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The South: The Second Life of Abandoned Places Through the Tales of Plants

Living in the South means getting used to the cohabitation of space and nature. Past, present. Finished and unfinished. Full spaces and empty spaces. Live places and forgotten places.

I often think of my explorations on a bicycle in the summer, as a child. Dry husks of corn along the roads and abandoned country houses where instead of a roof there was a fig tree growing, with its roots firmly in the center of what was once the floor and its branches open towards the sky. A forest to replace the roof.

The wonder for the unfinished or the abandoned ancient houses of the South is something that has always preoccupied me through the years.

I have always been excited to observe a caper plant grow in the tuff or a centenary bougainvillea cling to a dry stone wall as if it was a real extension of the stone, alive and floating in the wind.

Behind abandoned walls I imagined the stories of families over the years, feeling a sense of melancholy, in the same vein as Victor Hugo’s famous quote, a sort of happiness in being sad. A hopeful melancholy heralds confidence in the near future that believes in the path beyond man, in his plants wrapped in stones and in his white tuff.

I have always believed in the history enclosed within the walls of abandoned places and in the plants and stones as its messengers.

The abandonment of houses was something I was not used to seeing growing up in Milan, for my Apulian parents, both raised up in Manduria, it represented pure normality which they had stopped paying attention to. Manduria was a small village with an ancient historic center built on Messapian walls. There the historic center was mostly made up of ancient houses that, for the inhabitants of the place, the daily routing had made invisible; pure and simple urban agglomerations of a time past, standing next to the most modern buildings.

On the other hand, during my holidays staying at my grandparents’ house in Manduria, I always looked for those buildings on my sunny and solitary early morning walks. There were some with gardens hidden inside where the trees continued to produce fruit even if the owners no longer bothered to water them. Thus there were the ancient little gardens with mandarin loads, the palm groves with a few palms to challenge the sky and finally the bold capers, ready to grow among the oldest crevices of the stones.

Over the years, the symbiotic relationship between nature, time and stone in my family has been the main criterion in choosing the purchase of a place.

This happened when we acquired Masseria Potenti, abandoned for over fifty years, where nature had re-appropriated spaces no longer been trampled on by man. Today the Masseria Potenti farm and farmhouse lives a new life, after having been lovingly restored, respecting its history.

For my family, giving life back to an abandoned place has always meant to take care of its pre-existing nature, listening to the stories of the plants. A little as if with it the past of the place returned to breathe and the beauty of the ancient happy days returned to light with the blooms of the same plants. That’s why we love our immense Fikus clinging to the white tuff, near the entrance hall from the 1600’s, a lookout for visitors who enter the farmyard today the same as way back then, with nature that surrounds us, linking the history of the place to that of the people with its prickly pears, olive trees and agaves.

The same search for the history of plants within the walls of an abandoned place has led us today to fall in love with our new project, an abandoned monastery left to the sole care of the plants that grew in it.

It was enough for me to see a centennial caper plant so tenacious as to know that the top of a column was the right place to recreate magic, here plants talk to man and where man must necessarily listen to the plants.

And this is our new renovation adventure, starting once again from an abandoned place.

Relying on the love of plants that always take root where man forgets and in their silence they preserve stories that are most forgotten, but a precious heritage for those who are willing to listen.

Photography by Tommaso Bacchelli

Masseria Potenti, Puglia