IT.A.CA Festival and the opportunity for the Italian hinterland
The IT.A.CA Migrants and Travelers Festival, the first and only festival that promotes responsible tourism in Italy, this year celebrates its 12th edition. The festival was born in Bologna, in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, and spread to different cities and regions, reaching the current 11 regions and 700 initiatives. Each city interested in organizing its own edition of the festival is in charge of creating a network of local actors, which include non-profit associations, private companies and the public sector and proposing activities ranging from conferences, workshops and reflections on responsible tourism and migration, to slow tourism itineraries to discover and appreciate the territory.
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 edition of IT.A.CA was held online from May 28 to June 28, with a very rich program of events emphasizing the rediscovery of the Italian hinterland, with its magical towns and rural landscapes between hills and mountains, through walking or cycling itineraries. These topics have become more relevant these days, when outdoor tourism in less crowded destinations is highly appreciated, but also in response to the search for alternative ways of life to the city.
One of the virtual events that took place was the reflection around the book L’Italia è bella dentro, by the journalist Luca Martinelli (Altreconomia 2020). Martinelli was part of the working group of the Italian Strategy for Inner Areas (SNAI for its acronym in Italian) that was launched for the period 2014-2020. The strategy places the quality of life of the people living in these areas at the center, with increased investment and the conversion of the demographic trend through more employment opportunities and the use of the territory’s resources.
Thanks to SNAI, Martinelli was able to travel the country from end to end, visiting the so-called “marginal areas” that actually occupy 60% of the Italian territory (about 4,000 municipalities) and where almost ¼ of the Italian population lives (13 million people). The poet Franco Arminio, who intervenes in the book and defines himself as a specialist in towns, reflects on this Italian contradiction of considering the mountain as a marginal area, even though it is clearly a mountainous country. These areas have been increasingly relegated from basic citizenship services (health, education, mobility) and as a consequence, the youth see no other option than to migrate to the cities in search of opportunities.
Fortunately, there are many people who believe in this inner Italy and decide to migrate from the cities or stay in the villages, the so-called “Restanza” or permanence, as it could be translated in English, which was the theme of last year’s IT.A.CA Festival. As the organizers of the Festival say, IT.A.CA’s invitation is to take a trip through different territories from the South to the North of Italy, creating networks of resilient communities that actively promote the freedom to migrate and the right to stay.
The book does not seek to give examples of individual heroes who returned to save these areas, but of the importance of feeling part of a community and working as a network in pursuit of collective well-being. It invites to create a new imaginary of rural life, as a possible and alternative way of life to the city, but recovering the relationship between city and country side, recognizing their interdependence. It is important not to consider these areas as ones that should be saved, but rather value the natural and cultural wealth of these territories and their unexpressed potential.
Biccari Community Cooperative
One of the examples included in the book is that of the Biccari Community Cooperative, a town in the province of Foggia, in the Puglia region, where this cooperative incentivizes young people to stay in the community. The cooperative was founded in 2017, has 216 members and strives to highlight the territory’s “sleeping” resources, which include natural and cultural ones, through tourism, agriculture and conservation. Biccari was not a tourist destination, but thanks to the different ecotourism and adventure activities proposed by the cooperative, it is becoming well known.
In 2018 they organized for the first time the local edition of the IT.A.CA Festival and recently launched the project “Host Communities of the Dauni Mounts”, connecting 30 towns in the area as an entire tourist destination. One of the outstanding initiatives of the cooperative is the “School of peasant civilization”, which values the knowledge of the cooperative’s elderly members, teaching the typical skills and activities of the region, such as the search for truffle, the olive harvesting and honey production, available not only for cooperative members but also for “temporary citizens” who visit them.
Biccari’s example and many others that are mentioned in the book allow us to see the future of the Italian towns with hope and to replicate these success stories in other countries such as Spain, which suffers from the same problem of depopulation. What is important, as the mayor of Biccari highlights, is to put people and their experience at the center of the strategy, having a long term vision of local development, where public services are based on the needs of rural areas and not imitating urban development models.