Over the past few years, numerous towns in Italy have resorted to selling homes for just over a dollar in a bid to revitalize their dwindling communities.
Zungoli near Naples and Sicily’s Sambuca were the most recent Italian destinations to get in on the act, launching schemes promoting dilapidated properties for just over a dollar with the hope of attracting new residents.
Now, the Sicilian town of Cammarata has gone one step further—offering homes for absolutely nothing.
Desperate to save his hometown from depopulation, mayor Vincenzo Giambrone has spent the last three years convincing owners who’ve long abandoned their family homes to hand over the empty, crumbling buildings to newcomers for free.
“I can’t stand to see this gorgeous, old historical center empty and turn into a ruin. It hurts me,” Giambrone tells CNN Travel.
“The owners are oblivious to the damage they cause when they ditch their homes and refuse to restyle their ancient dwellings. It leaves a deep scar on the townscape with the risk of dangerous collapses.”
According to Giambrone, there are roughly a dozen empty stone buildings available at present and “more to come shortly.”
And with at least 100 other abandoned homes, all located in Cammarata’s most ancient part, with the potential for rescuing, Giambrone has high hopes for the scheme.
“Now, new buyers can finally step in to secure these crumbly walls and revive the historical area,” he adds.
Understandably, there are a few conditions to Cammarata’s “free” homes scheme.
Buyers must commit to renovating the property within three years of the purchase and pay a 5,000 euro ($4,300) deposit, which will be returned once the work is complete.
They will also need to present a clear refurbishment proposal for the property in question.
While all potential buyers who meet the criteria will be considered, young couples with children will receive priority. Couples who move there and go on to have a baby even receive a 1,000 euro bonus.
New owners can transform the multi-story buildings into a private house, B&B, hotel, shops, or even a restaurant.
Giambrone’s main concern is that the town “goes back to being a lively, vibrant place.”
Cammarata is part of an elite group of authentic Italian villages fighting against decline and to preserve traditions.
Positioned about 60 kilometers southeast of Palermo, it was once a “lively, vibrant place,” says Giambrone.
But the historic town has lost a large number of residents over the years, and many of its homes lie abandoned today.
Set at an elevation of around 1,000 meters, Cammarata is located in Sicily’s wild southeastern area, renowned for its sleepy villages and slow pace of life.
Founded by the Byzantine Greeks, the town’s name comes from the Greek word “Kàmara,” which means “vaulted room.”
A Thousand Balconies
“It’s a unique location,” says Enzo Li Gregni, head of the tourist board for Cammarata and part-time tour guide.
“Cammarata is known as ‘the town with 1,000 balconies to the East,’ as each window here basks in sunsets, and you can enjoy spectacular views of Mount Etna,” he adds.
“When the volcano erupts, we see the sciara red lava flow and the rising smoke.”
The town is filled with reddish stone dwellings with panoramic balconies and bright walls, along with a few lavish aristocratic palazzos.
Its many green fields are dotted with grazing sheep and former agate stone and salt mines. Its surrounding fertile hills were once used to breed and train horses competing in the Olympic Games.
Cammarata is filled with narrow uphill alleys, arched passageways, and winding steps.
One of the biggest streets here is Strada Carrozza or Carriage Road, made of flat shiny river stones, which measures about 1.7 meters and leads up to the overhanging castle ruin.
Town of Longevity
Although Cammarata barely has 6,000 residents, there are more than a dozen churches in the area.
Hundreds of pilgrims gather in Cammarata each year, walking along a 160-kilometer-long spiritual trail from Palermo to Agrigento.
While many residents have long left Cammarata behind, those who’ve stayed have largely been rewarded with longevity.
In fact, the town boasts Sicily’s highest number of centenarians, according to locals.
Cammarata’s mild climate, the fresh air of the Monte Cammarata natural reserve, and local food are all believed to play a part in a healthy lifestyle.
All families have a tiny patch of land with an olive grove and vineyard to make oil and wine for domestic use.