Fornello Sustainable Preservation Workshop

12 days in Altamura, Italy - July 23 - August 3 2018

For the second year The School of Restoration Arts at Willowbank is partnering with Messors for an authentic cultural experience in southern Italy. The shared goals of both organisations in integrating theory and practice in sustainable preservation work are realised in the cultural landscape of Altamura, in the southern Puglia region of Italy. Messors organisation works with the local community to offer select workshops that focuses on art and cultural heritage restoration & conservation and immersed culinary practices & food history in southern Italy.

Willowbank and Messors share an understanding and acknowledgement of the interconnectedness between people and place, and that the creative continuity of cultural tradition is  what sustains heritage. Messors’ Fornello Sustainable Preservation Project encompasses these goals and Willowbank are proud to support its evolution.

The ancient cave site of Fornello is located near the of the town of Altamura, in Puglia, Italy, and represent a living school in an area rich in rupestrian. The site made up of a Byzantine fresco cave, twelve additional cave dwellings, and evidence of a settlement dating back to the 3rd century B.C.E. The ancient settlement includes a shepherd’s house that dates to the 1700s and dry-stone courtyards that outline a pre-existing sheep farm. It is one of the most interesting and historically important sites in the Murgia region of Puglia. The frescoes are comprised of three layers that date to 1100, 1200, and 1350.

"The future goal for the site of Fornello is to create a sustainable conservation model through the complete restoration of the frescoes and the historic landscape as well as promoting and preserving sustainable living practices. The goal is to restore the site to the point in which it can function as it’s original settlement: as cave dwellings, a place of congregation, wine storage, milk collection, cheese making and cheese cave aging. Once restored, local shepherds will be offered the site to use as their own milk collective and caves to age their cheeses.” -Messors

Project Mission:

Throughout the course of the 2018 workshop session, participants will work to:

  • archaeological investigation and documentation of the areas an the features of the site subject to restoration and/or reconstruction work
  • stabilize cave entrances and the natural skylights made by the original inhabitants of the rupestrian site of Fornello using natural material as tufa blocks and lime base mortar;
  • build the wood shelves and the door of the cheese aging cave;
  • reconstruct and restore the dry-stone-wall of the site;
  • introduction to the practices of fresco restoration and the history of Byzantine frescoes;
  • clear caves and landscape of brush and rock debris.


Activities Include:

  • Make typical cheeses of Puglia -Pecorino, Mozzarella, & Ricotta
  • Walk to pasture with the shepherd and his flock and make a traditional shepherds lunch in the field to share together
  • Visit the Unesco World Heritage Site of Sassi di Matera for a walking tour and art exhibition of writer and artist Carlo Levi who wrote the book Christ Stopped at Eboli, dinner out in Matera
  • Visit the town of Altamura, famous for its bread, for a architectural tour of the historic centre and lunch at traditional Osteria
  • Afternoon at the beach or coastal town
  • Visit to the archeological site of Botromagno
  • Informal Italian language classes
  • local life in the town of Gravina

During the sessions, participants will be given instruction on archeological methods, techniques, and documentation while operating in a historical site. The workshop includes excursions and visits to historical sites, town and museums of the region to learn and understand the local history and culture. Lectures, demos, and guided visits are conducted in English and guest lecturers may be translated into English.




12-day workshop fee:

€1,680 EUR (approximately $2,060 USD)

  • Includes: your stay (shared room occupancy), transportation to and from the Bari airport or train station on arrival and departure days and field trips, meals (with the exception of 1 lunch and 1 dinner), entrance fees to museums and sites.
  • Does not include: airfare, personal health and travel insurance, and personal expenses.

Your accommodation during the workshop in a private residence in a 15th-century building in the historic town centre. The palazzo has retained some of its original features, however, it has been largely updated with modern amenities. Meals are prepared in our kitchen and shared in the dining room, which leads to salons,  shared bedrooms, bathrooms, and a balconies overlooking the historic heart. Evenings or early mornings can be spent exploring the town on yoour won and joining in local morning expresso rituals.

With its ancient roots in the Peucetii culture and its position on the Appian way from Rome to the Mediterranean sea, Gravina is dense with history, archaeology and the arts. Emperor Frederick II chose the surrounding plateaus as his personal hunting grounds, referring to the area as “Grana dat et Vina”- meaning the land of wheat and wine.

An hour inland from the Adriatic coast and neighbour to the Unesco World Heritage site of Matera, Gravina has been ruled through history by the  Byzantines, Lombards, Normans, Swabians and North Africans and one of its native residents Vincenzo Maria Orsini, went on to become the Pope Benedict XIII.

You can register for The Fornello Sustainable Preservation Project by e-mailing Check out Messors website for the other workshops they offer in southern Italy and in France.

For any inquiries or for further information email