Poggioreale Antica Sicily – Off the Beaten Path
In 1968, the Belice Valley earthquake devastated 14 historical centers in Eastern Sicily. Poggioreale Antica was one of many that were destroyed. The natural disaster drastically changed the way the inhabitants lived in the immediate years following the natural disaster. It has also left an irreparable scar on these Sicilian communities.
There were 370 deaths, thousands wounded and about 70,000 Italians were left without a roof over their head. The majority of the victims were the elderly, women and children. Most of the young people and men had emigrated to look for work.
The aftermath wreaked havoc on these desperate communities. There was no disaster relief planning at either the local or provincial levels. The bureaucracy and lack of supplies left hundreds of people living in tents a year after the earthquake.
Poggioreale Antica – Surviving the Earthquake
Poggioreale Antica today is a small Sicilian ghost town in the Belice Valley in the province of Trapani. Once upon a time, it bustled with farmers on mules. The typical day began before dawn with the smell of fresh-baked bread in the air as the village contadini set out for a long hard day at work in the fields.
Although this historical village has not been inhabitable since 1968, it has left behind a museum of typical everyday life frozen in the late 1960’s. It was not safe to enter their homes after the earthquake. They were forced to leave all their personal belongings buried under the rubble.
The survivors of the earthquake were ghettoized. They had been driven to live in tents for a year. At which time, they were moved to tiny make-shift shacks laden with asbestos. Sadly, that is what they called home from 1969-1982. It was during those years that the new “Poggioreale of the future” was being built just a few kilometers away. Finally, after nearly 14 years of degradation, the surviving inhabitants were transferred into permanent homes.
Preserving Poggioreale Antica
Today some of the villages 1650 residents, who lived through the natural disaster, have bonded together and created an association to protect Poggioreale Antica. That was their beloved home, and they are not willing to let go. They are collaborating to restore the old historical center and the memories that it holds inside. Today there are also Poggiorealesi emigrants who return from time to time. They come from America and Australia. They are not in search of living relatives. Rather, they have returned to reminisce in great sadness over what once was their home.
Other villages in the Belice Valley that suffered significant damage were Santa Ninfa, Partanna, Montevago, Santa Margherita di Belice, Gibellina, Salaparuta, Vita, Salemi, and Camporeale.
Poggioreale Antica in the Belice Valley is an interesting, cultural off the beaten path trip to add to your itinerary while visiting the Province of Trapani. Do your ancestors come from any of these villages? What is your favorite Italian off the beaten path experience?