeks, in some way, an impossible return to a past certainly made of more man-made rhythms, but also of so much hunger, misery and ignorance. The International Slow City association, founded in 1999 by the municipalities of Bra, Orvieto, Greve in Chianti and Positano, has definitely another purpose: to experience modern progress in all its positive aspects, trying to build, however, a way of living “at low speed” that is respectful of the physical and psychological dynamics of man in his relationship with himself and with nature.
There are 200 cities that share this research philosophy and are part of the association born out of the initiative of Carlin Petrini’s Slow Food. These are municipalities with a population of less than 50.000 inhabitants that aim at making its historical, artistic and cultural heritage enjoyable in a broad and intense sense, in the awareness that it is not the speed to generate profit and progress, but the cure with which quality products are made and processes are carried out.
The participating cities are therefore committed to putting into practice all those solutions that can allow their inhabitants, and eventual visitors, to live fully the beauties and the opportunities they offer, with a rhythm that respects the environment and the deeper needs of the human being.
In other words, the concept of eco-gastronomy is extended, linked to the production and consumption of eco-sustainable and high quality food, to the whole complex of civil life, looking for ways to generate quality and profits, increasing at the same time the quality of those who live in a territory, a city or engage in any work activity.