Abandoned places exert a great emotional attraction not only on me, but on many people, and it is a fascination that not only involves many people today, but also has its roots in the distant past. The fascination for the ruins and for the vestiges of ancient "civilizations" can be traced in many artists and writers of the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century, spokespersons of a very widespread feeling in human souls, testimony perhaps that the ruins and abandoned and semi-destroyed places are a sort of archetype, a symbolism that touches very deep and rooted chords, beyond the boundaries of time and space.
The nineteenth-century Grand Tour itself, which brought travelers from all over Europe to Italy, can be seen as an ante litteram urbex tour: wealthy travelers were attracted to our country not only by the artistic and landscape beauties, but also and above all by the vestiges of ancient manors and ruins of castles, daring fortresses perched on spurs of rock, overlooking steep cliffs, and then walls, arches and semi-destroyed columns, invaded by wild vegetation, abandoned ruins of the mighty and mythical constructions of ancient Rome. We find all this charm in many paintings of the romantic and nineteenth-century period, and in Gothic literature and iconography, and if this is not urbex !
Exploring the destroyed and abandoned places, forgotten by time and by men, one experiences sensations that are both subtle and powerful, one is physically involved in these places, literally enveloped in humid and dusty scents, like moss, cold shivers tickle the our skin, the darkness itself and the contrasts of light create mysterious, dark, theatrical environments, which at the same time inspire fear and tickle the curiosity. We move with suspicion, with sometimes uncertain steps, suspicious of the sound of our own shoes, in a leaden silence, accompanied only by the distinct noise of a few drops, or some bats that, frightened in turn, flit in disorder to escape from us.
And then there are the psychological and emotional implications, often these abandoned places are places closed to the public, often one enters in an unorthodox way, the urbexes climb over walls and gates, jump in from badly closed windows, sneak under narrow cracks, in short, we feels a little clandestine, in a somewhat borderline territory, in short, there is a certain taste for the forbidden. And then there are the emotions, many, that you feel during these explorations, I tried to ask myself about the origins of this fatal attraction, and these thoughts lead far, very far.
Let's start with time, which is the main protagonist, making urbex essentially means taking a journey through time and history, not so much in official history, the one written in books, but in the history and daily life of ordinary people, who could also be us , you or me, it could be a trip to a previous life of ours, if you believe it. These places, which modernity has rejected and put in the corner for a thousand reasons, are instead important, as they testify to a past, memories, lives, tribulations, values, souls and vicissitudes. Some of these buildings then have the duty to testify, to remember, to put in front of our conscience the proofs of how much atrocity our mind is capable of, let's think of the mental hospitals for example, places of extreme suffering and terrible abuse, used up to another day right here, just beyond the fence of our garden, of our civil homes.
In these places people have lived, worked, cried, laughed, thought, loved and perhaps even hated, these places are silent witnesses, they are places of memory and remembrance, where today we can gather in silence, take a walk in time and meditate on the present and on human miseries. For those who are more sensitive then, there is always the possibility of having particular experiences, such as the meeting or the perception of some entity, these places are notoriously inhabited or haunted by ghosts, tormented souls, lives trapped in the interstices of different dimensions : these buildings are fertile ground where a whole series of stories, legends and other strange happenings flourish. We move between fleeting borders, between past and future, between reality and fantasy, parallel dimensions, perhaps only suggestions, perhaps not.
If we do not limit ourselves to the surface, if we are able to "listen" the place, if we look at every scratch, every encrustation, every crack, as if they were an alphabet of a coded message, if when we enter, we leave our conventional self out, and we enter not only in another place, but also in another self, or rather in a lighter self, stripped of the rigidity of the present, we enter a space-time bubble, at first we might feel disoriented, but it is nice to get lost in this labyrinth of thoughts and feelings: we explore and explore ourselves.
Every breath, every step, every perfume, every thing we see or touch, speaks to us of relativity, of transience, of the precariousness of the human condition, it speaks to us of the mysterious forces that govern the world, of life and death: abandoned places are like a punch in the stomach in a way, a low blow to human presumption and pride, here everything is revealed for what it is: dust! The incorruptible matter, the hard, heavy and resistant matter, as well as everything that human artifacts want to symbolize (power, wealth, strength, youth, splendor, beauty) cannot bear the weight of time, perhaps only the soul, invisible and impalpable, perhaps that and only that does not let itself be caged by the laws of time, perhaps only our true essence is antistatic! It is curious to see how time changes the rules of living, changes places, ways, thoughts, but essentially does not change people, the core, the souls, the essential. In these empty, dead, forgotten places, we find perhaps this, the essential: empty rooms, empty but still full, because in reality the Nothing does not exist !
Empty rooms, rooms as places of the soul, like so many containers of oneself, or inside oneself, one leaves one room and enters another, as one leaves one thought and enters another, one wanders and we walk in the mind, in emotions, empty rooms, sometimes a sheet of paper on the ground strikes us, an old wrinkled and forgotten photograph in a corner, a shoe, a broken glass, how to rediscover broken feelings and emotions inside us, buried to be forgotten, but always there, inner rubble, pointed, sharp, infected. Some rooms are instead full, full of scattered objects as after an explosion, full of chaos, disorder, rummaging through old rusty scrap metal, like digging deep inside ourselves, like pulling back the veil to glimpse the things piled up in our unconscious, it cannot be distinguished well, only apparently incoherent fragments, a whole world to decipher, but probably much more important than that superficial patina we call Io.
Sometimes you feel the same gloomy and ghotic charm of certain post apocalyptic landscapes that a certain cinematographic and artistic genre has accustomed us to, it's like taking a leap to visit a future that is perhaps not all that unlikely. A question, a disturbing feeling then always arises spontaneously in these places: could it happen to us too? To our site ? To our home, to our city? What will our future be like, and above all, where will it be? Studying the history of places, one senses that sometimes a little is enough, a small change in a sector of our daily life, an economic, social, customs change, a new invention or a new road, are often enough to trigger a process that will move life elsewhere, leading to forget some places, or rather the birth of new abandoned worlds to explore, of new places where souls can find themselves outside of everyday life.
The mythical struggle between man and nature is then revealed in this place, really a false opposition, but it is fascinating to see how nature, slowly but inexorably, takes back the stolen spaces: branches, brambles and trees overlook the windows and lengthen the their green tentacles, and like countless arms sinuously moving blindly, try to embrace the space that had already been theirs, and then how not to be enchanted in front of those tender blades of grass that, despite their delicate appearance, cut the asphalt as the butter, and those little flowers that with their tiny roots, shatter walls and bricks, finding vital nourishment where we see only rubble and death.
These places often turn into real urban oases, free zones, where protected by old walls and crumbling gates, a multitude of restless souls find space to give vent to some traits of their personality that would otherwise have no way of expression, in particular I am referring to the writers, but not only, who often leave very touching, poignant social and graphic testimonies, I consider some of their artwork true art, maybe one day they will be more appreciated and valued, as time will always be the judge supreme of all things.
It is therefore not difficult to understand the charm that these places emanate, a "romantic" and "gothic" charm, where each of us can find and rediscover a little of himself, and rummage through memories, nostalgia and emotions. And if you have even a shred of imagination, a simple wall, a piece of glass or a rotten wood, fantastic and timeless worlds will open in front of your eyes, where travel is in every dimension.
Doing urbex is a feeling, it is a form of meditation, it is introspection, it is living a testimony.