On a hill behind Sanremo, about 40 kilometres from the Relais del Maro, lies a charming medieval village, now known as the ‘artists’ village’, built on the ruins of a village abandoned long ago after a terrible earthquake. We are talking about Bussana Vecchia, a place with a controversial history, where you can breathe art at every corner.
Its origins date back to Roman times, but only in the 12th century it began to develop as a village inhabited by farmers and shepherds. Life in the village remained relatively quiet until 23 February 1887, when a very strong earthquake struck the hinterland of Sanremo, seriously damaging the small town, until then simply called Bussana. Within seconds, the earthquake killed many people and destroyed most of the buildings. The survivors, after living for years in the destroyed houses, moved a few kilometres further down the valley. Thus, between 1889 and 1894, a new Bussana (called Bussana Nuova) was built, while the old village (since then called Bussana Vecchia) was definitively abandoned, becoming a real ghost town.
Uninhabited for decades, it began to come back to life at the end of the 1950s, when the great ceramist Mario Giani, known by his stage name Clizia, decided to settle in the village with a dozen other artists, attracted by the particularity of the place. A statute was also drawn up to regulate village life. Bussana Vecchia became a destination for painters, sculptors, craftsmen, musicians and poets, not only from Italy but from all over the world, who renovated and made the less damaged buildings habitable again. In the late 1960s, the first workshop was also opened, where it was possible to buy the works created by the artists. Over time, the community continued to grow.
Today, the village is an authentic open-air museum and, although it has changed a great deal since the 1960s, it remains a magical place that offers emotions and enchanting views at every turn. In Bussana Vecchia it is pleasant to get lost in the narrow streets, to walk without a precise destination and to be surprised step by step. The village is inhabited all year round by about sixty people and up to two hundred in summer.
The old stone houses, some of which are still in ruins, house workshops and ateliers selling a wide variety of handicraft and artistic products: paintings, sculptures, ceramics, costume jewellery, lithographs and countless other handicrafts. In spring and on warm summer evenings, the village comes alive with theatre performances, exhibitions and live music.
The symbol of Bussana Vecchia is the church of Sant’Egidio, where most of the inhabitants were at the time of the earthquake, which has left only the original part and the bell tower on the side of the building intact. Never restored, it still retains traces of the original stucco and paintings.
Another impressive site is the ruins of the castle, built in the 12th century by the Counts of Ventimiglia, feudal lords of the village. Among the wonders to visit are: the garden among the ruins, a well-kept green space in the middle of the ruins, dotted with geraniums and various species of flowers; and the miniature railway, more than 350 linear metres of tracks arranged in three rooms of an old house. And if you get peckish during your visit, you can stop at the Osteria degli Artisti, the oldest restaurant in the village, serving excellent local cuisine!