Surviving a devastating earthquake: Italian towns shattered, Norcia proudly stood firm
How can it be that an ancient town positioned at the very epicentre of a 6.5-magnitude temblor in Italy was not razed as it occurred to many other municipalities? The answer is in the far-sighted vision of a mayor of old: Alberto Novelli.
Amid the string of Italian small towns that were thoroughly shattered by the catastrophic quakes - including Amatrice, Accumoli, Arquata, Pescara del Tronto, Visso, Ussita and others - a single name stands out owing to the remarkably amazing resilience its buildings have shown against the potency of nature: Norcia, in the central region of Umbria.
St. Benedict's hometown, sitting right on top a disruptive fault line which gave origin to the fiercest earthquake in Italy since 1980s, largely withstood the giant shocks that dismantled a number of adjacent towns. Norcia's ancient churches actually collapsed, unable to resist the savage shacking, as happened to the antique stonework walls that encircled the town; yet, the vast majority of the centuries-old private houses stood firm and successfully survived the cataclysm, so much so that only a few roofs went down. An utterly different scenery from the appalling outcome in Amatrice.
«We have to look back to thirty-five years ago», said Michele Sanvico, an Italian writer of literary fiction and creative nonfiction, «when Alberto Novelli, the mayor of Norcia at the time, defined the rules for city reconstruction following the 1979 earthquake. He accepted no compromise, in full disagreement with vast segments of his own fellow-citizens who just wanted to have their houses rebuilt in the shortest time possible». In his public speeches, Novelli argued that «we know that Norcia is a land prone to earthquakes, now it's the time to act to prevent future damages: reconstruction will be based on quakeproof solutions. And implementation will be mandatory».
Three key elements he defined as cornerstones of his reconstruction programme: technical design comprehensively entrusted to the public administration, restoration works conducted on groups of adjacent, interconnected buildings, and full preservation of the ancient, centuries-old character of the enchanting Italian dwellings forming up the town of Norcia, under the control of a special Committee for Historical and Artistical Conservation set up on purpose.
«The story of Alberto Novelli», said Michele Sanvico, «stirs a wide range of deep feelings. He had to fight against short-sighted resentment and disapproval from many of his fellow-citizens because planning and preservation mean more time before having one's house back. He had to enforce his innovative vision, as a public official who acted with the mission of developing his own town, preserving its very spirit and traditional character, and yet projecting its essence toward the future. And he finally had to resign and leave politics, under a number of unfounded accusations. He died in 1990, his heart and mind broken by the burden of charges, and a piercing feeling of having been forsaken by his own people».
Today, only four months after the deadly shocks that hit and destroyed a number of towns in central Italy, residents in Norcia can stroll again along their beloved main street, now re-opened to public passage, the ancient houses still lined up proudly on both sides, with only minor damages reported. Aerial views taken by drones show an uninterrupted series of standing roofs, interspersed with ruined areas containing the debris of the collapsed churches. Norcia has shown its strong, amazing resilience to a devastating earthquake sequence, and old houses waged far better than modern concrete buildings. No single life was lost. Businesses are taking up again. All of this is rooted in the innovative, far-sighted vision of a public administrator, Alberto Novelli, and the unconditioned love of a man for his own land.
For more information, visit Michele Sanvico's page dedicated to the book "Sindaco Novelli" (http://www.italianwriter.it/