Coming to the Rescue of Italy’s Ghost Towns

Using visionary tactics, businessmen and entrepreneurs breathe life back into the country's abandoned villages and towns.

(The abandoned village of Pendedatillo)

This article, written by Silvia Marchetti, appears on Newsweek.

Italy’s Santo Stefano is a jet-black volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in an atoll near Rome. From the days of the Bourbons up to 1965, it was considered Italy’s Alcatraz—a centuries-old prison packed with anarchists, revolutionaries, criminals, bandits and political dissidents. Today, it’s deserted.

Visitors still come to Santo Stefano, but they must first walk along a steep, rocky pathway flanked by prickly shrubs and hungry mosquitoes. The prison is now a crumbling horseshoe-shaped fortress at the top of the rocks. Nearby, its village’s colonial villa is also still largely intact but certainly decaying, along with the jail’s offices, bars, shops and a field where inmates once played soccer with guards. Any surrounding gardens and fields are long dead, consumed by the encroaching wilderness that threatens to swallow the village in slow motion.

Santo Stefano is one of over 6,000 ghost villages in varying states of disrepair that dot Italy’s coasts and countryside. And even that staggering number may soon increase, as another 15,000 towns are currently on the verge of total abandonment due to financial instability, emigration and natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. Though Italy boasts 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the most of any country in the world, keeping up its artistic heritage—especially during an economic downturn—has proven a nearly impossible task for the Italian government.

Help could be on the way, in the unlikely form of rich businessmen with a preservationist bent. Read more on Newsweek.

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