Bussana Vecchia, Italy: visit the remains of an ancient village destroyed by earthquake

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Visit Bussana Vecchia

Bussana Vecchia is situated near Sanremo, in the south-west of the Liguria region and about 20 kilometres east of the border between Italy and France. After being a 'ghost village' for much of the 20th century it has developed over the last 50 years to be the centre of an active community of artists.

In 1887 the medieval village of Bussana was destroyed by an earthquake that hit the region. At the time most people in the village were in the church, which collapsed during the earthquake, and about 2000 people died during the tragedy. Bussana was rebuilt further down the hill and a little nearer the sea, and the original village became known as Bussana Vecchia ("Old Bussana").

Explore Bussana Vecchia

Note that the village is reached along quite a narrow and steep winding road. This wasn't a problem when we visted in May but in the height of summer it is possible the route will become challenging. There is also limited parking at the village, although we were pleased to find a designated turning circle for cars so didn't have to reverse all the way back down the hill!

Houses in Bussana Vecchia ghost town

It is the ruins of the original village and church of Bussana Vecchia that remain today, creating a 'ghost-town' that can now be explored - although many of the empty properties are now occupied by artist's studios.

Bussana Vecchia is now a very interesting village to visit and to explore, entirely pedestrianised of course, and art galleries and small shops contrasting with the ruins - although every resident of the village is still classifed as an illegal tenant and living under eviction orders, although these are not enforced.

As well as the evocative cobbled streets, overflowing in many places with plants and flowers, you can see the original village church, now missing its roof. There is also a small garden with views across the area open to the public and a couple of cafes in the village.

Italy This Way comment: the village is quite extensive and one of the prettiest hill villages in this part of Italy - a visit to Bussana Vecchia is definitely recommended when you are in the region!

Facade of a church in Bussana Vecchia ghost town

A brief history of Bessuna Vecchia

For the first 50 years after the 1887 earthquake the stone from the damaged houses was frequently used to construct the new houses. Then from the 1950's onwards the beauty of 'old' Bussana Vecchia started to be recognised, in particular by the artistic community who started to take over the evocative ruins for use as studios and galleries. It became known as the International Artists Village.

The Italian government didn't share this romantic notion, declared the whole of Bussana Vecchia to be dangerous, and ordered the demolition of any staircases remaining in the houses to prevent access to their upper levels.

Over the decades as tourism and the chance to profit from the village has increased there have been various conflicts between the local government, the longstanding resident artists, and the locals whose ancestors owned the village, over who exactly now owns the property - currently it is still entirely owned by the local government.

Occasional concerts and exhibitions are also held in Bussana Vecchia - the perfect setting!

See also:

Map of Bussana Vecchia and places to visit

Places to visit near Bussana Vecchia

Sanremo

Sanremo

Once the best known resort in Liguria, San Remo retains a great deal of its belle epoque charm

Sanremo

Bordighera

Bordighera

The town of Bordighera has a pleasant promenade and old town, and 19th century villas and gardens of interest

Bordighera

Apricale

Apricale

Apricale is a lovely medieval village surrounded by forested hills in western Liguria

Apricale

Imperia

Imperia

Imperia is a pretty coastal city in Liguria. Its beautiful orange buildings cover the hills above the clear blue waters below.

Imperia

Dolceacqua

Dolceacqua

The charming historic centre of Dolceacqua includes an ancient bridge across the river and a ruined castle

Dolceacqua

Ventimiglia

Ventimiglia

Almost on the French border, Ventimiglia has a small beach and several historic highlights

Ventimiglia

See more places nearby in the Liguria guide