NoMU 1 – Free Architecture in a Free Country

Gargano wasn’t short of anything needed to become more attractive than French Camargue”, recalls a former emigrant who spent his working life in the region of Marseille and at the age of 74 is now back to Sannicandro Garganico, his native town at the northern border of Italy’s spur. “All coming from ages of poverty, none of us had the means to love this land, nor to realize what we had. Neither the politicians, nor did we, the emigrants, not to talk about those who had kept living here. And that is why the first generation with some money and stable jobs , those who were working in the seventies and retiring in the nineties, could bring about the desolation we live in now”.

The Lido of Torre Mileto is a long shore, stretched for kilometres between two marine water lakes, Lago di Varano and Lago di Lesina, and the Adriatic Sea. The Lido starts with the saracenic Tower of Mileto, a recently refurbished building that lends its name to the whole area, and ends at Foce Schiapparo where a short canal links the Lake of Lesina to the open sea.

At the time when people would not go to the seaside for tourism, the Lido of Torre Mileto kept being an endless stripe of sand dunes separating the Adriatic from the Apulian countryside, where one wheat field comes after the other, interrupted only by equally endless tomatoes cultivations. At that time many of those living in the towns in the reach of the beach grew up without even seing the see until being adults. So did my Maria, for instance, born in 1937 in Sannicandro, and raised by a family farming fields only two kilometers away from the Torre Mileto beach, who first saw it at the age of 25.

In the seventies wealthy local families, we’re talking about little wealth, and emigrant workers coming back to their hometowns in the summer, started building houses along the shore. They did it without following any rule since there weren’t rules to follow, and when these had been established the trade did not stop. The state owned land became private often simply by building on it a small house or a shed that could eventually be sold. Later this illegal procedure became a bit more complicated: people would start the building, hoping to bring it far enough to have it covered by the roof, before the building site was fenced and closed by authorities. It is said that some houses sprung out over night, with specialised teams of twenty bricklayers working on the sites. After a variable period of time, few months to one year, a judgement condemning to the payment of a fine would pass and the family of the condemned – usually the wife – would get back access to what had become their seaside house.

And while all this was going on, the towns of Lesina and Sannicandro Garganico were, and still are, stuck in an everlasting dispute over whom should the Lido belong to, and so none of the cities has ever taken in charge all the services needed by a town populated by more than 40.000 inhabitants in the summer and almost none in the winter.

But “seasons came and changed the time” and now that glory days are gone forever and no emigrants willing to come back to their hometowns are there anymore, many of the buildings stand still and empty even in August, and the whole beach is becoming a living portrait of the wasting power Southern Italy and southern Italians have.

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