10 May 2009


In 1968, the small town of Gibellina, Sicily was completely destroyed by an earthquake. And only a few years later rebuilt close to the original site. The erection of the new Gibellina was supported by a unique vision: against traditional forces of bureaucracy, corrupt politics and Sicilian mafia. Artists were invited to design buildings and sculptures and to incorporate place and landscape into their work. After a short period of florescence, Gibellina of today resembles a ghost town.
:Butterfly shaped new Gibellina

After the earthquake, a history of 900 years was destroyed, but not only the buildings were damaged also the people and their communities. Hence after the catastrophe there should be a new very unique Gibellina, art should reconcile the people. Urbanism from scratch should create the new home. Promoted by the charismatic mayor Ludovico Corrao, who wanted the best for his people, now four decades later the experiment failed. The butterfly shaped new Gibellina is dead. People could not find a new home in the modernistic structure. The community was destroyed. At the beginning of the 80's 8000 people lived there. Today there are only 4500. Young people went away, to Milan, Torino or America. The grand scale Piazze and streets are all empty. An inhabitant: "This town is a stranger in its own environment. A town with enormous amount of space - and enormous disconsolation."Corrao wanted to create a modern contemporary Gibellina, completed with all kinds of sculptures and artwork. This should create a touristic attraction and therefore bring money to a town in a poor area of Italy. Huge metal sculptures, now rusty, giant stars spanning over streets, vast open spaces. A small town with no soul. The experiment failed. But blaming art for that failure would be too easy. Gibellina is an example where modern architecture and urbanism failed.
Probably the only still 'functioning' piece of art is situated at the area where the old town once was located. In 1981 Italian artist Alberto Burri erected an enormous monument out of concrete. The former blocks were waist-high monoliths, in-between the old layout of the streets.
Austrian filmmaker Juergen Burger tries to get hold of Gibellina in his documentary "Gibellina - Il terremoto". Trailer

:: all images via GoogleEarth

Follow up: Gibellina II