Sicilian ghost towns: Poggioreale and Gibellina

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  • May 17, 2019
Poggioreale vecchia, Sicily

Hands up who wants to see a secret part of Sicily? How about an abandoned secret part of Sicily?

Excellent – follow me.

You might already know that Sicily is a hotbed of seismic activity. Really, you take your life into your hands when you step onto the island. Yes of course I’m being a touch dramatic but there have been a lot of earthquakes over the years, and when they strike, there’s a lot of damage.

The earthquake that hit the Valle del Belice in the southwest corner in 1968 was no different. It killed almost 1,000 people and flattened ten towns. Two of those towns were Gibellina and Poggioreale. Both were abandoned, but their stories are quite different. On a sunny Autumn day we decided to visit both.

Getting to these villages is an adventure of its own as they’re both completely off the beaten path. We saw only a handful of people the whole day, and two of them were shepherds tending their flock (yes really!). While the countryside is lovely, the roads have seen better days. They’re pretty rough; cracked and unsettled by seismic activity, and sometimes mostly covered in weeds and rocks. It’s very slow going in parts.


First stop Poggioreale, a ghost town surrounded by high fences that sternly and most definitely say stay out.Gates at Poggioreale vecchia, SicilyHowever I had other ideas.

I knew full well from Instagram posts I’d seen that there was a secret entrance somewhere – we just had to find it….

Mr Travelling Pantaloni gallantly jumped the fence and found a way in (hint: head for the pine tree to the right then around the side of the house). We were then confronted with a second fence, this one much easier to find a way around (hint: go up the hill to the left, through the gap in the wall, out to the field, then back in over the wall on the other side of the fence).

Once in, we were the only ones there apart from some vicious sounding dogs from a neighbouring farm (hint: get a big stick just in case).

It’s an eerie place, completely quiet except for the scrabbling of rats, the barking of aforementioned vicious hounds and the occasional tile dropping off a wall and crashing to the rubble below.Poggioreale vecchia, SicilyPoggioreale vecchia, SicilyPoggioreale vecchia, SicilyAs we walked up the main street, we found the library and town hall amongst the remnants of other once grand buildings. As we peeked inside, we could see the remains of frescoes on walls, and painted ceilings that would have once held delicate chandeliers.Poggioreale vecchia, SicilyPoggioreale vecchia, SicilyAt the end of the street there’s a piazza with what’s left of a statue, and half of the church still stands at the top of some stairs.statue at Gibellina ruins, SicilyDestroyed church, Poggioreale vecchia, Sicily


After a picnic lunch shared with a cat and two dogs we set off for Gibellina, just a short drive away.

Even though it was destroyed in the same earthquake, and abandoned just like Poggioreale, Gibellina turned out quite differently. It appears that the mayor of the new town was an art lover because he attracted sculptors and artists to make the new town both inviting and beautiful. Alberto Burri, an internationally renown artist, had an unusual idea for the ruins of Gibellina: he wanted to transform it into a work of art that acted as both a memorial to those that had died, but also to link the old and new towns via art. So the whole town was covered in five feet of concrete, and painted white. Everything except for the streets, which have been left as they were for people like us to wander through.Cretto di Burri, Gibellina, SicilyCretto di Burri, Gibellina, SicilyThis is now called the Cretto di Burri (Burri’s crack …. insert chortle here). It looks really strange and out of place in the surrounding rural landscape, and is an eerie place to walk through because you’re not looking at anything in particular. It reminded me most of a maze, albeit one you can see over the top of.
Cretto di Burri, Gibellina, SicilyThese two villages make a great day out if you have a car. Pack a picnic, enjoy the quiet and see a secret part of Sicily.

Until next time, happy travels,

The Travelling Pantaloni

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