As It Happens

Why a Scottish lawyer bought and renovated an abandoned Italian village 

Cesidio Di Ciacca wanted to connect with his Italian cultural roots. So he bought his grandparents' hometown of Borgo I Ciacca, a rural hamlet that dates back to the 1500s.

Cesidio Di Ciacca wanted to connect with his Italian roots. So he bought his grandparents' hometown

An aerial shot of a small Italian village, with a handful of buildings attached to each other, nestled between forest on one side, and a vineyard on the other.
The village that Cesidio Di Ciacco bought is called Borgo I Ciacca, a rural Italian hamlet that dates back to the 1500s. (Submitted by Cesidio Di Ciacca)

Story Transcript

Growing up in Scotland with an Italian name wasn't always easy, says Cesidio Di Ciacca.

His name, he said, once belonged to his grandfather, an Italian immigrant he never knew because he died at sea during the Second World War.

"I really needed to know for myself who I was, who he was," Di Ciacca told As It Happens guest host Tom Harrington. "And the more I got involved in that, the more it became opportune to ... try and do something."

And by "do something," he meant buy up every piece of property in the abandoned Italian village that his grandparents once called home, restore the village to its original splendour, and turn it into a travel destination for members of the Italian community all over the world. 

It's a passion project that's been more than 10 years in the making — and one that has involved a lot of time, money, and bureaucratic wrangling. 

"[I feel] stupid in one sense. Why did I bother doing this?" Di Ciacca said. "But actually, I know that I'm actually really very proud. Because what it's done — what it is continuing to do and, I suspect, it will continue to do — is to give hope to a lot of people who otherwise … would think this was a forgotten area."

An Italian family stands together and smiles on the stone steps of a newly restored Italian home with bright yellow walls. There are two women, three men and two small babies.
Cesidio Di Ciacca, left, stands outside a building in his Italian village, holding his granddaughter Raffaela. From left to right are his wife Selina holding their granddaughter Eleanora, his son Giovanni, his son-in-law Luigi, and his daughter Sofia. (Submitted by Cesidio Di Ciacca)

Borgo I Ciacca is rural hamlet that dates back to the 1500s and is named for Ciacca's family. It's a beautiful location, he said, in the region of Ciociaria, between Rome and Naples. 

But when he first came across it, it had been abandoned for more than 50 years.

"There were trees growing inside some of the structures. It was impossible to approach much of it because it had been completely overgrown. And many people in the neighbouring town ... had actually forgotten that it existed," he said.

But over the last decade, he's slowly restored it to its former glory— one land sale, renovation contract, and inspection at a time. He estimates the whole thing is about 90 per cent complete. 

"It's looking bright and crisp and really quite exciting. People feel very relaxed there," he said. "We're sitting right in the middle of a vineyard on one side and woods on the other side. It's a great, great view, really 360-degree views all the way round. We're very fortunate."

A small stone building, in rough shape, perched on a steep grassy hill, pictured from below. It has two dark windows with no glass. One is boarded up. On the right is a stone patio with wooden railings.
A stone structure in the once-abandoned Italian village of Borgo I Ciacca. (Submitted by Cesidio Di Ciacca)

Buying the village was no easy feat, he said. It's not something he could do in one fell swoop.

The land, he said, was owned by 140 people from 11 different families scattered all over the world. It's the result of Italian property law that passes down inheritance not just to a landowner's oldest heir, but to all their children.

That's where Di Ciacca says his career as a real estate and corporate lawyer came in handy. He tracked down the owners, negotiated with them individually, and offered to buy their land at what he calculated to be full market value for the region — even though, he says, it was all sitting there unused and dilapidated.

"For many years, people had refused to sell one to the other," he said. "But for whatever reason, they all agreed to sell to me. Maybe they just got to the end of the line."

He wouldn't disclose the cost of his venture — but it was a pretty penny, to say the least. Not to mention the costs of renovating the existing structures and ensuring they're up to Italian code in an earthquake-prone part of the country.

Yellow, beige and orange interconnected houses, some perched on stones, along a stone road with wooden railing overlooking planter boxes.
Restored homes in the once-abandoned village of Borgo I Ciacca in the Italian region of Ciociaria, between Rome and Naples. (Submitted by Cesidio Di Ciacca)

These days, the village is home to a working winery and vineyard, and a library that hosts cultural events. His next step is to open an Italian cooking school there. He's also been operating a hotel in the nearby town of Picinisco since 2012.

His target market, he says, are people like him — Italian expats or their descendants looking to reconnect with their cultural roots.

Asked why he's done all this, Di Ciacca recycled an answer he once gave to someone else. 

"My daughter asked me the same question when I started this. And it took me three days to come up with an answer," he said.

"I said, 'Sophia, at the moment I've got the financial resources. I've got the education. I've got the contacts. I've got the experience. And I've got the opportunity of doing all of this. And I don't want to find myself in 20 or 30 years time with you asking me why I didn't do it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. 

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