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The Last Man in Town

Landslides forced everyone else to flee this town, but one man remains.

Roscigno, the tiny Italian hill town outside Salerno in Southern Italy, is divided in two: old ("vecchio") and new ("nuovo"). Not that much remains in Roscigno Vecchio. The town’s historic center began to empty out in 1902, when a landslide forced many residents to evacuate. The terrain is so unstable that Roscigno is known as "the town that walks." But nature is not the only cruel force at play: In 1964, a malaria epidemic forced most of the remaining families to flee to Roscigno Nuovo.

But one holdout remains: Giuseppe Spagnuolo, who lives in the crumbling ghost town of Roscigno Vecchio in complete and blissful solitude.

The 68-year-old refers to himself as "Libero" — free — not only because that’s how he feels but also for his desire to be free from everyone and everything. Spagnuolo is married and has four grown children, but a few years ago, when his wife went on a walkabout to travel the world, he stayed behind. He had already done his wandering — working as a mason in Milan and as a carpenter in a workshop — and he was done. He preferred the abandoned village.

The resources available to him are so scarce they may as well be non-existent. No electricity. No running water. To cook, he heats water over a flame. He farms the land and raises some produce. He bathes in the fountain in the center of town.

When Spagnuolo’s friends visit, usually to play cards, they bring food and water. On rare occasions, Spagnuolo descends to Roscigno Nuovo to shop.

But he is hardly anti-social. When tourists find their way up to Roscigno Vecchio, Spagnuolo is only too happy to guide them around, showing off the restructured house from the late 1800s that counts as the town’s sole museum. Before visitors leave, he asks them to sign a guestbook. In return, they send him postcards from all over the world. He shows off his collection with pride.

Spagnuolo is the mayor, custodian, and president of Roscigno Vecchio. He considers himself a vagabond, a free spirit. The wind rustles his thick, messy hair, as it does the crowns of the surrounding trees. Nature around here is stupendous and uncontaminated, as only a place without humans can be.

Photos by Roberto Salomone.


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