Housing – free and cheap – sparks revitalization in Sicily

An open-air town meeting in Gangi’s Piazza dei Popolo, as viewed through a portal in a nearby building. / Photo by Shun Kanda

Consider the classic Italian village. What images come to mind? Perhaps an idyllic village hugging the contours of a mountainside? Locals conducting a quaint life entrenched in old traditions? But behind those stereotypes lie a real community struggling with a shrinking population, like many small towns and villages around the globe.

Meet Gangi, a town with Roman roots in the Madonie Mountains of Sicily. And they want you to take their houses.

The village clings to the sides of Monte Marone, on a winding route from Palermo to Catania. / Photo by Shun Kanda

In an article from June 2015, the New York Times reported on the village’s innovative approach to revitalization. The local government has launched an open call for would-be homeowners, with the stipulation that they renovate the abandoned properties within four years. So far, Italians, Europeans, and even a buyer from Abu Dhabi have claimed 100 properties, with 200 more to go.

16,000 people once called Gangi home in the 1950’s, but now it has shrunk to about 7,000 residents. While the region has long experienced economic hardship, the main motivators for the exodus have been dreams of a better life. Since the late 1800s, oceanliners have made emigration to the Americas all the easier.

The main street at night illuminates the traditional pagglialore housing common to Sicily. At one time, these homes sheltered donkeys, goats, and chickens on the first and second floors, while the farmer’s family lived on the top floor. / Photo by Shun Kanda

Multiple efforts in recent years attempt to alter this trend, helping to put tiny Gangi on the map. It was named a “Jewel of Italy” in 2013, a prime example of the “good Italian life.” Gangi has also been voted by the public as one of the most beautiful villages in the country.

The hope is that all these initiatives will help to fight the “slow disaster” of a shrinking population. Gangi has already been known for its rich art culture and historic architecture. With new homeowners and tourists, it may continue to thrive.

The mayor of Gangi, Giuseppe Ferrarello, puts his government’s motivation this way:

“We did this for our children, because we love our territory. And we want our children to stay here and not leave.”

May their children have the economic opportunities to hold fast to their heritage and to thrive in the mountains of Sicily.

By Emily Lo Gibson

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Further reading:

  • The full article of “Sicilian Town Tells Outsiders: Take Our Homes. Please.” (NYTimes)
  • Essays on Gangi by a longtime resident of Sicily (Italian Notebook) and an Italian American with deep roots in the place (Gadling)
  • Another small town’s efforts at revival through … scarecrows? (NPR).


Have another story about a community’s creative attempts at revival? How have the villages, towns, and even cities transformed — grown and shrank — over time? Let us know through the contact form, or post on our Facebook page or on your platform of choice using the hashtags #goodcommunity #skymemo #etopos.

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