...Best of Sicily presents... Best of Sicily Magazine.
The first online magazine about Sicily.
... Dedicated to Sicilian art, culture, history, people, places and all things Sicilian.
Ghost Town
by Carlo Trabia


Best of Sicily

Arts & Culture


Food & Wine

History & Culture

About Us

Travel Faqs


Map of Sicily


Monastery outside Old Poggioreale.It seems like something out of the American Old West --without the tumbleweed. Poggioreale, like several other towns in Sicily's Belice Valley, was extensively damaged by an earthquake in 1968. Consequently, the old town was abandoned and a new one established a few kilometres away. Unlike nearby Salaparuta (also abandoned), which has a castle, Poggioreale was not a medieval town; it was founded in the eighteenth century, making it new by Sicilian standards. The earthquake claimed few victims at Poggioreale, whose name means "royal well." It did, however, destroy much of the village, leaving the impression of a town demolished by poorly targeted bombs. It was precisely for this reason that Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore used it as one of the locations of his 1995 movie The Star Maker, which takes place in Sicily in the aftermath of the Second World War. In Summer, when the surrounding countryside is amber and brown, Poggioreale, even viewed from a distance, assumes the look of a ghost town in a Spaghetti Western --with no cowboys in sight. At night, with bats flying around, it seems haunted. But the sunlight of a Spring morning makes the deserted Sicilian town, its stone and brick streets overgrown with wildflowers and weeds, look as though it were part of a divine medieval experiment. Or perhaps an ancient one.

No voices. No old men talking. No children playing. No cars parked along the narrow streets. And none of the swooping swallows typical of inhabited towns of the Sicilian interior. The landmarks of Poggioreale can still be seen. There's the gutted church whose Neo Classical facade seems untouched by disaster, and another church whose bell tower stands defiantly. A solitary survivor. One wonders why fate, or perhaps a Higher Authority, saw fit to all but destroy one church and spare the other. While Poggioreale is not what one would consider a touristHigh Noon. attraction, it draws a certain kind of attention among Sicilians. Very few of its buildings were built after 1960, though the public library is an exception. Ghost towns seem frozen in time. It's no illusion. A place like this makes you think about just what it is that makes buildings homes, what it is that makes a church a place of worship. And what it is that makes a group of buildings a community. Above all else, it's the people.

Sicily is full of ruined castles and the remains of ancient cities, but Old Poggioreale seems more surreal than historical. Here one feels a closer kinship with the people who lived here (many of whom now reside in "New" Poggioreale). They're not ancient Greeks or medieval Normans. They're more like us. Perhaps that explains why Poggioreale's ironic beauty is mildly disturbing.

And the ghosts? If they could speak to us, what would they say? In the case of this ghost town, the ghosts are few, since most of Poggioreale's residents escaped to survive the natural disaster. A very few who refused to abandon their homes perished. In a place like this, one instinctively seeks a message, but there is none. There are only impressions.


...©2001 Bestofsicily

About the Author: Catanian architect Carlo Trabia has written about medieval architecture for various magazines and professional journals. (This article was translated from Italian.)

Top of Page

© 2001 Carlo Trabia