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Michael (in) Corleone »« The Ruins of Segesta

The Cretto di Burri

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In 1968, the hillside town of Gibellina was devastated by a 6.1-scale earthquake. Somewhat like the residents of Noto, who befell a similar fate, the town decided to abandon the ruins and start from scratch in a location which was close by, and hopefully more stable. Between 1985 and 1989, an Italian artist named Alberto Burri used the old city’s ruins as the canvas for his most audacious work of modern sculpture. The resulting concrete cemetery is a bold piece of art, a comment on death, and a moving tribute to the devastated city.

Cretto Di Burry

Burri covered the streets of Old Gibellina with concrete, preserving the layout of the blocks. Walking around his monument is unsettling. You’re not just standing on the gravestone of a city, but actually tracing the lines of its corpse. Block after block of grey concrete rises from the ground, like the ghosts of buildings. They’re high enough to peer over, so that the rest of the graves are always visible, along with the valley stretching out into the distance.

I expected to feel despondent while walking around this modern graveyard, but in truth I experienced something closer to comfort. Nature might have the strength to effortlessly topple our cities and wipe out huge swaths of our population. But we have the ability to make artwork out of the damage, transforming devastation into something eloquent and meaningful. Nature may be more powerful, but humanity is pretty cool.

Location of the Cretto di Burri on our Sicily Map
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Cement Slope
Gibelina-Valley
Cement Art
EarthQuake Art
Earthquake Sicily
Erdbeben Kunst
Old-Gibellina
Gibellina-Cemetery
Italian Pottery Outlet
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December 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm
10 comments »
  • December 30, 2011 at 3:25 pmJoseph Barbaccia

    This is some wonderful blog.

  • December 31, 2011 at 12:44 amjoel jason

    i find this town hideously ugly. to my eyes there is nothing beautiful about it. it would have been better to see the ruins in their natural state than seeing them covered in concrete slabs. perhaps the “artist” has connections to a concrete business. gibellina aside, i think your blog is fun. i’ve visited sicilia many times and love the island. it’s been interesting for me to “revisit” through your eyes.

  • January 1, 2012 at 10:30 pmFrancesco

    Guys, I’m so happy you made it to Gibellina and the Belice Valley! I was going to suggest it myself. I understand you are going to leave soon, but I am glad you enjoyed your stay in Sicily with all its beauties and “uglies”. Have a safe trip to Sri-Lanka! CiaoFrancesco

  • January 5, 2012 at 3:03 amLesley Peterson

    My husband grew up in Gibellina; the earthquake is why he left to seek his fortune in Canada. I know this remote, windblown mountain well.  Very sad to visit the old cemetery and see all the graves with the same date of death on them, the eyes of young and old staring out from little ceramic plaques.  As if they’re still wondering what happened.Part of the reason they covered the ruins with the cretto was to prevent people from returning and crawling through the ruins to locate mementos and things.  This fall we roamed through the remnants of another town that came down in 1968 – Poggioreale.  There were a few kids there, clambering through the tilting, shattered buildings.  A photographer’s dream but not entirely safe…

  • January 21, 2012 at 8:58 amBart

    It’s very good piece. What’s interesting to see in this ‘floorplan’ view is the way we have this weird  partitioning concept of inside and outside and how concentrated-in-space we live. When you realize every chunk here is a block with a few houses, now imagine the town again, but without the wall, only the floors and people (floating over the concrete, doing their things). That’s a big cloud of people clumped into the landscape. Compare this to the emptiness of the neighbouring farmlands, it’s weird no?

  • December 26, 2012 at 6:52 amAudrey

    This thing that Alberto Burri has done is amazing. The scale of his art is astonishing, and it preserves the incident and damage in a frozen time period, reminding us of nature’s destructive powers and unexpected occurrences in life. Cool!


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