How one man’s love of isolation put an Italian ghost town on the map | Italy

Giuseppe Spagnuolo wakes up around 6 a.m. each day, eats leftovers from the previous night’s dinner for breakfast, greets the stray cats he calls his “security guards” and descends the steps of his crumbling home to splash water on the face from the fountain in the saloon. From time to time, he goes to the neighboring village, if his “aches” allow it, to have a coffee at the bar.

For 25 years, Spagnuolo has been the sole inhabitant of Roscigno Vecchia, a long-abandoned hamlet 400m above sea level in the Cilento region of southern Italy’s Campania region. “If you lived the school of life like me, then you can easily live that way,” the 74-year-old said, sitting in front of the fire in his kitchen cluttered with pots, pans, bottles. of wine, canned tomatoes, cheese and hanging salamis.

Roscigno Vecchia is one of hundreds of ghost towns across Italy, some of which authorities are now trying to revive with money from the EU’s post-Covid recovery fund.


The hamlet was founded in 1515, when a monk established a retreat there before the shepherds settled there with their flocks. Houses, shops, stables, a church and the fountain, which was the centerpiece of the main square, were built; donkey tracks snaked through the narrow streets, leading to the fields beyond. At the start of the 20th century, Roscigno Vecchia was home to around 1,200 people, who lived a simple life supported by agricultural work before they were ordered to evacuate their homes due to the risk of landslides. A new town, Roscigno Nuovo, was built 1 km away, although the majority of the inhabitants did not settle there until the mid-1960s when malaria struck.

Spagnuolo was born in the new town and left home at 14 to move to Lombardy to work as an apprentice carpenter. He met his Italian wife in Switzerland, where he worked as a construction worker. The couple had four children and eventually the family moved back to Roscigno Nuovo.

But Spagnuolo struggled to find work, and his marriage ran into difficulties that were compounded when his stepfather moved in. He said the house “wasn’t big enough for two grown men”. house, without electricity or running water, in Roscigno Vecchia. He said that the fire, which he uses for cooking, is enough to warm the place and the candles are enough to light up. His wife still lives nearby and their relationship is friendly.

Spagnuolo, who is rarely seen without his trademark pipe, is often referred to as the “last inhabitant” of Roscigno Vecchia, although this is not strictly true. The last official resident was Teodora Lorenzo, who had resisted leaving her home before her death in 2000, aged 85. A photo of her hangs in the town hall of Roscigno Nuovo.

Yet the fact that Spagnuolo is the only resident has made him a star the world over, literally helping to put Roscigno Vecchia back on the map (until a few years ago there were no road signs indicating the way to the hamlet), and turning him into a de facto tourist guide, supporting Pro Loco, the association behind a museum tracing the history of Roscigno.

Roscigno Vecchia, with Roscigno Nuova in the background. Photography: Roberto Salomone/The Observer

Curious tourists often bring food, drinks and other gifts. “This hat I’m wearing is from Belize,” he said. “Like the tie.”

Spagnuolo may be living there illegally, but he’s an asset to the authorities, and free too. “Giuseppe had the intelligence to occupy a space that was empty and to create a personality…so people come to find him and he tells them the story of Roscigno,” said Mayor Pino Palmieri. “So he provides a service, which I don’t have to pay for.”

Just as well. Palmieri was recently left in turmoil after Roscigno Vecchia failed to qualify for a slice of a billion-euro Covid stimulus fund, which Italy is spending to revive abandoned or semi-derelict towns. – abandoned. Palmieri acknowledges that by law it is not safe to repopulate the former hamlet due to its unstable conditions, but he would still like it to be recognized as a cultural resource.

He is now seeking money to restore the church, repair the winding road to Roscigno and open the little-known archaeological site of Monte Pruno, 500m up the mountain, to tourism, while potentially transforming the area into a center for archaeological and geological studies.

“Giuseppe is like a point of reference for tourists,” Palmieri said. “And combined with that, we would like to encourage people to stay for a few days by investing in our other resources.”

Spagnuolo barely reads the newspapers and gets snippets of what’s going on in the world of his visitors and conversations during his trips to the Roscigno Nuovo bar, although he said the clientele mainly talk about football. Covid overtook him, while lockdowns made no difference to the pace of his day. He said he never felt alone, “as the world comes to me”. A self-proclaimed wanderer, Spagnuolo doesn’t know if he will stay in Roscigno Vecchia for the rest of his life. “I have everything I need here, and I’m taking it one day at a time,” he said.

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