Sicily Sold Homes for One Euro. This Is What Happened Next.

Lisa Abend at Afar: Since the 19th century, large numbers of villagers in the poorer parts of Italy have migrated to more prosperous regions and countries. The migration continues; in some places, populations have shrunk so dramatically that there are no longer enough patients to keep the local doctor in business, or enough children to fill the school. Young people who moved away to study or work didn’t want to return, and when their parents died, the family homes stood empty, sometimes for decades. Around 2010, the village of Salemi in western Sicily was one of the first towns to come up with an idea: What if you could fill them again by offering the properties for sale at a ridiculously low price?

I wasn’t in the market for a house, one euro or otherwise. But I wanted to know if the program worked. Though the rumors I’d heard about driving in Sicily gave me pause—highways that suddenly turn into rutted cow paths; drivers whose chosen passing method involves achieving the closest possible proximity to the fender of the car in front of them—I decided to set out in a rental car through villages in various stages of implementing the initiative. Were once-sepulchral towns reinvigorated by newcomers eager to put down roots? Were the new residents integrating into small-town life, or was an influx of new blood bringing unintended side effects? And did a town that drew enough newcomers lose the qualities that had attracted said newcomers in the first place?

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