Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 26, 2017

A Halloween Story: Road Trip To Italy’s Most Haunted Hamlet

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“Where should we go today?”

“Let’s just get in the car and go,” said Sherry Kanani, my frequent travel companion. “We always find someplace interesting.”

Certainly, it seems anyplace can be interesting, if you have enough curiosity to find out why. And that is how we discovered what some people consider the most haunted place in Italy.

– – –

“Bussana Vecchia – Borgo Medievale” said a roadside sign, directing us up a steep hill from SS1, the coast road along Italy’s Riviera dei Fiori near Sanremo.

The road became more treacherous and tortuous, the higher we drove. It narrowed to barely one lane, with scant room to let the few cars from the opposite direction to squeeze by. Damage to the roadbed made it too dangerous to continue; we parked, and walked the short distance that remained.

“What is this place?” Sherry asked. “Something terrible happened here. You can feel it.”

Bussana Vecchia is not supposed to exist anymore. This hamlet, or frazione, was destroyed in a tremendous Ash Wednesday earthquake 130 years ago that killed an estimated 2,000 or more inhabitants in the area. Most buildings collapsed, including the roof of the hilltop church. Many bodies were never recovered.

Walking through here is like being in an unfinished graveyard.

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An Ash Wednesday service was in progress when the earthquake collapsed the church’s roof. (Jerry Garrett Photos)

Survivors decided not to attempt to rebuild; they moved down the hill closer to the sea and established a new Bussana (called Nuova). The areas of the worst earthquake devastation were declared off limits.

Despite that 1887 temblor, Bussana Vecchia has refused to die – even though Italian police and governmental authorities continue to try to kill it.

The ruined hill town, which dated from the 9th century by some estimates, lay abandoned for more than half a century. But after World War II, squatters – mostly displaced immigrants – began to trickle in, despite no water, electricity or sanitation facilities.

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The vines are slowly taking over.

It was a precarious existence, as repairs were tricky to make; a collapsed section of wall might be holding up the side of an adjacent teetering building. Entry doors two or three floors up might no longer have stairways leading to them.

Police tried to run off the residents, but they refused to be easily dislodged. In the 1960s, hippies moved in. A few artists joined them. A small colony sprung up, existing in partially crushed apartments and homes.

An eviction order was granted in 1968, and police tried to clear the area. But residents barricaded themselves, and refused to leave without the confrontation turning violent. The police backed off. But the area was still considered officially “off limits.” Sporadic initiatives to roust the remnants have continued. As recently as 1997, the Italian government claimed ownership over the entire area, in hopes of evicting everyone. That didn’t work either.

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A few hardy souls still call it home.

These days, only a few hardy souls still consider themselves residents of this eerie ghost town. Several small artist studios are open sporadically. During the day, a handful of restaurants serve simple meals. Only the most primitive water and sanitation facilities exist. Generators provide some temporary power. But as night falls, the area becomes inky black and deathly quiet.

We decided to leave, before it became too dark to navigate the ruptured road.

Yes, Bussana Vecchia, officially, doesn’t exist. Once we left, it was like we were never there.

Jerry Garrett

October 25, 2017

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