Useless is what we believe Useless

Schisina villages were built in the 1950s; seven small hamlets designed to provide 158 homes for farmers and create a self-sufficient community that live by what the surrounding land offers. Every village is made of a residential area, a place of worship and a learning space. Church and school are placed in a central position, a sort of piazza from which the village takes form and expands; each of the six villages is also equally distanced from a seventh hamlet that works as an administrative and social centre, a space that might resemble an African kraal, an area in which the whole community gathers.

The villages remained most of the time uninhabited; only a few farmers decided to settle there for a short period of time, then in the 1960s they eventually abandoned them, as others had done before. It is thought that the living conditions of those small urban centres were not sufficient to meet the farmers’ needs. With no electricity nor running water in the house and only two rooms – a kitchen and a bedroom – next to a small animal stall, the seven villages have never been thought as an opportunity, but rather as a sacrifice for those who had chosen to live them. Farmers tacitly accepted what was considered at that time a form of isolation, as the nearest urban centre of Francavilla – 10km far from Schisina villages – was not seen as an accessible destination. The surrounding area also needed a land amelioration in order to be suitable for farming; the cold winter months that piled the snow on the flat roofs of the houses – mistakenly designed for a Mediterranean climate thus unsuitable for mountain weather conditions – encouraged the brave survivors to leave en masse the hamlets and never come back.

Schisina villages may have been labelled as useless in the 1950s as the circumstances did not allow a full involvement of the rural population; I wonder why such a form of futility needs to persist even today when making a difference only requires an imaginative effort. Useless is what lacks of creative thought. There exists always a reason for building; the meaning that lies behind this action does not always contain appreciable intentions, but the sense of a gesture might change over time and assume a quality that did not have before. The value that sometimes is temporarily missing needs to be found by us.

The following excerpt is part of a project submitted to ‘New Ways to Grow’, European Social Innovation Competition 2015. [Special thanks to Valeria Scalia and Gilda Torchia for the precious suggestions].

‘Many conflicts are currently plaguing several parts of the world leading to a steady increase in short-term migrations to Italy, first stopover in the difficult journey to Europe. Sicilian coasts are the starting point of such a process, but local holding centres – such as CARA Mineo camp – are now getting overcrowded and isolated from any social context, thus they do not provide an effective answer to the upcoming issue. It has been thought to involve 158 refugee families in the project of reorganisation of seven derelict ghost villages built in the 1950s close to Francavilla di Sicilia – 55.8 Km far from Catania port – and uninhabited since the 1960s. Migrants themselves will break the silence of the unused Schisina villages through a hands-on active participation in the redesign process of the new homes. One of the seven villages, central and equidistant from the others, will become a theatre laboratory with the intent of engaging local and migrants together in the creation of a performance that will then take place in one of the nine unfinished buildings of the nearby Giarre, a small comune that holds the record for the highest number of unfinished buildings in Italy’.[…]

Schisina Villages & Cinema :

[ The Adventure, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 ]

‘- What is the name of the place?

– Noto

– And Anna? Where does we seek her?

– In a hotel, there is only one here, the Trinacria.

– Is this Noto? What do you think?

– I don’t know, let me ask around.

– Hello? Oooooh!! Do you hear the echo? Why is it empty?

– Who knows! I wonder why they built it. Look, there’s another village down there.

– That is not a village but a cemetery. God how sad, let’s get out of here.

– Yes, let’s go. ‘

[ Idea of an island, Roberto Rossellini, 1967 ]

‘On the slopes of Etna, some villages have never been inhabited.

There is nobody there, neither a song nor a baby crying, nothing.

Those villages have been so carefully designed that houses have not been marked with numbers, but rather with ceramic tiles representing religious scenes.

But they are uninhabitable villages as too far from any fertile soil, from any urban centre that may become industrial, thus useless.

Are those villages the result of a wrong planning process or perhaps of absurd speculations? ‘

[ Schisina Villages today ]

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