These Creepy, Abandoned Italian Chapels Are Being Remade

Ancient sacred spaces get revitalized, with a little help from modern artists.

Jorge Manes Rubio, a Spanish designer and TED Fellow, has long been fascinated by disappearing and abandoned places (see his wonderful Normal Pool Level project, which looks at the Chinese cities and towns destroyed by the Three Gorges Dam). He couldn’t have asked for a better source of inspiration than Salerno, a province in Italy containing many villages that were destroyed after an earthquake in 1980.


Despite the three-plus decades that have passed, these villages still sit in ruin. Today, they’re oddball Internet attractions for people fascinated by ghost towns.

As part of his latest project, Buona Fortuna (“Good luck” in Italian), Rubio hopes to re-open some of the abandoned cultural spaces in Salerno, like churches and chapels, that have been robbed of valuable religious symbols and artwork, including paintings and icons. Even bricked up buildings have been looted.

Rubio writes on his website:

A number of attempts to rebuild some of these villages have been made, but the lack of funding, corruption, and an apparent disregard for their own heritage have been proved fatal for these locations. Sometimes, new towns have risen just a few kilometers away from old abandoned ones, but the identity from these villages has been undoubtedly lost.

In the summer of 2013, Rubio took a series of photos (check them out in the slide show above) of centuries-old abandoned chapels found on top of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento mountains in Salerno. The chapels, dusty and apocalyptic, still have hints of their former glory shining through. But Rubio wants to do more.

He plans to work with local craftsmen to create new artwork to replace the stolen paintings and icons–except this time around, the art will feature fictional symbols inspired by local folklore. The project will, Rubio writes, “reimagine these abandoned places as new cultural scenarios for both locals and visitors.”

Rubio has already met with local authorities and received permission to put on an exhibition in one of the churches. He’s still collecting funds, and hopes to have new pieces ready to be shown in the church by the end of 2014.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.