The earth moved in Bussana Vecchia

A day spent in the ruins of Bussana Vecchia. Nowadays called "The International Artists Village", the place is a demonstration of perseverance and simplicity.

The earth moved in Bussana Vecchia
Abandoned Church, ruins of Bussana Vecchia, Italy, Leica M (Typ 240), Summilux-M 28mm, f1.2 ASPH, 1/750 sec., f8, ISO 200

Been there, done that and.. lost the T-shirt

Oh well, I had it all wrong. You see, I have been on that segment of the highway in Italy near San Remo on so many occasions. I remember seeing the old church at the heart of this small village on the right, perched on a mountain. Stones. Grey. Immobile. I had always noticed the very old bell tower dominating the village, but never bothered finding out about what it was. But that changed completely about 10 days ago when we were discussing destinations with my friends at the photo club. Some of them had already been to that village and suggested we go back together for a day shooting in its narrow streets. Bussana Vecchia is the name of the place and I was about to learn a whole lot of things about it. And that’s why I said I lost the T-shirt, simply because it was not at all what I thought it was. Far from that.

A bit of History, Mostly a Tragedy

On February 23rd 1887, a severe 20 seconds earthquake struck the region and destroyed most of the village, killing more than 2000 people. It was the biggest seism ever recorded in that area. A new village called Bussana Nuova was rebuilt on the lower part of the same hill and the old village was abandoned. In 1947 people from different regions started to settle in the “ghost town” and after a few unsuccessful trials by the police to evict everyone, resistance proved to be worthwhile and the village started to be permanently occupied by a few people, mostly artists from around the world. In 1968 what is called today “The International Artists Village”, Bussana Vecchia officially came back to life and has seen an artist community growing within its walls since then, in a peaceful setting.

It’s a strange feeling when you get there knowing what drama happened not so long ago, after all. But I felt there something really amazing. People we crossed on the narrow streets all seemed to be living a quiet life, saying hello to us, even with a smile and always willing to give indications or answer our questions. It’s interesting to see how everyone has its own way of using what was left there in 1887, and build something new and different from the structures available. Of course, most of these people are artist, so every house has its own personality. The most “out of this world” thing I saw over there is a place call “The Ark”. I’m still unsure if it’s a museum or a restaurant! You really have to see it by yourself. Some guys collected objects from I don’t know where and setup everything on terraces where you can enjoy a meal.. They cook two or three different meals and you get to choose which one you’d like to have. For us it was chicken with tomato sauce and potatoes, or pizza. I’ve never experience something like that in the past, in any of the countries I visited. If you visit Bussana Vecchia, you have to go there and take some photos. In the meantime you can look at the shots I made there to give you an idea.

I was also amazed by the church and chapel in the village. It’s a strange feeling to see what is still there, fighting against time and nature. It is fairly unusual to look through a church’s main door and see that vegetation is growing through the stone floor, where people used to walk and sit during the celebrations. Pigeons are the only ones attending these days, I thought they represented small angels flying around at will. Also, if you take your time there and look for the details in the structure you’ll start to notice some paintings and sculptures on the ceiling (or should I saw portions of what is left), the arches and walls, and even stone pattern still intact on the floor. The “dome” above what used to be the hotel makes you wonder how beautiful this place was the day before the earthquake. What’s left there is only “hints” for our imagination.

What’s in the bag?

  • Leica M (Typ 240) + spare batteries x 2
  • Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH
  • Summilux-M 28mm, f1.2 ASPH
  • Sony RX100 + spare batteries x2
  • 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SD cards x 3
  • Lens cloth & blower
  • Glasses
  • Apple iPhone 5
  • Water bottle (500ml)

What if there was a Take 2?

Knowing what Bussana Vecchia is all about, having walked in every street and seen every building, if there is one thing I’d change about my setup it would be to bring an even wider lens, namely the Super-Elmar-M 18mm, f3.8 ASPH. For the most part, the Summilux-M 50mm, f1.4 ASPH and Summilux-M 28mm, f1.2 ASPH were perfect throughout the day. But I felt the 18mm would be appropriate when I was shooting the interior of the church. I’m happy with the shot I made there, but I thought it would be interesting to go wider and include the wall structures and arches on left and right walls. Hopefully, Bussana Vecchia is not too far from home and I can go back for a second glance within the walls of that very beautiful village. If you like the photo above taken at the church, then you should definitely plan a trip there and enjoy the place. Don’t forget to have lunch at The Ark!

For more info about Bussana Vecchia, visit the official website.

You can find the whole picture set on my website at

Good Light!


© Normand Primeau