Syusy goes to discover the hinterland and gets to the Balzi Rossi cliff, with a view of the sea, a stone’s throw from France. It is a marvellous place, investigated for the first time by Prince Florestano of Monaco in 1846. Subsequently it was built by Sir Hambury – the Hambury gardens man – together with the museum.
The Caviglione cave has an unbelievable history: it goes from prehistoric man of 250 thousand years ago to Gravettiano man that we saw at the museum, who chose it as the burial place for the most important corpses. It is still possible to see some solidified remains: deposits of flints, shells, food, burial remains, and remains of fires. There is also a graffito in which you can make out a horse.
In 1846 Prince Florestano realised there were some very interesting finds and digging found some small statuettes of goddesses, some Venuses. Unfortunately Florestano decided to take away these items and, for this reason too, this first excavation is not documented.
In 1871 it was the turn of Rivière, who made a more scientific investigation and found some presences from the upper Palaeolithic, also testified to by some graffiti. Syusy asks the archaeologist Elisabetta Starnini why they did them. The answer is that these ancient drawings may be symbolic signs or practical signs used for keeping accounts or, according to an even more pragmatic vision, signs left by the sharpening of some tool. Syusy points out that the graffiti always look alike and they are really similar to the ones that we saw in Akakus. It is as if the information were the same, archaic information, joining together all human beings. The confirmation comes from Elisabetta, who makes a comparison with birds’ nests: all have the same potential and the same abilities and the nests are always the same.
Besides this detail, there are also other common elements among prehistoric men. For instance, starting from antiquity they had a preference for places with a view of a lowland, below which there was the sea, protected places but also places of worship, because they were reminiscent of the maternal abdomen, like an enormous uterus.
The little beach
Syusy visits the little Balzi Rossi beach, formed by unusual egg-shaped pebbles. Here, apart from eating, having a swim and resting there is the nice thing that they come to get you in a boat with a small electric engine and they take you to visit the museum. A really important service. Vera Kovacs, who runs a restaurant, tells us that for thirty years she has been running the small establishment of Balzi Rossi beach.
The Balzi Rossi Museum
At the Balzi Rossi Museum there are important prehistoric items found in the caves in the area. Among the most important items is the Venus Pulcinella, a sculpture similar to the Venus of Savignano and to numerous indigenous objects made in central Europe, France and even Russia. As Angiolo Del Lucchese, the director of the museum, explains, these statuettes all belong to the same phase, i.e. to the Gravettiano period of the Palaeolithic, about 25,000 years ago.
Two theories exist to explain the appearance of the Venus: according to the older one, they are faithful reproductions of the women of the Palaeolithic with some pronounced forms like those of Hottentot women. According to the second theory it is an artistic form that was reproduced by the carvers, so much so that the same characteristics are always repeated, for instance the absence of feet and the same proportions with the head smaller in comparison to the body, the figure inscribable in a lozenge and the central part in a circle. The director of the museum shows Syusy the cast of a dead body found in the Balzi Rossi area: it is an example of Caviglione man. Actually it is a woman, as the size and the form of the pelvis show, her particularity lying in wearing headgear formed by shells like the Venus of Willendorf, indicating that women at that time could play important roles in their community.
Syusy’s visit to the museum continues with the guidance of archaeologist Elisabetta Starnini. Together they analyze some flints that originate from a layer of French rock 200 kilometres from Balzi Rossi, where they were found. This proves that men at that time were great travellers. Also, the size of the objects suggests that they were considered prestigious and symbolic heirlooms, and as such became part of the burial equipment in which they were found. So it can be affirmed that the men and women that lived in the Balzi Rossi area 25,000 years ago were hunters and collectors and had deep knowledge of the surrounding territory within hundreds of kilometres.
The Balzi Rossi restaurant
In Ventimiglia Syusy doesn’t miss the opportunity to “test” for herself the famous Balzi Rossi restaurant, whose very name brings a shudder to all those that know about cooking! The success of this restaurant lies with its chef, Giuseppina Beglia, aka Signora Pina! When Syusy meets her, she tries to get hold of the secret of her culinary talent, discovering with incredulity that the only secret ingredient of Signora Pina is ... love! A love she has always cultivated, for cooking and ... for a restaurateur, her husband!
At the Balzi Rossi restaurant Syusy tastes a “very simple” dish: trenette allo scoglio (trenette are flat pasta typical of Liguria). Signora Pina moves around in the kitchen extremely naturally and with the same nonchalance illustrates the recipe to us: you just need a frying pan, some extra virgin oil, some sea food to open up a bit with white wine, minced parsley and spaghetti to sauté, slightly undercooked ... Even a child could do it, right?! But are we sure?