For years, the owners of Pratariccia, a medieval Italian village perched atop the hills above Tuscany’s Casentino valley, have been trying to sell their abandoned town. Now the religious order that reportedly owns the remote town has turned to eBay, where the 25 crumbling stone cottages and thousands of acres of farmland is on offer for US$3 million.
Hundreds of such abandoned and semi-abandoned villages are for sale up and down the Italian peninsula. “These were farming towns and woodsmen’s towns and nobody does that anymore,” says Richard Ingersoll, an urban studies professor at Florence’s Syracuse University. “Less than two per cent of Italians are involved in agriculture.”
Carlo Magni, whose real estate agency is handling the sale of Pratariccia, says the listing has drawn interest from buyers around the world. “The tourism industry in Italy is hotter than ever right now,” he says. “The best use would be as a resort,” he adds—the fate that met another 800-year-old hilltop village in Tuscany, Castelfalfi, which was bought by German travel group TUI in 2007 and transformed into a massive boutique-style holiday destination.
The thought depresses Ingersoll, who thinks the ideal alternative would be to re-agriculturalize the town or turn it into a spiritual retreat, without electricity or computer connections. “St. Francis spent the most important period of his life here,” he notes.
Interested buyers should be aware of hidden costs. It could take up to three times Pratariccia’s asking price to make the village habitable. “But perhaps there would be some crazy-rich person who, instead of paying $140 million for a Damien Hirst work of art, would pay $6 million to put back a town,” says Ingersoll. “And they could name it after themselves like Pope Pius II, who changed Corsignano to Pienza.”