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Rural Italy Had a Pandemic Renaissance. Can It Last?

After thousands of young workers fled urban lockdowns to the countryside, village leaders are trying to make sure they stay. It’s easier said than done. 

The Medieval hamlet of Castelbuono, perched in the mountains of Sicily, Italy.
Photographer: Tullio Puglia/Bloomberg

A Medieval hamlet perched in the Madonie mountains of Sicily, Castelbuono looks straight out of a fairy tale, with narrow, winding streets and a stone-walled castle from the 14th century. 

Yet despite years of local efforts to turn it into a cultural hub through tourism and the establishment of an international music festival, Castelbuono has been shrinking for decades.  Since the late 1960s, entire families across southern and central Italy have fled to the wealthier north in search of employment, as agriculture, textile mills and other industries declined. As a result, some 2,500 villages across the country are disappearing, with more than 2 million empty houses