September 7, 2014
the setting sun and concrete13th entry – italy 2014
We went walking through the medieval town and the alleys create a warren carved from the mountain. The houses are all stone, faced with plaster; the small, narrow walk-ways are carved out of the mountain. In modern times, the flat walk-ways have been paved with brick, the verticals steps have been finished with concrete. (The image is me following one of the sets of stairs down the mountain. On the right is the setting sun, in the middle is the WWI memorial and on the left is the Mediterranean.)
Gabriella said that the last residents of medieval Belmonte left in the 60’s when the Italians began rebuilding the country using cement. All new construction uses a cement frame, hollow terra-cotta bricks between the framing and then everything is faced with plaster and painted. The new towns were all built near the medieval footprints. Modern day Belmonte spilled down the mountain to the flat plain in front of the Mediterranean. Gabriella said that the residents wanted the convenience of a garage, a place to park near their house but mostly they wanted out of the medieval warren.
This phenomenon – leaving the old city-centers for the modern suburb – is true throughout modern Italy. (Let’s not forget that post war America began life in Levittown.) It’s the Italy the tourists and foreigners avoid, know nothing about, criticize, and use as proof when they say Italy is going the way of Greece, Portugal and Spain. For tourists and foreigners Italy is the Renaissance – the Vatican, Rome, Florence and Venice. It is a still life. Modern Italy is of no interest. (Suburban America is of no interest.)
As we walked the UNESCO sites of La Val di Noto what we were looking at were the palaces and churches of the Spanish nobility. These are grand. Where the real people lived looked much like the warren that is historical Belmonte. The tour-guide in Scicli explained that the servants didn’t live in the palaces, but in the small houses surrounding the massive structures. Housing that had none of the conveniences – heat, running water, a bathroom – of the palaces they cleaned.
I am sitting in this little piazza outside our albergo diffuso house, in my sleeping clothes, reading email and blogging. There is WIFI throughout the historic center, but the best access is outside, because the house walls are a meter thick.