Between history and legend: the treasure of the bell in Oleastra.

For young and grown up children...
The legend tells an event presumably happened more than 700-1000 years ago in a wealthy and industrious village whose name used to be Oleastra.

The wealthy village.
Until now, in that village, elder people tell youngers of a rich village where people used to labour in the fields, looking after vineyards and olive-trees, as well as making wine and oil. But their activities were not these only ones. People of Oleastra used to sell directly their products into the markets, as their ancestors always had done. Wine and oil from renewed vineyards and olive-yards were taken to Corniglia or to Little Seashore (where today Manarola stays) and from there, through the "Leudi" (coasting vessels), to Genoa harbour, from where the goods were leaving for bigger destinations (as they used to do in Roman and, maybe, Etrurian times). The peasants/merchants of Oleastra diversified their investments and also owned small quotas in the shipping companies, using to participate – with part of the money gained from the wine and oil sales – to commercial enterprises called, at those times, "Commende". The peasants/merchants, back from their activities, used to bring home precious fabrics and rich cloths, as a demonstration of their prosperous trade and of the favour of the market. These aspects were noted by the Governors in Genoa, who allowed that the parish church were dedicated to St. Laurence, a sign of great prestige for the small village recognized as the core of the territory .

Danger foreshadowing.
The place used to be quiet and rich, children played in the "carugi", women span wool, men worked in the fields, old men looked after the cellars and nothing seemed to alter that peace, not even the news coming from Little Seashore about the sight-seeing of ships with triangular sails: it meant the arrival of Barbaresque pirates. People in the lower villages asked helplessly the Oleastra villagers for getting funds to arm some men and protect their houses. In the meantime, other signals, about the presence of a foreign fleet in the sea, start to frighten people. The peasants/merchants, to compose people’s minds, sent a committee to the Governors in Genoa, with the aim of getting battleships to protect the coasts. They however were reassuring the population, remembering that 10 years earlier, some pirates - who had tried to attack Oleastra – had been chased by peasants quickly assembled, with simple tools, like "furchete" and "sarvadin" (in dialect, the wooden poles, of different shape and weight, used in the vineyards). Somebody, in the meeting with the major of the village, suggested that those few men chased so easily some years ago could have been spies, with the task of preparing a massive attack there where it was assured rich spoils. All decided, however, to go to sleep; the committee to Genoa has left and in a week time, at the most, an answer would have come back. But from its starting it was not a quiet night; uncertainty was winning on confidence and the sleepers were not at ease even if some peasants, as sentinels, stood awake on the road to Little Seashore as well as to Groppo, the place where the village used to collect water .

The bells are hidden.
At 1 a.m. an alarm called into the "carugi" the already awakened people, "fire’s burning", big flashes around, from Punta Mesco, signed an attack, but it was not easy to see which village has been sacked, even if it was sure that the pirates had come in great numbers. Waiting at dawn, on the highest rock in front of the sea, people start to decide what to do. A child broke the silence, noting: "Bells, bells!", "What have the bells got to do with this?", "They are shining!". In fact, Oleastra was famous also for the sound of its bells; one, in particularly, had been casted in pure silver and gold and – apart the fact that it rang celestially – it was very brilliant and clearly seen from a long distance. Without speaking a single word, all the villagers moved into the church square, some with ropes, some others with wooden poles, quickly a platform was made to reach the bell-tower and the bells were slinged and lowered. However, the possibility that the shining could have already signed the village existed; so it was decided to excavate a big hole in the ground, and to put into it not only the bells but also the villagers’ properties. All gathered together carrying their riches and the priest wrote on each coffer the owner’s name. The properties were put together with the silver bell, kept in the same position as it had in the bell-tower, hanging from a main girder. Thereafter a cover was made and protected by more than 10 metres of soil, so nobody could notice the excavation. On the ground, quickly some cultivation was made, as if it were a cultivated terrace among the others. That night the sentinels trebled, people went to sleep fatigued, waiting for a dawn that for too many was not to come .

The pillage.
The Saracen vanguard came into the village not from the watched roads but from the mountains above. After the assault of the previous night, they had not gone back to their ships, but had come inland to attack in the rear; the first sentinels were slaughtered without any possibility of perceiving what was going to be; others recognized, before being killed, some of those who, ten years earlier, had been too easily pushed back to the sea, a proof that the attack had been carefully prepared. The peasants/merchants, totally disarmed, could nothing against the invasors, most of them were killed, women and children became prisoners and were transported, while the old people were slaughtered. A few minutes after the attack, high in the sky fires start, showing that another slaughter had been made, a sign of dismay and scare for the other villages. The invasors left that night, in the same way as they came; it was heard far away the prisoners’ cries and moanings, while they were forced to get into the pirates’ vessels, and thereafter carried and sold as slaves in oriental markets. From Little Seashore, compassionate helps came and buried the deads. For many months nobody dared to come back to a place that had become a synonymous of desolation and death .

An old Man comes back .
From that horrible night sixty years, at least, had been passed. Some other people had come back to live in the houses, to cultivate the fields but all the people – who had been living in Oleastra in the period before the sack – had been killed or put in slavery. Nobody, then, knew about the bell and the rich peasants’ properties that had been hidden. To the people working under the olive trees in the fields, along the path that previously used to bring to Little Seashore, an old man, about 70 or even more year-old, came quickly approaching. He was unknown to everybody, but he clearly knew the steps and modified his walking according to their different shape, as if he had walked on them quite frequently. He didn’t speak to anybody; just went to live into one of the few houses, still ruined after the sack and not yet rebuilt, near the village of Groppo. All in the village were curious about his status and his intentions; some said that in Manarola, speaking in a strage language, resembling Arab, he looked quite astonished seeing how big the village has become, the village he still called Little Seashore. People thought that he possibly was insane and that it would be better to leave him alone .

The secret revealed.
Later on, he start to tell people incredible things; he was the boy who had suggested to hide the shining bell. He told about the fears, in the nights before the pillage, about the raid, the abduction and about everything already told above and thereafter about his escaping, after years of slavery, and his willingness to come back to his birthplace. After some reluctances, he added: "I have come back also to recover the treasure". The astonishment was total. "Which treasure?". He told, then, about the hiding-place for the bell, 10 metres deep into the groud. Briefly, after that, the old man died, but about his tale nobody thought that it was a fake: in the nights of the strong libeccio wind, when the sea swells and beats the coast between the Lakes and the rosmaries, as to destroy it, just below Volastra, even today, it can be heard the ring of the bell. Before the old man’s tale it was perceived as a sound carried by the wind, even if the uncertain direction made everybody think that it could come from the earth. Later, when Volastra was visited by people from everywhere, they tried to find the bell and the treasure, following the last hints given by the old man: "Looking at the bell-tower and at the chimney of the last house in the village, this is the right direction to find the treasure". But still today, in the libeccio windy nights, when the sea furiously beats the coast below Volastra, you can listen to the heavenly sound of the never found bell .

As we have heard this tale when we were children, now, grown up,we like to tell it to you.