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02 septembre 2008

Thought house prices had crashed here? In Sicily they cost one euro

From , September 2, 2008

Mayor of Salemi is seeking buyers with ’the aesthetic sensitivity and the economic resources to take part in this adventure’

The villas are set in the Sicilian hills, with spectacular views over the Mediterranean. Your future neighbours could be celebrities such as Peter Gabriel, the Genesis singer, and Massimo Moratti, the owner of the Inter Milan football team.

And then there is the price: a tidy one euro apiece.

The catch is that you have just two years to restore the homes, which were abandoned after an earthquake 40 years ago.

Vittorio Sgarbi, the colourful Mayor of Salemi – just 72km from Palermo – hopes to attract buyers who had “both the aesthetic sensitivity and the economic resources to take part in this adventure”.

But prospective property owners who think the offer is too good to refuse should bear in mind that the restorations will have to meet standards laid down by the council and respect the original character of the buildings.

Salemi is best known for providing the headquarters of Guiseppe Garibaldi after his historic landing at Marsala with “The Thousand” in May 1860, the start of his armed struggle for the unification of Italy.

Sgarbi, an art critic and former deputy Culture Minister believes it is an ideal centre for religious dialogue and the arts.

Noted for his outspoken views, not to mention his distinctive wavy hair, the bespectacled Mr Sgarbi is also a television celebrity well known and man-about-town with a host of friends in the worlds of politics and showbusiness.

Oliviero Toscani, the photographer best known for his controversial Benetton adverts, who is Mr Sgarbi’s adviser on “creativity and human rights” at Salemi, said “thousands” of ancient houses in the steep, cobbled streets of Salemi had been derelict since the 1968 earthquake.

The buildings were not only in a perilous state, they also formed “part of an historical heritage which is being dissipated”.

Peter Glidewell, an art dealer and critic, who was born in Rome and is the Mayor’s adviser on the enivironment, said: “We know these houses are perfectly capable of being salvaged.

“They have to be adapted to the exigencies of the modern world while maintaining the colours, forms and appearances of their time.”

Among those who have already expressed an interest in Sgarbi’s once-in a-lifetime hilltop property offer are Peter Gabriel. The musician already has a home on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia.

Mr Toscani said that although an influx of VIPs would help to revitalise the town, the scheme was not intended for celebrities alone.

Mr Sgarbi vowed to turn Salemi into “another Pantelleria”, the nearby island where celebrities such as Giorgio Armani, the fashion designer, Fabio Capello, the England football manager, and Gérard Depardieu, the French actor, have luxury seaside homes.

Terms and conditions

— Salemi does not yet have a website but Vittorio Sgarbi does, at – e-mails can be sent by clicking on contatti. Inquiries can also be made to the council on (0039) 0924 991 111

— Buyers must use local builders, architects, decorators and plumbers since the aim ofthescheme is to help the local economy

— It would be wise to use a local English-speaking agent to help with the labyrinthine bureaucracy

— British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and Air Malta all have direct flights to Sicily. Ryanair flies from Stansted to Palermo and less frequently from Luton and Birmingham to Trapani; easyJet from Gatwick to Palermo; and BA and Air Malta from Gatwick to Catania


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