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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.