Conservation is an art

The conservation and restoration of Santo Stefano di Sessanio

Preserving an almost completely unspoilt place, somewhere that’s really off the beaten track, so cut off that it’s even been abandoned by most of its own inhabitants, a place that’s heading for complete ruin, has got be a gesture of love more than simply an act of duty to posterity. And to preserve the memory, to stop time in its tracks takes art along with one simple but great idea, like that of the ‘dispersed’ hotel campus of Sextantio Santo Stefano. Its creator David Kihlgren’s brilliant idea has brought him worldwide fame and made Santo Stefano di Sessanio into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
Kihlgren, working in collaboration with the Museum of the Peoples of Abruzzo, has designed a hotel that wouldn’t be imprisoned between four walls, but rather it live and breathe in every house and in every alley of Santo Stefano di Sessanio. In creating it, the team restored many of the buildings in the medieval village, paying great attention to even the smallest details.

All restoration activities have followed the so-called conservative method, i.e. they are aimed at eliminating all extraneous elements and recovering every part of all the original features of the place. Being a medieval village, built of stone and wood, all the hotel’s rooms scattered around the old town were first of all cut into the bare rock, then furnished using antique furniture and historical objects: vases, plates, tables all recovered and preserved like part of a museum of rural life.

This is, indeed, why the project was included in the Venice Biennale, and why it’s become famous throughout the world. The impression left on anyone who spends their holiday as guest of this dispersed hotel is one of having taken a journey back in time, a trip made both in mind and body back into a real medieval village.
Nothing modern has tainted the place; all the the original doors and windows have been brought back to life, as well as all the furniture upholstery and embroidered linens.
This has had some amazing consequences: first of all, having attracted such huge numbers of visitors, the locals are no longer leaving but are actually reopening their businesses; secondly, lots of foreigners are now interested in buying houses in this exclusive location, a true haven of peace and quiet in close contact with nature.
When it’s not enough to shut art up in a museum it is art itself that has to become its own open-air museum.
A Sextantio everything seems to come together to make for an unforgettable holiday, not only the beautiful and well-known scenery of the Gran Sasso area or the warm welcome of people here in Abruzzo, but even the very walls themselves. The buildings seem to draw the tourists in, giving them a hug the size of the whole village. It’s this that makes a visit here such a unique and unrepeatable experience.

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