Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Medieval Living and Style

The Washington Post has an article ("Medieval towns pray for a renaissance" (what a horrible title)) about the preservation efforts of rural and mountain towns in Italy. These towns, so far out of the way due to distance and geography, are having a hard time keeping their populations as people find more profitable places to work and live.
Marginal farmland, distance from cities, lack of jobs and the difficulties of maintaining cramped antique housing have driven off tens of thousands of inhabitants over the past century. The remaining population is mainly old and retired.

These remote towns have been emptied out and turned into ghost towns. People must travel in order to get some essential services.

Side note:(An old professor of mine, Roland Sarti, grew up in a similar town in the Apennines. He wrote a book about such town, Long Live the Strong. The towns never reached large populations, no more than 2,000, because they were nestled in among the mountains. However, they could be quite urban as everything needed to be at hand. The book is a good read.)

In an effort to attract permanent residents, towns such as Santo Stefano (the town highlighted in the article) are offering incentives to people to move from the city and establish themselves in these remote places. Some of these are obviously financial:
Last spring, a civic organization representing hamlets across Italy proposed a law that would offer tax incentives to people who move to endangered villages and that would provide financing for local governments to restore decaying buildings, streets and waterworks.

The cultural incentives are much more interesting: the allure of medieval living. The remote towns were never part of the post World War II prosperity that transformed Italy. They were never built up with modern architecture as many cities were, as Santo Stefano's mayor attests. Consequently, they offer a more genuine look at Italy:
This village missed the Italian building boom of the last many years ... That's a blessing. People who visit here will experience the true Italian landscape.

Santo Stefano has taken their efforts further, trying to recreate the atmosphere of the medieval community. They have been trying to hire people to come to serve as local artisans and craftsmen, recreating the perception of local autonomy and interdependence that once made communities so strong.
Town officials are scouring central Italy for people like her who practice rustic tasks: baking, carpentry, wool spinning and dying, and the cultivation of lentils, once a mainstay of Santo Stefano. They want to persuade them to return for good.

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