Anne's Blog

Bolsena: Treasured Wash-day Memories

Date: August 7, 2019 - categories: , , , , , , , , , - 8 Comments

On an August Saturday night, groups of musicians and singers filled the Bolsena piazzas and wandered down the town’s winding medieval alleyways.

With laundry baskets at their feet or on their heads, the singing Lavanandaie della Tuscia (“The Washerwomen of the Tuscia area”) harmonized together in front of Bolsena’s 13th-century San Francesco church.

They enthused everyone……

…..and Pino, too:

As we listened, clapping our hands to the music, I remembered the first time I’d seen the lavandaie singing while soaping and rinsing their wash in the Bolsena lavatoio (village washhouse).  Chatting afterwards with the group’s founder (and guitar accompanist), Simona Chiaretti, I had been fascinated to learn about the tradition (all over Italy) of women joined in song while scrubbing.

This evening, too, they all headed to the lavatoio, singing their way through Bolsena’s medieval quarter, laundry baskets or metal wash basins on their heads:

…dinner music for the diners along the way….

At the lavatoio, the singing continued, in perfect rhythm with their energetic scrubbing with homemade soaps:

…and what acrobatic swoops with their laundry, even flings in the air from one to another, across the water:

Simonetta strummed along and led the singing,  set the rhythm:

A woman near me clearly reveled in the singing and even joined in with the women.  When I asked her how she knew the words, she told me that at the lavatoio in another Latium town, Rieti, she remembered the wash-day harmonizing of the local women:

When our daughter-in-law Francesca heard about our Bolsena evening, she reminisced with me about accompanying her nonna Peppa to the lavatoio near Sugano in the Orvieto countryside during the summers to wash – while Nonna sang.

Francesca described to me her Nonna twisting a rag into a ring for her head to help balance her huge wash basket. That ring was called a “torcolo” as it was shaped like the Umbrian donut-shaped sweet of that name.

Every summer, her nonna washed out the blankets and heavy winter quilts at the lavatoio – carrying them on her head, down and back up (much heavier when wet!)- while little Francesca carried down own her wash basket holding her pajamas and underwear to scrub.

Francesca’s most vivid washing-day memory?   “The summer Nonna Peppa (eighty-two years old then) decided to make two mattresses out of a double bed mattress she had.”  She opened up the handmade mattress, took out the stuffing of the sheep’s wool (which had been purchased from a local shepherd), and carried the wool down on her head to the lavatoio. Ten-year-old Francesca trotted along behind, her own laundry basket on her head.

The washed wool was carried back up the hill, spread out on the grass to dry and later used to make two twin-bed mattresses, Nonna Peppa cutting up the double-bed mattress lining and sewing up two new smaller mattresses.

Nonna Peppa’s determination and feisty strength was legendary: she and Francesca used to forage for wild greens up until Nonna was one-hundred-three!

(She died just ten days before turning one-hundred-four).

Here are a few memorable photos:

Francesca is seeking photos of her “wash-day” memories with Nonna Peppa.  She just sent me a favorite photo:  with her proud nonna on the day of Francesca’s graduation (summa cum laude) from the Universita’ di Perugia.  Nonna Peppa was ninety-nine…

…..and not scrubbing wash any longer while singing at the local lavatoio.  Francesca remembers fondly many of those wash-day tunes.

Read here about the first time I saw the Compagnia delle Lavanandaie della Tuscia

See them – and hear them!

Click here to see and hear the Lavanandaie della Tuscia singing in Bolsena’s 14th-c castello

Read about Trattoria Da Picchietto, a favorite Bolsena eating spot

Read about a favorite Bolsena gelateria

Click here to read Bolsena’s Misteri di Santa Cristina




  • Jon Brennan Gilloon says:

    Fantastic, as ever! You find every reason to celebrate- see you in October

  • ….and we’ll hit a festa or two together, Jon!

  • Jerry Hardee says:

    Loved this, Annie! So looking forward to visiting soon.

  • Cara says:

    I’d never heard of this before! Love the information on Francesca’s grandmother! How fascinating! What a life….nearly 104 years of it! Amazing! Thank you for always sharing the tidbits of life, bringing the heart of the villages and towns to life on my screen.

  • Jerry, thanks for your note and looking forward, too, to sharing the wonders of Umbria with you!

  • Ah, Cara, so many wonders to uncover, discover here in Umbria…vero?

  • Jane Beckwith says:

    A rich description of a rich tradition.

    I was reminded of “helping” do laundry at 4 years old, safely (and unnecesarily) pulling clothing through the old Maytag ringer into the rinse water while singing American spirituals – like On the wings of a snow white dove…and “I’ll fly away.”

    Thanks Annie for the pictures and the music. Felt nearly there!


  • Thanks, Jane, for your note and childhood memories….linked to Bolsena!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Privacy Policy

Privacy Italian Legislative Decree n° 196/2003 Under Article 13 of the Italian Legislative Decree no. 196/2003, regulations with regard to the Protection of Personal Data, this is an informative report to all interested parties on the modality of the treatment of personal data, arising from interaction with our website
THE PRINCIPAL FOR DATA TREATMENT During site consultation, personal data referring to identified or identifiable persons can be processed. The principal for data treatment is Anne Robichaud Pian della Pieve Assisi 06081 (PG) Italy. The data will be mainly processed at the mentioned head office by the people responsible for the website or by other people appointed for occasional maintenance operations, provided that their actions conform to of the guarantees enshrined in the Legislative Decree 196/2003.
Web navigation The information systems and software procedures required for the functioning of this website, acquire some personal data during their normal service, the transmission of which is implicit in the use of web communication protocols. This information is not collected with the purpose of identifying interested parties, but due to its very nature, the information could lead to user identification through processes and relations with data held by third parties. In this data category there are IP addresses or domain names belonging to computers used by users who connect to the site, addresses with URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) notification of the requested resources, time of the request, used method in submitting the request to the server, dimension of the file obtained in replying, the numeric code mentioning the reply status given by the server (successful reply, error, etc?) and other parameters referred to the operation system and to the user’s information environment. This data is used with the sole purpose of obtaining anonymous statistical information on the use of the site and to check the correct functioning; immediately after processing, the data is erased.
Data voluntarily supplied by the user The voluntary optional and explicit e-mail transmission to the addresses mentioned in this site implies the subsequent acquisition of the sender’s address, necessary to reply to the queries, as well as the other eventual personal data registered in the message.
OPTIONAL PERSONAL DATA SUPPLY Except for the above mentioned navigation data, the user may be asked to supply his own personal data through queries or messages to the email addresses shown in the contact pages. Failure to provide such data may be the cause of the inability to obtain the requested information from the company.
TREATMENT MODALITY The personal data is treated in compliance with the Legislative Decree no. 196/2003 and held only for the time necessary to achieve the aim for which it has been collected. Specific safety measures are taken to prevent any data loss, illicit or incorrect use and unauthorized access.
RIGHTS OF THIRD PARTIES The data subjects are at any time entitled to obtain confirmation as to whether or not data relating to him are held, to know the contents and the origin, to check the correctness, to ask for integration, updating or change (art. 7 Decree Law 196:June 2003). In accordance with the same article, they are entitled to obtain the erasure, conversion into anonymous form or freezing of all data used in breach of the law, to object, on legitimate grounds, to the processing of data relating to him. All requests have to be transmitted to the e-mail address

Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)