The Italian town of Gangi, built on a small hill in a wooded valley in central Sicilyabout 80 kilometers southeast of Palermo, looks like a giant tortoise shell.
Less than two years ago few people outside of Italy had heard of this city. Now, people from all over Europe, and from as far away as Australia, are vying with each other for a piece of it.
Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places in Italy, this 12th-century city had a population of 16,000 in the 1950s. Today, only 7,000 remain. People have been drifting away from Gangi for over a hundred years, lured by the “American dream,” thanks to a brilliant transatlantic ocean liner sales agent who sold the prospects for a better life in America.
Thousands of residents left their homes, some residents known locally as “pagglialore”, typical of this city. The tower-like structures were occupied by donkeys on the ground floor, along with chickens and goats on the middle floor, while the farmer’s family lived on top. For decades, many of these houses were in ruins.
In an effort to revitalize the city, in 2014, the mayor decided to sell these houses at the price of one euro. Many were given a home for free. But there was a problem, of course.
The buyer was required to draw up renovation plans within a year of purchasing the home, and those chosen plans would have to be implemented in the following three years. The buyer also had to bear various expenses, including the pay all necessary fees and permits to reside in Gangi. Giving an example, it cost an Australian woman more than 17,000 dollars to have her house in the city.
However, the houses sold quite quickly. Since June 2015 there is a long waiting list. “We don’t want people to just buy the house because it’s worth little,” Mayor Ferrarello said, “we want to know what they’re going to do with the homes.”
A company based in Florence, for example, received two vacant homes and bought seven more, as they planned to create a 22-suite hotel.
The mayor’s goal seems to have worked well. There is great interest in Gangi now and tourism is booming.
“We did this for our children, because we love our territory,” Ferrarello said. “We want our children to stay here and not leave.”