The value of historic villages

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The value of historic villages

For the JTBC show “Where is My Friend’s Home,” the cast members visited my hometown in Italy. It was a chance to show my country to viewers in Korea, which I consider my second home. So rather than well-known landmarks and tourist spots, I decided to show the small towns and villages I have loved and frequented. Despite the resistance of some friends, I took the cast to Montepulciano and Pienza, two towns little known to foreigners.

First unified in 1861, Italy’s history as one country goes back just 154 years. From the medieval period, each region or city was an independent state. Many historic towns and villages called borghi still remain today. Some were established during the reign of the Roman Empire, but most were formed in the Middle Ages.

Those who love the beauty of borghi have formed I Borghi piu belli d’Italia, the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.” The association was inspired by France’s “Most Beautiful Villages of France.” Similar associations were set up in Wallonia, Belgium, in 1994; in Quebec, Canada, in 1998; in Italy in 2001; and in Japan in 2005. Villages and towns that conserve historic beauty began to garner cultural attention and economic support. Other associations of beautiful villages are established as “Le Plus Beaux Villages De La Terre” in Saxony in Germany, and in Romania, Spain and Korea.

In order to be recognized as a beautiful site, it should meet four criteria: preservation of the original village layout, architectural harmony, inhabitation of local residents and value as a cultural asset.

Italy has the highest number of historic towns in the world - 217 of them as of 2015. Orta San Giulio in Piedmont has a monastery in a small island on a lake. Dozza near Bologna holds a festival of painted walls in September. Sperlinga in Sicily is a cave village still inhabited by people.

Borghi are outdoor museums with special character and stories. Visitors can learn history and culture hands-on by touring such villages. With a millennia of history, Korea should also have great villages as well.

*The author is an Italian TV personality who appears on the JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.” JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 28


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