Empty Italy: The Tower Of Chia Is A Trove Of Meditation

There is no luxury, no objects to buy, no false promises of delightful services. The Tower of Chia speaks of meditation that unravels the soul.

At the brink of an early sunset, the horizon commands full attention. The orange rays light up the army of green and orange-colored trees that envelops around the historical land of Etruscans. The atmosphere seems romantic, but the crawling sensation of harmony triumphs over. The sight means to be relished by a lone soul rather than a couple or a small group. The solitude it invokes offers comfort and a feel of escapism far from noises and harsh voices. There is no luxury, no objects to buy, no false promises of delightful services. Encrusted within a lush forestry, The Tower of Chia speaks of meditation that unravels the soul.

Sitting still near Bomarzo in the province of Viterbo, La Torre di Chia narrates a history of desire, passion, and extravagance. Dating back to 1200, the tower acted as a lookout on an isolated tuff spur and became a property of several acclaimed families in Italy, including the Orsini, the Lante della Rovere, and the Colonna. While the heritage of the tower continued to be passed on from one generation to another, one proprietor transformed it into a revisited definition of sanctuary and home. 

In the Spring of 1964, Italian poet and director Pier Paolo Pasolini foraged a shooting location in the region of Lazio in central Italy for his movie, which later would be his gem and one of the most treasured works in the industry. When he stumbled upon the village of Chia, he failed to take his eyes and mind off of the space and remarked how suitable it was to film in the location. He even wrote that it was the most resplendent landscape in the world.

Pasolini directed The Gospel According to Matthew, a cinematic narration of Jesus’ biblical journey. In one of the scenes, he shot the baptism of Jesus in the River of Jordan. Beneath the Tower of Chia, the waterfalls of Fosso Castello streams, its soft gush serenading the ears of the visitors. Beside it, a cave-like inning cantilevers a boulder, demonstrating a temporary shelter for those who seek to swim in the water before it. Pasolini filmed the episode on the land beside the waterfalls, packed up with his crew, and left the area, but his mind wandered still. He grappled with an immense desire to linger. He cradled the spirit of the poet in him, thinking of the beauty of immersion he could experience in such a harmonious space. In November 1970, Pasolini listened to himself and resided under the Tower of Chia.

After acquiring the property, Pasolini tapped Palermo architect Ninfo Burruano to build a glass and stone house at the foot of the tower, stowed away from the naked eyes and woven into the forestry and craggy rocks. Burruano mirrored the design to the orientation of the tower to pick up from its aesthetics and as a way to pay homage to the history it had endured. To thread the filament of its classical look, designer Dante Ferretti manned the pavilion constructed within the vicinity of the property, drawing still its influences from the blueprint of the tower. 

Pasolini rendered his body, mind, and soul intertwining with the landscape. The walls of the house are exposed from the outside, authorizing the view of nature and the entrance of gripping tendrils to slither onto the walls, floors, and ceilings. The disbarred boundaries between the shape of the building and the form of the ecosystem meshed as one. Within this sanctuary, Pasolini sought his shelter that positioned in the nook of stillness and privacy for the last years of his time. His recent novel titled Petrolio remained unfinished due to his assassination at the seaplane base of Ostia in November 1975. He had returned from his trip to Paris when he drove his way to Rome in his Alfa Romeo GT and met the incident. 

Before his death, Pasolini tied his life in the countryside. He veered off from solely padding around the community of Chia. He resuscitated its life. In 1974, he spearheaded the competition Green Houses of Chia with offers of cash prizes to competing contestants. He encouraged the residents to bring back the life of the design, architecture, and setting of the houses in the area. In his reflection, Chia had undergone disorder and was nursing an urgency to reframe the aesthetics of the village. “What must be defended is the entire heritage in its entirety. Everything has a value: a wall has worth, a loggia has worth, a tabernacle has worth, an agricultural farmhouse has worth. There are beautiful farmhouses that should be defended like a church or a castle, but people don’t want to know: they have lost their sense of beauty and values. Everything is at the mercy of speculation. What we need is a cultural change, a slow development of consciousness,” he said in an interview with journalist Gideon Bachmann for Il Messagero

About 400 people reside in the village of Chia, which is a chunk of the municipality of Soriano nel Cimino in the province of Viterbo. Since February 2019, the Tower of Chia has opened its doors to guests who seek to immerse in the philosophies, readings, and narratives of the Italian poet and director. While this news seems to warm the hearts of Pasolini’s loyal followers and soon-to-be admirers, the lasting effect falls short. “The Tower of Chia risks ending up in the hands of private individuals due to the unsustainable costs for the heirs of the great director,” said the former deputy governor of Lazio Massimiliano Smeriglio in the report of Roma Today. The maintenance and running expenses of the Tower of Chia, the once resident home of Pasolini, have reached an insurmountable amount. Smeriglio hopes that public institutions will find the means to fund the costs and save the treasured asset of the village of Chia.

When the morning enters the village of Chia, the forest that environs its ground comes alive. The birds chirp, the leaves bristle, the wind gusts, and the hush falls. As one sneaks through the colossal trees, the cloudless, white sky peeking through the slits of the branches, they may end up beneath the tower. A division lies between the haven that was built to unfold and nurture pacifism with self and nature and the blocks that have erected the tower throughout history and decades. While the chorus of voices fade in the background, the whisper of solemnity begins to sing. In the Tower of Chia, one finds their home.

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