Reviving a medieval Italian village

Within the stone walls of the medieval village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, narrow lanes weave through stone arches, cobblestoned piazzas and overhanging buildings.

The streets are mainly empty, except for tourists admiring the architecture and surrounding hills in Italy’s southern L’Aquila province.

A village that lived for centuries off agriculture and wool, Santo Stefano di Sessanio has just 108 inhabitants, less than a tenth of its pre-World War I population, according to its mayor. As in many surrounding villages, most residents left for work in cities or abroad, leaving the town all but abandoned.

Decades later, its untouched architecture caught the attention of Swedish-Italian entrepreneur Daniele Kihlgren, who came across it on a 1999 motorcycle trip.

Kihlgren bought several houses, turning them into a hotel with rooms scattered around a center of the villlage in 2005. The project has drawn tourists and injected life back into the village, according to locals.

“When I first arrived … it seemed nearly abandoned,” Kihlgren said. “Everything had stopped in a past era.”

While it still numbers shepherds and farmers among its citizens, today Santo Stefano di Sessanio is being revived through tourism, with residents seeking to draw visitors visiting the surrounding Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park to their picturesque lodgings.

“You can see a visible increase in visitors,” Mayor Fabio Santavicca said, without giving figures. “People have opened up their homes, renting out rooms, opening restaurants. It is a positive.”

The village now has around a dozen tourist lodgings, Santavicca said, with plans to develop local leisure activities.

According to the most recent hospitality figures from the regional tourism department, the village saw 4,361 visitors in 2013 versus 900 in 2005. (Reuters)

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