If your home was destroyed, what would you do? Chances are, you’d rebuild, perhaps bigger and better than before. But in Salerno, in the south of Italy, tucked deep in the Cilento Natural Park, several villages remain completely abandoned after a series of earthquakes and landslides in the 1980s and ’90s.

Spanish photographer Jorge Mañes Rubio, a TED Fellow, and partner Gianluca Tesauro have documented these abandoned villages as a way to pay homage to a culture that has all but vanished. Says Mañes Rubio, “a number of attempts to rebuild some of these villages have been made, but the lack of funding, corruption, and an apparent disregard for their own heritage have proven fatal.” He’s now working on a project to replace many of the icons and artworks stolen from these villages with new pieces that give a fresh spin on local lore. Here, take a look at some of the images from a project the pair call “Buona Fortuna” — “Good Luck.”

Why $40 billion couldn’t bring back this ancient village

This village’s history dates back to the 12th century, but it was partially destroyed by the Irpinia earthquake of 1980. Says Mañes Rubio, “from the $40 billion spent on reconstruction, only a quarter of this amount was actually used to rebuild, the rest going to corruption, on bribes to politicians, and to enrich a number of people in the region.”

A spiral stair to nowhere

This tobacco factory just outside Salerno is 71,000 square meters. Now abandoned, it formerly housed a cafeteria, employee housing, a church — and even an orphanage.


This is not FoxConn

A drying room inside the tobacco factory.


Not how you might expect your house of worship to look

The main access to this church was bricked up after the earthquake. Years later, looters broke through the door and stole the relics that had been housed there.

Splendor peeks through

As you can see, the longed-for restoration of this church has not taken place, though it’s still possible to see the building’s former grandeur.

The altar at which no one prays

After meeting some of the nuns who run the local convent, Mañes Rubio was able to get into this church to take some pictures. But even though it’s still standing, the building has been condemned and is no longer in use as a place of worship.

The crooked relic left behind by the looters

The saint in this image was damaged in the earthquake. “Because it’s now crooked, its figure would bring bad luck to anyone who would dare to take it home,” says Mañes Rubio. It was the only relic he saw during his entire expedition.

Another abandoned, empty church

This church was in far better condition, as authorities excavated it to see if they could find centuries-old relics. They didn’t find anything, and the church has now been closed for decades. Mañes Rubio hopes to open the space as a deconsecrated cultural venue.

When money runs out, it’s game over

Industrial equipment was left abandoned inside the church after restoration funds ran out.

Photographs courtesy of  Jorge Mañes Rubio.

About Emily Pidgeon

Emily Pidgeon is a person, not a pigeon. As TED's design project manager, she thinks about how images can communicate ideas.


Gallery, TED Fellows


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