How Italy brings back to its rustic villages Travel

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The world tends to think of Italy as the modern heir of ancient Rome, the national home of pizza, espresso and Leonardo da Vinci. But long before he was a united nation, the boot-shaped peninsula was a loose set of towns and villages, village in Italian, with wildly diverse architecture, topography and cultural history. In picturesque towns in the north, Italian is often the third language spoken in German and Ladino, a well-preserved Latin dialect with roots in the Roman conquest of the Alps. The central region of Abruzzo has a medieval village that brought wealth to the Medici family in the wool trade (they kept their sheep there) and another with a church built on the ruins of the Roman-era temple of Jupiter.

Until the 20th century, most Italians lived in rural settlements that were often rich in history and natural beauty, but lacked economic opportunities and social services. When industrialization led to massive migration to cities, thousands of Borghi were left behind. Populations have declined. Entire cities fell into disrepair, or worse, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and forest fires. Today, it is estimated that more than 5,000 borghi are considered threatened with depopulation Anci, National Association of Italian Municipalitieswith about 2,000 on the verge of complete abandonment – becoming ghost towns.

Map
Guilbert Gates

Church of Santa Maria

Church of Santa Maria della Pietà from the 16th century in the Apennines.

Francesco Lastrucci

In recent years, however, artists, agrarian dreamers and businessmen have begun to return to neglected rural villages in Italy. New ecotourism businesses are attracting visitors and new transplants to remote areas. Crowdfunded cooperatives help newcomers to open grocery stores, art centers, coworking areas, pizzerias. In 61 cities across the country, local authorities will even sell you a house for € 1 – you don’t have to be Italian, but you often have to prove that you plan to renovate it.

This highly publicized initiative has its charm, but the results so far are surprisingly modest given the current enthusiasm for the redevelopment. The city of Gangi in Sicily is considered an exemplary success, but since the beginning of the program in 2009, only 13 such houses have been sold, which is only one house per year.

However, a recent poll found that the wind is changing: Two-thirds of people under the age of 39 living in the Italian Borghi say they hope to stay there, indicating a reversal of a trend that has been going back about 70 years. Not so long ago, the Calabrian village of Pentedattilo, originally a seventh-century-Greek Greek colony, saw the arrival of its first new resident in nearly 40 years: Makandjan Thunkara, a young refugee from Mali who worked with the only other resident in the city. , Rossella Aquilanti, a former postman, to restore an abandoned farm. They are seldom without the help of rotating young people who come to stay and cultivate the land and take care of pigs and goats. “We make cheese and bread, we have a vegetable garden,” says Aquilanti. “All we have to buy is wine.”


Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Abruzzo

Medieval fortified village was once the base of the Medici family for sheep, whose wool, sold in Florence, helped the family get rich. The wool trade remains an important local industry, but the city is also known for its lentils, which have been grown here since 1000 AD and is known for its intense flavor, which is attributed to altitude. Nevertheless, Santo Stefano has lost a large part of its population and today is home to only 60 permanent residents. In Santo Stefano, the terrain is so steep that many streets and alleys consist of long mazes of similar stairs.

The main square of Santo Stefano

Here is the road from Piazza Medicea, in the historic center, towards Piazza Cristoforo Colombo.

Francesco Lastrucci

Colored wool

Colored wool in the Valeria Gallese store, right next to the main square.

Francesco Lastrucci

Big corner

Corno Grande, at 9,554 feet, the highest peak in the Apennines.

Francesco Lastrucci


Gangi, Sicily

The city, built on the sloping Mount Marone ridge, 50 miles southeast of Palermo, was inhabited as early as the Roman era, if not earlier. In 2014, she was one of the first in Italy to sell abandoned houses for € 1, which is a program that is at least relatively successful in our country.

Scenes from the Ganges in Sicily

On the left, a view from the square near Corso Fedele Vitale, overlooking the district where most of the discounted houses were located. At the top right, children play football on the terrace of the Duomo di San Nicola di Bari. Bottom right, 19th-century frescoes inside the church of San Cataldo.

Francesco Lastrucci


Ostana, Piedmont

Not far from the French border, in the Western Alps, Ostana lost waves of population in the 1950s and 1960s due to industrial work in nearby Turin. Recently, a civic cooperative has attracted new residents, which has built a coworking space and a children’s library and is organizing artists’ stays.

Stay

At the top left, the townspeople drink tea on the stone-covered roofs of Ostana. In the background are the peaks of Monviso and Pian del Re along the French border. That’s right, Roberto Miretto, a former truck driver who came to Ostana by accident during a delivery. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “I knew I wanted to live here for the rest of my life.” Today he leads an farm, a combined restaurant, bed and breakfast and a cashmere goat farm. At the bottom left, the cows graze on the alpine meadows of Pian del Re, near the source of the Po River.

Francesco Lastrucci


Vaccarizzo of Montalta, Calabria

“Over the years we lost everything, “says Roberta Caruso about his long-poor hometown. “Even mail has been turned off.” In 2019, however, architects and entrepreneurs affiliated with MIT launched a program to revitalize the village, renovate buildings, hot tourist trails, and open a craft store.

carpenter

A carpenter renovates old cinema seats.

Francesco Lastrucci

Cutting Vacarizzo, olives, church

The left, city dweller, at home for the weekend, cuts his father. Middle, detail of almost ripe olives in the courtyard of Vaccarizzo. On the right, the church of San Rocco from the 13th century.

Francesco Lastrucci


Pentedattilo, Calabria

The city, founded by the Greeks in the seventh century BC, is known for blood revenge among 17th-century aristocrats. Poverty and devastating floods led to abandonment in the 1960s, but the arrival of Rossella Aquilanti, a former postman, caused a modest recovery.

Pentedattilo - empty house and almond harvest

On the left, an empty house, with Etna in the background. That’s right, volunteers are collecting almonds on Aquilanti’s farm.

Francesco Lastrucci

Makandjan Thunkara

Makandjan Thunkara, one of the only permanent residents of the city.

Francesco Lastrucci

Prickly pear

Prickly pear ripening in October in the Calabrian countryside.

Francesco Lastrucci


Fontecchio, Abruzzo

After the big earthquake in 2009 half of the houses in the city were condemned as dangerous. Today, however, Fontecchio is full of construction and activities and has become a center for international artists.

workers restore the palace

Workers restore the medieval palace.

Francesco Lastrucci

Fontecchio ceiling, fountain, fresco

On the left, the cracked ceiling in the house of Valerie Pica, an art historian born in Naples, moved to restore the property of her ancestors. Center, fountain from the 14th century, a long place for social gatherings in Piazza del Popolo. On the right, the fresco adorns the exterior of the damaged house.

Francesco Lastrucci


Longiaru, Trentino-Alto Adige

Nestled in the Dolemites, the village has preserved a small but stable Ladin heritage community. In the past, the population grew wheat and barley, but now they rely on milk production and sustainable tourism, which is strictly regulated. “Tourism is good,” says Christoph Alfreider, a mountain guide, “but it can’t become a monoculture or it would kill the country we live in.” now.

mountains and cow

On the left are chalets dotted with steep alpine pastures near Longiar in the Dolomites. The road leads to the top of the Sass de Putia, one of the highest peaks in the area. That’s right, a mountain cow on a farm near Longiar. The long coat of the breed comes from Scotland and protects it during the cold winters in the region.

Francesco Lastrucci

Longiaru window

The small local museum, which celebrates regional Ladin culture, boasts wonderful views of the Dolomites.

Francesco Lastrucci

Garden woman

The resident takes care of her huge flower garden decorating her front garden.

Francesco Lastrucci

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