Cretto di Burri, the Buried Concrete Town

Cretto di Burri
Alberto Burri
Gibellina, Italia
37° 47′ 17.09″ N, 12° 58′ 16.62″ E

The Cretto di Burri is a white concrete sculpture located on the ancient small town of Gibellina in Sicily. Alberto Burri built this monumental landscape artwork on the ruins of the town, destroyed by an earthquake in 1968.

The trauma of the Belice Valley

During the night of 14 January 1968 a terrible earthquake hit the Belice Valley in western Sicily. Fourteen cities and villages were affected among which Gibellina, Poggioreale, Salaparuta and Montevago were completely destroyed.

The situation is very chaotic and damage is extensive ; between eighty and one hundred thousand people were left homeless and several hundred died. The long period of reconstruction that followed continued to demonstrate the underdevelopment of the region. The government wanted to give the region a new lease of life by implementing a plan for reconstruction, development, urbanisation and industrialisation. The reconstruction work dragged on and the planning policies differed from one village to another. In Poggioreale the town was completely deserted and the ruins remain in the middle of the countryside. A new concrete town, which intended to be more modern, was built for 10,000 inhabitants, but the operation was not very convincing and the inhabitants gradually deserted it.

poggioreale ruin

The ruins of Poggioreale

New town and disillusion

The town of Gibellina has been rebuilt some ten kilometres away under the name of Gibellina Nuova. It follows the same logic of urban reconstruction but has become a museum town, adding symbols and monuments, creating an unusual urban experience. The former mayor invited renowned Italian contemporary artists to exhibit new work in the city. But the dialogue between inhabitants and artists never opened up. The numerous works and constructions have spectactular scales, contrasting with the emptiness of the city.  The entrance by Pietro Consagra’s Stella del Belice sets the tone, and a building like Ludovico Quaroni’s Chiesa Madre reinforces this feeling. This church, designed in 1972, is part of the city’s reconstruction plan. It is a giant white and blind sphere that recalls the utopian forms and projects of Etienne-Louis Boullée. The spherical shape, which is supposed to symbolise union, was never really used by the inhabitants, and its roof even collapsed, leaving the building abandoned.

chiesa quaroni gibellina
A concrete scar in the landscape

In 1981, during the period when the artworks were being installed in Gibellina nova, Alberto Burri was invited to create a new work in the town. The Italian artist, however, was not convinced by the place and asked to visit the ruins of the original Gibellina instead. In Gibellina Vecchia, he was inspired to create a huge work of land art from the ruins of the town. He reused his experiments made since the 70s with cretti (cracks). These white paints used different techniques to enhance the cracks by creating a network of crevices. The cretti are a form of topographical texture that Alberto Burri reused in his large-scale work.

cretto bianco burri

Cretto Bianco (white crack), Alberto Burri

In 1985 the construction of the Cretto di Burri began, which became the culmination of the cretti series. This white cement structure, approximately 1.60m high, covers the ruins of the city following the line of the streets. Work began in 1985 but was interrupted in 1989 due to a lack of funds, before finally being completed in 2015 for the artist’s centenary. The 85,000m² concrete labyrinth is a unique sensory, urban and memorial experience, where the city becomes another.

The work is spread out on the south-east side of the hill and the cement blocks that cover the debris form a sort of sarcophagus that imprisons and restores the memory of the place. The streets are like large cracks, 1.60m by 2-3m wide, which restores the spirit of the place before the earthquake. There is no verticality, only these waves of cement that follow the natural terrain. A silent concrete immensity, cracked by its streets and the traumas of the past.

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