The Mesma environment includes different situations. The upper part is almost flat and marks the presence of the man first with the castle and then with the convent and its related cultivations. A perennial and natural wood, mainly with beech and chestnut trees, covers the northern side. Porphyry and clays pits, interbedded with small camps (campiole), characterize the eastern side. They were then abandoned and the wood took over. The southern and western areas present a similar situation, with settlements in the middle of the wood and this last one which grew over no more used small camps (campiole) supported by big walls. On the slopes there are also small forlorn and ruined buildings which once had a supporting purpose to the farm work.
The base of Mesma is touched by the river Agogna, which forms a small valley. Nearby, the Membra river flows into the Agogna river. The Membra is crossed by an arched bridge of Romanesque style, anyway dating to the 17th century. It is an evidence of the ancient road. On the Membra’s coast, there are also the remains of an 18th century forge, which was used till the beginning of the 20th century, with a stone channel to bring the water to the mallet in order to move it.
The abandoning of the cultivations affects the present situation. The wood was object of attention and cares until the half of the past century, also because of the vineyards above. In fact, if no one cuts the wood after its maturation, it tends to form a sort of dam for humidity, causing an excessive development of the pathologies with great disadvantage for the wine production.
Therefore, Mesma is a sort of point of transition between the flat area and the typical mountain environment, being the first roughness at the end of the plain and at the beginning of the mountain.
The isolation from other elevations determines a microclimate. In fact, the hill is touched by the winds coming from every direction, but in particular, when the winds stop, the hot air currents flow upwards due to the heating of the strong walls. In their turn, these last ones release heat to the above air, which gets lighter and ascends higher in altitude creating a light but constant flow of healthy air. The upper part of the hill was probably occupied originally by stones of porphyry which were used following to their removal for the building of the castle during the Dark Ages. Such stones were then completely re-used for the convent and the church. Some of them were grinded and burnt in two furnaces, such as for the bricks made by local clay. It is easy to deduct that the tree felling was conspicuous in that circumstance, in order to leave space to cultivations. The stones removal allowed also to create wide surfaces (parvis, vegetable garden, gardens) on the top of the hill which otherwise would have been rougher than the present one. On the slope the small camps (campiole) surrendered by dry stone walls started to take shape and the vineyards found here their place.
These surfaces were made by fertile clayish terrains with a good structure – an almost unique situation in the Cusio region– allowing cultivation: orchard, vineyard, vegetable garden, garden. In particular in the vineyards and in the orchards were positioned in a slight declivity, as the terrain was clayish and could absorb abundant water for a good growth of the cultivation but at the same time at risk of washing-away for the pouring rain. Here the terrain was sown with grassland with fruit trees and vineyard and it was dug only and to a very small extend at the base of the tree.
The settlement of the convent introduced in the several areas new cultivations, different environment incentives, also in connections with personalities that launched specific crops. This is for example the case of Friar Ciriaco from Casale Monferrato. He was apothecary and at the beginning of the foundation planted a garden with healing herbs named Orto dei Semplici. Father Ciriaco introduced also the juniper, which is nowadays no more present.
The vine had an important role among the Mesma cultivations. There were no news about it before the arrival of the Franciscans, but it got diffused and has a significant economical weight after the settlement of the convent: “l’uva che si matura nel giardino del Convento, ch’è delicatissima, come pure gl’erbaggi dell’orto del medesimo portano seco uno straordinario sapore, oltre la bellezza che nasce dalla loro crescenza sproporzionata alla sua natura! Convento, il quale pastinato d’ogni sorte di frutti primaticci, da estate, e vernarecci, li matura perfettissimi, e massimamente li fichi d’ogni specie[i]” (L.A. Cotta, Mesima illisutrata) “The vine ripening in the garden of the Convent is very delicate, the same as the vegetables of the vegetable garden have an extraordinary flavour in addition to the beauty coming from their grow! The convent is rich with any type of spring, summer and autumn fruits; it makes them ripen perfectly, especially any type of figs. “(L.A. Cotta, Mesima illisutrata)
The conventual settlement changed completely the aspect of the upper part of the Mesma as it determinated also a changement in the climate. Cutting the wood means removing one of the local factors which favors humidity and the condensation of steamy air. Humidity helps also the diffusion of the mosquitos over 16° in the night. It can be therefore stated that the settlement of the convent enhanced the area as a matter of fact. The Mesma microclimate is the result.
In the meantime the friars showed a great attention in the management of the waters which run low at the top of the hill, except for a few springs with a discontinuous water flow. The most significant demonstration is the building of the tank collecting the rainwater coming from the roofs of the cloister and of the church. In addition the use of sand and charcoal filters allows to keep the water in the best possible conditions and to use them for everyday purposes.
Drawing of the section of the big tank, meant as a water reserve for the convent.
The tank, with a capacity of approx. 130 cubic meters, is really a peculiar engineering work of the 17th century. His capacity can be calculated at any time by means of a probe.