Words by Carla Passino

The town council of Salemi, in Sicily, is selling 3,700 earthquake-wrecked houses for a pittance to anyone who agrees to restore them sympathetically in under two years

They must be Italy’s cheapest homes. More than 3500 historic houses in the Sicilian town of Salemi are up for sale at €1 each.
The town’s mayor, Vittorio Sgarbi—a controversial art critic and former junior minister for Culture—and one of his councillors, international photographer Oliviero Toscani, came up with the scheme in a bid to revitalise Salemi, a medieval town that was a stepping stone in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s unification of Italy and became the country’s first capital in 1860.
The €1 homes for sale, which are situated in the old town and owned by the town council, were damaged by an earthquake forty years ago, and never restored or even inhabited since then.
Sgarbi and Toscani are giving them away to buyers who are prepared to invest in sympathetic restoration projects to be completed within the next two years. Some elements of the plan are still under discussion, or need refining, but Sgarbi is gung-ho about it.
“We have 3,700 council-owned houses in Salemi, most of them in the historic town centre, which are at risk of collapsing,” he told Italian weblog Diacoblog (www.diacoblog.com). “Since the earthquake hit the town, the condition of these homes has worsened so much that many are not lived in. I submitted a proposal to all the inhabitants: the council offers you these homes for free, so long as you agree to restore them at your own expense in less than two years, thus taking part in rebuilding and decorating the town centre.”
Toscani also believes that a side effect of the restoration project will be to create new jobs in Salemi—he is setting up a working group involving the island’s young people.
But there’s more. Sgarbi, who is a celebrity in Italy, has lofty ambitions. He hopes that his offer—and his contacts—will bring in enough famous faces to put Salemi on the map, just like its better known neighbour, the celebrity-studded island of Pantelleria.
So far, he has garnered interest from Massimo Moratti, owner of Inter football club, Lucio Dalla, one of Italy’s best-known singers, and a bunch of high flying politicians.
“They are all enthusiastic and they are all booking,” Sgarbi told Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera (www.corriere.it). “ Salemi will become like Pantelleria. Or even better.”