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And here we are once again for a second time, after our first “trip” to Villa del Barone in Strevi. Hopefully, I succeeded in arousing your curiosity about this hobby called “urbex”, previously unknown to many of you. I thought I’d take you with me once again on a virtual journey.
Urban exploration of abandoned places gives me the opportunity to see so much beauty in their imperfection and they often express their own feminine sensuality.
…Mother Nature has returned to reclaim her property…
For me, it was love at first sight, hit by Cupid’s arrow. I haven’t had many, a passion that grows from time to time, one experience after another. I discovered a part of my romantic and passionate personality that had previously been obscured. It just so happens that I go to places where unfortunately only dust and rubble remain, buildings in which Mother Nature has returned to reclaim her property. Locations in which I am not even sure that the floor won’t suddenly give under my feet or that the ceiling won’t crumble on top of my head. Another reason why I implore you not to improvise as a new pioneer of this practice.
The Unwritten Rules of Urbexers
Urbex has its positive and negative aspects. I have already mentioned the risks that one may encounter from physical safety to the possibility of legal issues, but, in reality, there is also something else.
Among urbexers, there is a sort of “unwritten rule”. The understanding is that we will respect these places, protect and preserve them from acts of looting, leave everything just as it was found without altering, moving, or destroying, and certainly not take anything so as to allow future urban explorers to photograph the same scenario.
Unfortunately, from time to time there are people who feel entitled to go beyond the limits, who in order to ensure “exclusivity” spoil the scene after the shot.
I have explored many places, traveling kilometers on roads and highways, from one part of Italy to the other, passing through Tuscany, Emilia, Marche, Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont, unfortunately encountering locations devastated and stripped of many objects, taken almost like “souvenirs “. I want to clarify, that is not urbex and those people are not urbexers!
Three Locations in the Vercelli Province
Alright! Now, we’re ready.
Today, we’ll be staying in the Piedmont region and we’ll be making more than one stop. I will accompany you to the spectacular province of Vercelli and its rice fields often referred to as the “checkered sea”. The location is hidden among the patchwork landscape in one of the seven granges in Trino, close to the former Galileo Ferraris thermoelectric plant (no longer active).
The Ex-Residence of Camillo Benso Conte
We’re in the village of Leri at the former summer residence of the politician and very important historical figure in Italy, Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour. Many illustrious guests stayed here, including, Napoleon Bonaparte, King Vittorio Emanuele, Giuseppe Verdi, Massimo d’Azeglio, Costantino Nigra, and Sir James Hudson. Unfortunately, the building is in extreme ruins, violated and sacked- not even the small village church was spared with piles of books burned at the altar. I had the fortune of being authorized to access the building by the President and Vice President of the L.e.r.i. Cavour Association, Roberto Amadè and Marianna Fusilli. These volunteers are trying their best to protect this place from vandals. There is talk of giving it a future as a museum, to tell the stories from the Vercelli area and host traveling exhibitions using interactive multimedia, projections, and holograms for the little ones. But also as a point of reference in the Vercelli area to encourage tourism with reception, catering, and wellness center services. The first phase of redevelopment will start soon with the installation of solar panels in the immediate vicinity. I was accompanied inside the property, one room after another, on a sort of journey into the past.
The Sanctuary of Madonna delle Vigne
But let’s leave Leri. About 10 km away from the village, I go as far as the ancient Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Vigne, a place linked to the history of the so-called “Devil’s Score” (the legend tells of a magical piece that if played backward, from right to left and from bottom to top, would free a demon imprisoned in a crypt of the nearby abbey of Lucedio). Over the years, it was a place where black masses were celebrated; built in the 17th century, it’s an example of Piedmontese Baroque, with a horizontal octagonal plan to symbolize infinity.
It remained active until about 1920 when it then fell into oblivion until about the 2000s. Despite its absolute state of degradation, vandalization, and now without so much as a floor (removed by someone looking for who knows what), the interiors are no longer furnished, yet it still preserves precious frescoes and stuccos. The magical score, painted in a fresco depicting a pipe organ, is located above the entrance door.
It is completely abandoned, laying in silence and in poor condition, and is now only a destination for vandals and some explorers who photograph what remains.
We get back in the car and change the scenery completely. Immersed in the rice fields of the area known as Bassa Vercellese, we arrive at the ancient uninhabited village of Vettignè. Inside the city walls, stand the castle ruins with its cylindrical tower dating back to the 14th century, which dominates the surrounding landscape. Today, the whole area is in perilous condition from a structural standpoint, having been abandoned for over 50 years at the beginning of industrial development and the “escape” to the big cities. An immense area of dust and ruins where only a few rooms have survived and can be visited. Colored and frescoed with floral ornaments, lilies, images faded by time and exposed bricks, and frames of crumbling fireplaces, all scenes that lend themselves perfectly as photographic sets in which our imaginations can run wild. For safety reasons, the ascent to the top of the tower is no longer accessible; the staircase is unrecognizable and covered with fragments of plaster that have fallen from the walls and whitened and consumed the steps.
Only a portion of an old inn was saved, and in fact, today there is a charming Bed and Breakfast, “Il Passatempo di Enrica”. Immersed in the quiet and in a setting of a different era, the inn’s 3 bedrooms and 8 beds and traditional furnishings are inserted in rooms that once belonged to the old tavern and inn of the castle. The very kind host Enrica allowed me to go inside, take photos, and gather information about the inn’s history. She told me about ambitious plans for Vettignè, an impressive redevelopment plan awaiting approval, which would link about 42 neighboring municipalities located between the provinces of Biella and Vercelli, requiring significant resources.
Our day of urban exploration has come to a close but in the future, I wouldn’t mind taking you with me as I embark on new adventures from the past, turning back the hands of time on an antique clock.
About the Author
Pamela Nanetti was born and lives in Bologna, and has long been linked to the Biella area through friendships and personal ties. A mother, and back office employee, she started writing by chance, as a way to get to know herself. Courageously starting a journey without being certain of its ending, in which one finds his true personality, and where the heart does not allow for calculations but survives on instinct. From this, her first book, Viaggio nel cuore di un urbexer (Journey Into the Heart of an Urbexer), was born.
For about a year or so, she has been discovering the world of Urban Exploration, Urbex, wandering amongst abandoned, unsafe, and dilapidated places that are full of history and unique architectural value and beauty. In this journey through time, she is transported to another parallel dimension. Taking advantage of her passion for photography and curiosity of the unknown, with the recklessness of a child, she enters historic homes, castles, and old decaying ruins that have been taken back by nature. Their existences forgotten, invisible, hidden in the shadows, and crystallized in time.
Intrigued by this unusual hobby, even the newspaper La Stampa, decided to dedicate space within its pages to her and now, thanks to a recent collaboration with the Eco di Biella newspaper, she has the opportunity to share these personal experiences with a wider audience.
Photographing these locations returns them to their original splendor and is an intimate way to express emotions and sensations, like a love letter to the one you just can’t seem to forget. A collection of photographs and experiences that I document piece by piece.
..."I was picking through the smashed houses in my heart, and rebuilding on the ruin." (D. Roberts - Shantaram)
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