The story of Casello 68 draws us back into a world that has long since disappeared. A world of steam engines, of railroad tracks that had just started connecting cities and peoples, of women and men who lived traditional farming lives.
In 1875, when the new Sestri Levante – La Spezia train line was under construction, the building that would eventually become Casello 68 had already been standing for ten years.
Situated approximately one mile from one another, these “caselli” – or watchman’s houses – were exactly what their name suggests: homes for the railway watchmen, the men who were in charge of construction materials during the building of the line, and then for maintenance and safety once the line was fully-functioning.
Each watchman’s house had a number, starting from number 1 in the center of Genoa, arriving at number 68 in Levanto, then passing to number 69 in Monterosso, and so on down the line. The numbers were displayed in large figures on the face of each building so as to help the train engineers understand how much further they still had to travel.
That early train line followed the contours of the coast and had to contend with the fickleness of nature’s whims, which is why one of the watchman’s primary jobs was to keep on eye on the conditions of the track and to inspect for branches or rocks that had landed there from the strong winds or frequent sea surges. When the sea flexed its muscles, the trains simply had to wait until its fury had subsided.
The watchman’s house in Levanto was also a pedestrian crossing point for farmers returning to town from their fields outside the medieval walls, re-entering the city center through the Water Gate.
The history of Casello 68 came to an abrupt halt, though, when in the late 1960s, a decision was made to build a new train line with wider tracks that passed further inland from the coast.
From then, the house entered a phase of dark legends, like the one about the final inhabitant of the watchman’s house, a hermit-like woman who remained hidden away in the building after the death of her daughter. The old folks in town swore that the girl died from appendicitis after eating a banana offered to her by her mother.
After twenty years of being forgotten, the Viscardi family arrived in Levanto from Genoa, and saw in the watchman’s house – by now completely surrounded by a barrier of thorns – the home in which to raise their seven-year-old son Mirko. That was 1981.
The rest is recent history, but like pieces of track placed one along another, it lays the base for the stories of tomorrow. Stories punctuated by voices speaking in foreign languages, by the laughter of young couples, by summer days and holiday pleasures.
And somewhere in the distance, by the echo of a steam-driven train.