I’m back - here to give you the rest of the story.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my trip up the side of Mt. Vesuvius. It was 100°F, and I was stuffed in the back of a broken FIAT.
Despite it all, meeting the team at Gruppo FIENGO and learning about the traditional craft of Neapolitan ceramic painting [click here] is an experience that I will not forget easily. In fact, when I described Gruppo FIENGO as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory relocated to Naples and repurposed for carving stone, extracting volcanic rock and painting ceramics, I wasn’t exaggerating.
Let’s just take a second to put things into perspective.
Ceramic painting facility aside, this is not your typical Santa’s workshop-style artisanal factory. After all, the primary activity of Gruppo FIENGO is harnessing the natural resources of a volcano. That’s right, they mine and refine volcanic rock in their very own quarry.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a quarry in person, but let me tell you – your elementary school textbooks did not prepare you for the dwarfing dimensions of the machines that transform entire sections of a mountain into larger-than-life rectangular blocks. At Gruppo FIENGO, two-story band saws, hydraulic lifts and 10-foot radius circular saws are the norm. Blocks are hewn, cranes transport them and craftsmen shape them into a wide array of products ranging from pavers to statues, from pizza ovens to building archways.
Perhaps this is the most amazing thing about FIENGO. Just outside Naples, a larger than life city, on a volcano whose reputation is larger than life, there is an artisanal company whose everyday task is, in itself, larger than life: a one stop shop where you can see portions of a mountain transform before your very eyes into something beautiful and recognizable.
I’ll be honest, when my friends told me that we were scheduled to visit a volcanic rock quarry in the sweltering heat on a day when plumes of smoke were gently climbing out of the Vesuvius’ crater, a twitch of anxiety gripped the pit of my stomach. Call me crazy, but I had visions of someone breaking through the volcano's surface and rivers of lava enveloping everything in sight.
How wrong I was! I met a family of artisans whose passion for their craft burns hotter than the lava underneath the volcano that they work on.
Thank you Gruppo FIENGO for letting us visit!