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Stopover in Gibellina, the lost city of Sicily


Highlights: Gibellina Vecchia, in western Sicily, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. Ten years later, the finest of Italian creation arrived in the hills to design works. Gibellina Nuova has remained empty, or almost. Today it has some 4000 souls. The deserted streets offer their catch to the wind. Lemon and olive trees grow indifferent in the pedestrian walkways. Two bistros take turns to serve ristretto to the walker. We get caught up in the charms of ghost hunting, who here have metal and concrete sheets.

In the deep heart of Sicily lies this city destroyed by an earthquake, then invested by Italian artists and architects of the twentieth century. Today, it is like an unusual museum in the wind.

A mirage. Anyone who arrives by chance in Gibellina Vecchia will believe in a mirage: a white slab follows the curves of a hill, like a cement sheet thrown over the Belice valley in western Sicily. Up close, furrows dug in the material, at human height. A flock of sheep passes, hesitates to enter, runs along the corridors virgin of any grass. Created in 1985 and completed in 2015, this monumental piece of land art, in which the wind and visitors rush in, is the work of the Italian artist Alberto Burri (1915-1995).

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The visual artist, a figure of transalpine abstraction, did not create here by chance his "immense white fissure". In reality, no one ventures without reason into this agricultural heart of Sicily. The pearls of the island are far away: Palermo vibrates to the north, 70 kilometers away, Etna fulminates 300 kilometers away. Gibellina has only her story: in the winter of 1968, an earthquake sweeps through the village. An influential lawyer, the charismatic mayor at the time, Ludovico Corrao, launched an appeal for artistic solidarity in 1979. The finest of Italian creation of the twentieth century arrives in the hills: architects, painters, sculptors ... Alberto Burri is one of them. "Shocked", he places on the rubble his memorial labyrinth: 122 cement slabs taking up the old layout of the alleys.

Ten years after the earthquake of 1968, the finest of Italian creation arrived in the hills to design works.

History of a utopia

Spiral (1992), by Costas Varotsos, in the gardens of the Fondazione Orestiadi. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

The story does not end in the cement folds of the Cretto di Burri, as the Sicilians call it. Twenty kilometers further stands the new town, called Gibellina Nuova. Impossible to miss the entrance. A high metal star, signed by the sculptor Pietro Consagra, spans the national road 119. A little grandiloquent, it serves as a door to utopia. The motorist who flies towards Palermo does not know that further down, after a few rather tangled road ramps, a seemingly innocuous city watches over his works as if on a dream. "At the time, we were at a very special moment for Italian creation: after years marked by the disillusionment of the Second World War, Gibellina was perceived as an opportunity for artists to reinvest their social role: when tragedy strikes, they are present", says architect Enzo Fiammetta, director of the Fondazione Orestiadi, A vast farm transformed into a museum on the edge of the city.

Urban and artistic safari

View of Gibellina Nuova through a sculpture by Pietro Consagra, from the heights of the garden of the Fondazione Orestiadi. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

Built for 15,000 inhabitants, Gibellina Nuova has remained empty, or almost. Today it has some 4000 souls. The deserted streets offer their catch to the wind. Lemon and olive trees grow indifferent in the pedestrian walkways. Two bistros take turns to serve ristretto to the walker. Map in hand, the visit of this urban desert turns into an artistic safari, in search of the works carefully listed on a leaflet. We get caught up in the charms of ghost hunting, who here have metal and concrete sheets. There, the winged totem of Alessandro Mendini. Here, the unclassifiable urban complex of Laura Thermes and Franco Purini Sistema delle piazze, a five-seater interlocking with double porticoes. On the sidewalks, a sculpture by Salvatore Cuschera sits alongside a monolith by Mauro Staccioli. The Chiesa Madre (Mother Church), by architect Ludovico Quaroni, is gathered around a striking concrete sphere, white on a blue sky. It seems to enclose in its hermeticism all the mystery of the city. At his feet, the colossal theater, never finished: a reinforced concrete arch, half-lotus half-bunker. Impossible to enter, you have to be content to see behind the gates the raw volumes designed by Pietro Consagra. Will it ever be completed? The inhabitants shrug their shoulders, have stopped believing in it for a long time, but still admire it with, in their eyes, a burst of pride...

Stopover in Gibellina, the lost city of Sicily

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Practical notebook

To see

Fondazione Orestiadi

Fondazione Orestiadi. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

On the heights of Gibellina, this vast agricultural estate has been transformed into an artistic foundation, watched over by the Salt Mountain by the sculptor Mimmo Paladino. Its high vaults house an eclectic collection of works testifying to the passage of artists (paintings, installations, theater sets...). Imbued with peace, the place also houses a library, a garden, and artist residencies. Tel: + 39 09 246 7844;

Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Ludovico Corrao

Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Ludovico Corrao. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

Its galleries house a rich compendium of twentieth-century Italian art, from the abstractionism of the Forma 1 group to the paintings that the postmodernist Mario Schifano painted in Gibellina. A section dedicated to the reconstruction of the city, with models and photos, offers valuable keys to understanding. It is here that the map of the city is provided, essential before going hunting for works. Tel: + 39 09 2452 4882; More information:


Palazzo Branciforte

Palazzo Branciforte. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

In Palermo, the Italian architect Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) renovated this palace of the cinquecento with multiple destinies. The house, which became a pawnshop in 1801, has kept a unique testimony of its past: on several rooms are entangled up to the ceiling landings and wooden stairs, once filled with the jumble of objects deposited. A sleek design, which contrasts with the modern lines of the library, with lime green furniture and steel balconies. Tel: + 39 091 765 7621;


Caltabellota. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

Perched at nearly 1,000 meters above sea level, this village clinging to its rocky outcrop is well worth the small roads lined with broom that bring it there. Around the interlacing of alleys, a cathedral leaning against an ancient Greek altar, the ruins of a Norman castle, a rock chapel ... and a panorama of the hills and the sea, which rewards climbing.


Hostaria del Vicolo

Hostaria del Vicolo. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

Clean alley, white tablecloths and service all in good manners: under its apparent wisdom, this table stamped slow food happily modernizes the Sicilian classics. Young chefs Lila Bentivegna and Angelo Principato are inspired by local fishing: risotto with red shrimp, red mullet with beans... An exquisite reason to stop in Sciacca, a port city. Count 45 €, tasting menu from 65 €. Tel: + 39 0925 23071;

Tenute Orestiadi

Tenute Orestiadi. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

In Gibellina, this winery created in 2008 cultivates its kinship with the arts and offers panoramic views of the countryside. A tasting room with beautiful volumes, barrels signed by students at the School of Fine Arts in Milan and in the glasses, the native grape varieties: grillo, cataratto, inzolia... Tel: + 39 092 469 124;


Villa Igiea

Villa Igiea. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

Some hotels are journeys in themselves: Villa Igiea is one of them, with its marble corridors, glass chandeliers and languid views of the Gulf of Palermo. The Liberty style building was built in the Belle Époque by the Florio, an illustrious family from Sicily. Now owned by the Rocco Forte group, the villa has regained its splendor after two years of renovation: from the large living room, an Art Nouveau jewel to the 100 rooms and suites, sumptuousness leads everywhere. From 730 € per night. Tel: + 39 09 1631 2111;

Verdura Resort

Verdura Resort. Michel Figuet / Le Figaro

There are two ways to approach the stay in this resort with modern elegance, set on the sunny shores of Sciacca, on the southwest coast: dolce vita version, under the palm trees of the pool or in the spa of 4000 m2. Sporty version, you will choose to walk one of the three internationally renowned golf courses or borrow the bikes available, to stroll on the 230 hectares of the estate. From 600 € per night. Tel: + 39 09 259 982 008;

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2023-05-28

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