Then in 1998 Daniele Kihlgren, the ‘‘renegade scion of an Italian concrete fortune,’’ happened to ride through on a solo motorcycle trip. He was captivated by the place and resolved to save it. Kihlgren bought a house, then several more. He made a deal with the local authorities: if they would ban new construction within the walls and impose a strict historic preservation ordinance, he would invest 4.5 million Euros in fixing up the town.
Although semi-abandoned, its medieval character and architecture were completely intact — unruined, ironically, by concrete, the material Kihlgren is the first to acknowledge has disgraced so much of Italy. How, he wondered, might places of such distinct and exquisite beauty be revitalized without wrecking their historic identity? And how might their local traditions, from food to domestic handicrafts, be organically preserved? ‘‘We can’t compete with China in mass production, and we can’t compete in technology,’’ Kihlgren says, ‘‘but we have what no one else in the world has,’’ which is the beauty of these villages and the cultural history of its people, the stuff he calls Italy’s minor patrimony. ‘‘And if we don’t ruin it, it can be what saves southern Italy.’’
Kihlgren began buying up many of the empty buildings, perhaps a quarter of the town, and proceeded to create one of the most novel forms of hospitality anywhere, an albergo diffuso (scattered hotel) called Sextantio. The ‘‘rooms’’ of the hotel are in ancient buildings all over town, and are served by one central reception area, allowing guests to be immersed in the community. Just as important, it is invisible, respecting the historic shape of the town and its architectural integrity.
put it, “There were people without a house here, and there were houses without people here. It's simple.” In Sutera one resident remembered how many people had left Sicily for new homes in America and elsewhere: “We’re simply doing what others elsewhere have done for us.”