We are about to undertake a journey through places that have kept an aura of magic, whose memory is often kept alive by individuals, who refuse to accept the loss of their roots, and by associations, attempting to revive traditions. These are the so-called ghost towns which, due to the morphological nature of the land or man’s rapacious undertakings, can be found scattered throughout the boot of Italy, from North to South. Many of these places are the focus of ongoing recovery work but, most often, it is films that help them live on.Print itinerary
Elia is the last resident of Provvidenza, a village destroyed by an earthquake. Unable to free himself of the memory of his wife who lost her life amidst those stones, he obstinately defends the legacy of the village refusing to follow the rest of the community, who prefer to forget, to “Nuova Provvidenza”. He stubbornly gathers mementoes, fragments of the stories that once populated the village that appear, here and there, in abandoned objects or in children’s drawings from the flattened school.
Created by Pippo Mezzapesa for his second feature length film Il bene mio, Provvidenza was the result of lengthy research carried out amidst the many ghost towns of Southern Italy. The director’s choice eventually fell on Apice Vecchia, just outside Benevento, a village suspended in time and abandoned after the earthquakes of 1962 and 1980. Beneath the rubble everything lies still. In the empty square are the remains of the signs that evoke an era that no longer exists: "Billiardi", "Salone". The decision to use a village abandoned because of earthquakes as the film’s location created a hugely realistic effect, and it almost seems possible to hear the echoes of time gone by amidst the wounds that blossom between the weeds and the violated intimacy of the old homes.
Heading further south, we come to Craco in the province of Matera. Abandoned in 1963 following a terrible landslide, Craco perfectly preserves an atmosphere of the past which has enchanted numerous film directors. In 1979, Francesco Rosi shot several scenes of Christ stopped at Eboli here: the stone houses, the limestone rock, the narrow, pitched alleys and the steep stairs, dominated by the Norman tower and a 12th century castle, all created the perfect setting for the 1930s village, forgotten by civilization, where Carlo Levi lived out his sentence. Years later, in 2004, Mel Gibson used the area as the macabre setting for one of the most significant scenes in his The Passion, Judas’ suicide.
Civita di Bagnoregio, also known as “the dying city”, is located in the Valle dei Calanchi, in the area around Viterbo. Reached by a footbridge, it rises up on a tuff rock hill whose base is being eroded by atmospheric agents, such as rain and wind, and by the continuous movement of the two rivers flowing through the valleys beneath. Walking into Civita, where very few families still live, is like entering another dimension and this is the feeling that Steno must have felt when he shot the film I due colonnelli with Totò here in 1962; Alberto Sironi in 2009 caught something of its fairy-tale atmosphere in his Pinocchio; Alessandro Genovesi in 2017 used it as the setting for a contemporary issue, civil marriages, in My Big Gay Italian Wedding; while Alice Rohrwacher transformed it into L’Inviolata for Happy as Lazzaro (2018) which won at Cannes.
The history of the ancient centre of Consonno, a hamlet in the municipality of Olginate (province of Lecco) is quite incredible. An industrialist from Brianza created a project to transform it into a “temple of entertainment”, a sort of Italian Las Vegas, sending away the 300 residents and knocking down the few buildings to make space for the strangest shaped constructions. This unrestrained building caused a landslide in 1976, which transformed the village into a ghost town. All that is left is a small church with the adjacent chaplain’s home and cemetery. In recompense, the village has inspired films and advertising campaigns: in 1998 Davide Ferrario shot several scenes of his Figli di Annibale here.
The abandonment of the old centre of Balestrino, located on a rocky spur near Loano in the area of Savona, had already gradually begun by approximately 1850 when an earthquake made the homes unsafe. A century later, in 1962-63, continuous seismic movement and landslides forced the residents to leave the village definitively and rebuild in the valley. However between the silent streets, the deserted homes and the ruins of the castle that looms above the landscape, Balestrino was recreated as Capricorn’s Village in the film Inkheart. And the historical centre was given new life through the magic of film.