Turning the ruins of a Medieval Italian village into a home and stone masonry school

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/02/04/turning-the-ruins-of-a-medieva.html

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That is really cool, but as with any project of this kind the question of preservation of historical sites vs. modernization to ensure continued use does rear its head. I do hope at least some sites like this are maintained by the government and kept historically accurate to the period in which they were abandoned. But nonetheless, living in a place like this (especially with modern amenities and easy access to roads etc.) looks like a dream.

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You might want fewer stairs in retirement.

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Neat! But what really impresses me is the apparent absolute lack of graffiti.

The public half of the village includes a… pizza oven

I would be willing to come carry stones all day if I had unfettered access to pizza margherita. Where do I sign up?

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I’d do the same, but there seems to be a lack of meat, even chickens. I have to at least have some eggs or something.

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the question of preservation of historical sites vs. modernization

I changed my mind on this one after realizing that the worst damage is often due to earthquakes, never mind destruction in war, or places just plain getting quarried for marble, like the Colosseum in Rome.

I realized that maintenance always changes things, usually changing form over time as the uses change. There are lots of places in the world with historical structures, and when someone lives there, or uses it, and maintains it they can last an amazingly long time. Without maintenance, buildings disappear very quickly…

So, as long as these folks are prepared to deal with the, um, nuances of the Italian construction industry, I think this project is a grand one. :smile:

Side note… living in and maintaining a barely 50-year old house made me realize that it’s often hard to change the technology used in the construction.

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And a shorter ride to the nearest hospital, not to mention a grocery store. Will Amazon even deliver there until drone deliveries happen?

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You seem to be presenting this as a situation where accurate historical preservation is fundamentally impossible, while in-use semi-preservation like this is feasible, which seems like a misreading of what I was saying. Firstly, as you say maintenance always changes things, though maintenance done with preservation in mind can still be done given access to necessary resources, and achieving a reasonable level of historical accuracy is not in and of itself problematic. At least here in Norway we thankfully have a relatively well funded museum sector dedicated to preserving historical sites and buildings - though this often entails completely tearing down and rebuilding something, or even moving whole houses to new sites. I live close to one such museum which on its grounds houses historical buildings from the entire region, ranging from a 12th century stave church to houses, two whole farms, and a “city district” consisting of various city buildings from the 18th-20th centuries.

As I said in my original post, I do hope some of these abandoned villages are restored and maintained in a way that seeks to represent them with as great historical accuracy as possible, as such preservation does have significant historical value. This does not mean that I think all villages like this should be preserved in this way (that would be an incredibly inefficient use of resources), and there is indeed significant value also in maintaining them as usable, livable buildings rather than purely historical sites. Continued use does as you say guarantee a certain level of preservation and isn’t dependent on public funding or donations, but also guarantees a gradual move away from authenticity whatever the intentions of the people living there. The addition of a balcony in the video is a good example of this. Which is why, while projects like this should indeed be allowed and encouraged, they also need balancing out by properly funded museums with highly qualified staff that can ensure we don’t lose the valuable historical knowledge such sites contain.

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I can’t look for it now, but Italy has/had a program in which people agree to live in a historic structure for free, so long as they maintain it. Basically, Italy doesn’t have the money to do basic upkeep on a lot of these structures. My first thought seeing this article was to wonder if these people are using this program.

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I have highly unorthodox “retirement home” fantasies. Every time I see a castle, a tree HOUSE, a decommissioned missile silo, an abandoned French villa, I start fantasizing about spending my twilight years building an artist colony/goth retirement home with family and friends there.

You ain’t the only one with that fantasy!

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Yeah, that’s why these are always fantasies. I have spinal arthritis, so this would not be a realistic living situ for me. But in my dreams, I can run.

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I don’t think Simon implied that historic preservation is impossible, but it can increase the difficulty of a project exponentially if it is required.

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I don’t disagree with you, but would amplify the point regarding the cost of a true museum-level preservation versus preserving the spirit of the original while advancing its practical modern use.

“Authenticity” is something I find a little hard to pin down. Cultures, like languages, are always in flux. To raise a slightly coarse example, I wouldn’t consider a Norwegian to be “inauthentic” based on their last trip to Uppsala, nor a Sicilian temple inauthentic because it evolved with the times into a Christian church. Nor, I think, is the evolution of an Italian house inauthentic with the addition of a balcony. Does a house not gain its authenticity as a house from people living it, raising families and keeping it relevant?

Like the I. M. Pei pyramid at the Louvre (which I think is brilliant) it will all look like “late second millenium” architecture in a thousand years or so.

All easily said, I’ll admit, given that the oldest structures around here are barely 200 years old; the First Nations here moved their settlements every few years and that shows in their degree of permanence as structures (other factors also acknowledged).

Quick story: My sister’s house was tacked together from three farm houses from the past 150 years, none of which were particularly worthy of preservation. When we were re-cladding it with (locally traditional) barn board and batten, however, we found an old piece of the exterior and realized she had chosen the same colour as the owner used at least 100 years ago. Although unintentional, something about the place drew her unwittingly to an original feature of the place and the town got a historic structure back, of sorts. :smile:

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Count me in, too!

That’s the thing though - the cost of true museum-level preservation, while being a barrier, should not mean that it isn’t done. Quite the opposite: due to it being the most difficult form of preservation it is obviously also the one that needs the most effort and attention, especially as it is the one where the actual aquisition and preservation of knowledge is the focus.

You’re entirely right that authenticity is … well, essentially meaningless as a concept. And cultures are indeed constantly developing, varied, multifaceted, layered and inherently complex things that can’t reliably be defined or even properly classified, let alone preserved. This even translates down to singular objects - say … any farm tool. We might know its design and use, perhaps its cost (in money or labor), but preserving the techniques and practices that contributed to its making and maintenance is a far more tricky proposition. Suddenly you have to preserve a 17th century iron smelter to show the relevant context of a hoe. Then comes the more socially determined factos - how highly valued was such a tool? Did owning one mean status or power? Did proper care (or the lack thereof) of said tool communicate anything to the wider community? Etc. Every single object in a society has a context that eventually spans most of that society, if not beyond.

That still doesn’t mean that the authenticity of a specific historical site, for example, can’t be maintained to the highest degree possible with current tools, skills and knowledge, or that we shouldn’t be trying to do so. This obviously does not maintain the history behind how the site came to be that exact way (unless that knowledge is recorded, which it rarely is), and as such this type of preservation can at best present a sort of “snapshot” of a place at a given time (though obviously without a lot of contemporary elements like the people living there, etc.), and a certain degree of pragmatism is always necessary in terms of the resources put into historical preservation and research. This is still a very valuable endeavor. Why?

Because the “authenticity” (yeah, continuing to use a deeply problematic term here, sorry) of such a site is transformed by the actions done to it. Historical preservation/restoration gives it a certain claim at historical authenticity. Continued use with (even limited) modernization on the other hand minimizes the historical authenticity, as continued use will inevitably evolve the site in various ways. This also has obvious value, but a different kind of value, and generally not one that serves to maintain knowledge of our history, which is the goal of the former. I’m not saying either of these are “better” than the other, but given that one is both more difficult to achieve and has the underlying risk of irrevocable loss, I would argue that it’s more important to focus our energy on that.

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I recall getting into a discussion with a music prof on the subject of digitization, who pointed out that the encoding of notes, timing, timbre etc was woefully inadequate when analyzing historical manuscripts. Authors’ very pen strokes could communicate information of interest and provide insight into the composition.

Which raises another problematic concept into the discussion :wink: :smile:. I think it’s important to examine and be open about motive and objective in any preservation efforts.

I really loved a copper bucket, from a Celtic burial mound, in the city museum in Stuttgart; it was an object of daily life that could have come from a modern store, but was millennia old. Once you’ve seen ten copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, they start to get a little old. They don’t make me as happy as a Celtic copper bucket. If I was asked to choose which to have in my house, the bucket wins hands down because it’s relatable to me.

I suppose I revert to the (functionally useless) claim of there being no absolutes in this subject but, at the same time, I really do enjoy preserved museum sites more often than not, and am happy when my admission price/taxes go to them. I also think that, provided Cat6 was put in and there was space for a server rack, that it would be really fun^H^H^H worthwhile and meaningful to live in a 12th century Templar castle or rebuild an old Italian hilltop house. :smile:

(…although perhaps I think that because I haven’t actually done it… :thinking:)

I’ve never visited Norway, but would look forward to visiting the historical site you mentioned. Where is it?

(ed: sp)

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Apropos the bucket, my friend has a Neolithic core tool she found in her flowerbed one day. It’s an absolutely lovely object which I covet hugely.

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I coveted a little toy wagon, with beasts to pull it and a driver, that I saw in a store window once. The set was over 5000 years old, IIRC Sumerian. Some parent 5000 years ago had made this gorgeous toy set from stone for their kid and you could just feel the love that had gone into it.

It almost certainly should not have been where it was… mais c’est la vie.

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