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Italy revives ancient dream of building Messina Strait bridge

The Italian government on Thursday relaunched a contentious plan to build a multibillion-euro bridge linking Sicily to the mainland - despite concerns about cost and earthquake risk.

A view of the Strait of Messina between Calabria and Sicily in southern Italy
The Strait of Messina. The only way to reach mainland Italy from Sicily today is via ferry or plane, but could that soon change? Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s cabinet passed a decree on Thursday evening relaunching the controversial Strait Bridge project, which the government sees as key to reviving the economy in the country’s poorer south, despite doubts over its structural viability, environmental impact and cost.

At 3.2 kilometres (two miles) long, the bridge “will represent the flagship of Italian engineering,” said Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, who has long been a proponent of the plan.

READ ALSO: Costly flights, few trains: What’s travel like between Sicily and mainland Italy? 

The idea of the bridge can be traced back to the ancient Romans, but modern attempts to launch the project have repeatedly failed due to the great expense and the challenges of erecting a structure linking Messina to Reggio Calabria in an area prone to earthquakes.

The last blueprint, which dates back to 2011, would be “adapted to new technical, safety and environmental standards,” Salvini said.

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose government had strongly backed a plan for the bridge in the 2000s, on Thursday said the engineering feat would “connect Sicily not just to Calabria, but to Italy and the whole of Europe”.

Construction could begin in mid-2024, said Berlusconi, whose party belongs to the coalition.

Parliament will now have 60 days to convert the decree into law.

A view of the Strait of Messina separating Sicily from Calabria

The first plans for a bridge linking Sicily to mainland Italy date back to 252 BC. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Currently, the only way to get from the island to the mainland is via ferry or plane.

Supporters of the bridge – which would carry trains as well – claim it could cut pollution and save time for both people and cargo.

Cargo ships coming through the Suez Canal from Asia could dock in Sicily, with goods put on high-speed trains to the rest of Europe.

But critics say the money would be much better spent on improving pitiful train and road services within Sicily and Reggio Calabria.

Italian environmentalists have also always opposed the project in the Strait of Messina.

READ ALSO: Trains and planes: Italy’s new international travel routes in 2023

The Legambiente environmental group said Thursday the money should instead be used to meet climate change objectives, and urged Meloni’s government to invest in railway electrification and “modern, frequent and punctual trains” in the “transport desert”.

A maritime transport union also warned in February that the bridge would have to be higher than the 65 metres envisaged in previous plans, or some cruise ships or cargo vessels would not be able to pass underneath.

Dreams of a bridge across the Strait date back to 252 BC, when Roman Consul Metellus transported war elephants from Carthage to the mainland on barrels lashed together to make rafts, according to Pliny the Elder.

By AFP’s Ella Ide

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PROPERTY

Why one Sicilian town has put the price of its €1 homes up to €3

The cheap homes hotspot of Sambuca di Sicilia has launched its latest property offer, selling off 12 abandoned properties - this time for the symbolic price of €3.

Why one Sicilian town has put the price of its €1 homes up to €3

Over the last decade, Italy’s famous one-euro home offers have been making headlines internationally – and they show no sign of stopping.

Perhaps no town in Italy has been quite as successful at selling them as Sambuca di Sicilia, a village in the eastern part of Sicily.

The town, with a population of around 5,000, first came into the spotlight five years ago for being among the first to offer abandoned houses for one euro.

READ MORE: Can you still buy Italy’s one-euro homes in 2024?

The mayor reported a “property stampede” at the time as his council was inundated with enquiries from around the world.

It repeated the process two years later in 2021, when the price started from two euros. The village is now on its third batch of sales and is upping the starting price again – this time to three euros.

According to newly-elected mayor Giuseppe Cacioppo, who introduced the first offer as deputy mayor in 2019, the price is going up by one euro every time because “we just want to make it clear that by numbering these batches, more sales will likely follow in coming years.”

The cheap home offers had been “a hit so far” among foreign buyers, and the town had timed the latest sale to coincide with the tourist season, he told CNN.

“Tourists and interested buyers currently travelling to Italy, and those planning a trip in spring and summer, can come take a look,” he said.

MAP: Where in Italy can you buy homes for one euro?

Cacioppo told The Local in 2022 that cheap property sales had boosted the local economy by €100 million in two years.

The 12 properties included in this year’s €3 offer are currently under the ownership of the town hall, having reportedly been abandoned following an earthquake in 1969.

Cacioppo first announced the latest round of sales in November, telling Sicilian regional press: “We continue to believe that the one-euro house project is the right way to create development.”

As with all of Italy’s famous cheap home offers, the true cost involved is slightly more than the symbolic price of €3.

The purchase process varies by town, but in Sambuca’s case this is just the starting bid in an auction process, with houses in previous years being sold for anything between one and 25,000 euros.

READ ALSO: Six things to know about Italy’s one-euro homes

Those taking part in the auction are required to pay a deposit of 5,000 euros and must commit to renovating the property within three years, at their own expense.

Anyone interested must submit their application by 1pm on August 5th in a sealed envelope containing a bank transfer receipt for the €5,000 deposit and a photocopy of an identification document, according to the town council’s instructions.

More information about the offer is available on the council’s website.

Please note The Local is unable to help you purchase a one- (or three-) euro home in Italy. Although please let us know if you decide to make an offer!

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