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Valtur village in Nicotera

Forgotten Gardens

A big garden by Pietro Porcinai in Calabria

Pietro Porcinai (Florence 1910-1986), considered by many to be the greatest Italian landscape painter of Twentieth century, he designed hundreds of public and private gardens in Italy and abroad, often in collaboration with some of the most important architects of the twentieth century. Here it is worth mentioning just some of the best known and most significant projects made by Porcinai who always worked closely with the various building designers who he was called to decorate with greenery: the Beauborg Square in front of the Center Pompidou in Paris in collaboration with the architects R. Piano and R. Rogers; the headquarters of the Mondadori publishing house in Segrate (MI) with the architect O. Niemeyer; the Sempione Park in Milan with the architect V. Viganò and also the Parco della Favorita in Palermo. Among his works carried out abroad are three urban parks in Saudi Arabia; the Hansaviertel Park in Berlin; collaboration with Unesco for the transfer of the Abu Simbel temples to Egypt; and numerous private gardens all over the world, modern and historical in which he has often intervened with careful and philological restorations; and to stay in Italy, among others: the Olivetti Garden in Pozzuoli (Na); the Pinocchio Garden in Collodi (PT). Throughout his life, Pietro Porcinai has been a staunch defender of the natural heritage and the landscape, in particular of the Italian one, recognized as one of the most beautiful, precious and fragile in the world, but which is still little cared for today, and has often committed himself for the promotion of the teaching of green, garden and landscape art especially at university level in Italy. In 1950 he was one of the founders of the AIAP (Italian Association of Garden and Landscape Architects) of which he was secretary and since 1979 Honorary President. He has received important international awards and was the only Italian landscape architect capable of comparing himself on an equal footing with the great European and American designers. His publications are numerous, his most famous essay is Giardini d’occidente e d’oriente (Milan – 1966) written with A. Mordini, in which Porcinai tells the history of the Garden through time in the cultures of the world.

Porcinai’s design of the gardens as well as a careful technical consideration of the specificity of the places, therefore of the land, vegetation, climatic conditions and historical past of the area of ​​intervention and the surrounding area, is permeated by a philosophical and poetic vision of the garden in which he recognizes the meeting place between man and nature, a place of meditation and serenity, a concept that he summarizes in the Greek term of paradeisos. It was therefore a pleasant surprise for me to discover the existence also in Calabria of a large garden designed by Pietro Porcinai when, last September, I had the pleasure of accompanying the photographer Alessio Guarino on his quick operational foray, because he was in charge by the Florentine Foundation dedicated to the great landscape architect, to come and make a photo shoot on one of his gardens, now abandoned, in an old tourist village (ex Mediterranèe and Valtur) closed for about 10 years in Nicotera Marina (VV) on the Calabrian Tyrrhenian coast.
Welcomed by the caretaker at the dawn of a rather gray day and with a strange light, we began the inspection, by precise choice of the photographer, not from the entrance but from the opposite side or from the sea, he in fact he intended to first verify the relationship between the village and the sea also in the light of what was written at the beginning of the 70s by the architect. Bruno Zevi on this intervention by Porcinai:
The area on which the village stands was leveled by bulldozers during the last war, to be used as a military airport. Porcinai has reconstituted its primitive physiognomy by animating the desert landscape with dunes shaped by the wind and sand ….
In fact, there is little left of the dunes in this part of the village, but they are very evident in the sports and theater area. on the south side of the complex. On the sea front, the protective function of the village from sea winds and salt is now carried out by the large pine forest which is parallel to the beach for a few kilometers of coastline; the beach here is among the most beautiful in Calabria, wide and with white sand, it appears desert and open both to the south and to the north.
The large tourist settlement develops in length parallel to the coast and is characterized by an ordering axis central with two overlapping paths that connect the various functional parts of the village, many common areas, commercial and service activities, bars and restaurants, two open-air theaters, swimming pools, fields for sports activities and the residences that are distributed in four square blocks with a large internal courtyard. The architecture is of a rationalist type with ample concessions to a modernism in a manner typical of the 1960s / 1970s.
The complex is structurally still in good condition despite the long period of neglect and it is still possible in part to see and imagine the garden that Porcinai had designed to create a pleasant environment with a pleasant microclimate.
Again B. Zevi on Porcinai’s intervention:
[…..] then distributed 15,000 brightly colored plants and of the strangest shapes, but careful not to mix them arbitrarily, many of these plants are still there, the more delicate and flowering ones have been lost and it is not possible today to see the beautiful spots of color that they constituted,
there are instead the more resistant ones that with their “chaotic” development have enveloped the architecture over the years, creating an effect also sought by Porcinai
When the vegetation has grown to those arriving from the national road or the railway, the village will appear enveloped in a Mediterranean scrub, and therefore sheltered from the winds; once inside, it will seem like a large pearl to contemplate, to enjoy […] 3.
In the four residential blocks the different green essences that characterized them are still partially recognizable: ficus, tropical water lilies , casuarine and arid climate plants, palms and papyrus. Many plants have now become imposing in size and it is fascinating to walk among them. At first glance, the damage to the major tree species are those to the canariensis palms destroyed by the red weevil, especially the entire palm grove that characterized the entrance area to the tourist complex is now destroyed. But the garden in its greater consistency resists and only needs an accurate and careful restoration to return in all its splendor; by the way, Porcinai’s extraordinary ability, precisely in the approach to the restoration of gardens, to combine respect for the pre-existing with his creative talent comes to mind.
Reading about the intentions of the designer for this intervention:
[. ..] I tried to reproduce the union between the Greco-Roman approach of hortus and the Persian-oriental approach of paradeisos, so that the man on vacation could see satisfied the aspiration of his subconscious to the myth of the paradise garden […] one understands how poetic and cultured the idea of ​​a tourist village was that Porcinai had and how far this idea was from what was achieved in this sector in the following decades, with tourist complexes in which the design of the green is almost as- felt or limited to an absolutely marginal role and to a more purely decorative one.
In Calabria we have beautiful gardens designed and built between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but very few examples of modern or contemporary dyes and much less by the author. The importance of this construction of Porcinai is therefore extraordinary for the cultural heritage of our region, for this reason it would be appropriate to start the procedure aimed at the protection of the property by the Superintendency, also in anticipation of future restructuring of the tourist village, which could thus be directed to a careful recovery of the garden that characterizes it and which could continue to constitute its absolutely unique and valuable identifying figure. Conversely, a lack of protection intervention could entail the risk of carrying out recovery and redevelopment works which, ignoring the unicum constituted by the Porcinai garden, could sanction its definitive cancellation.

By Rocco Gangemi


Ecology, Heritage and Conservation of the "Gioia del Tirreno" touristic village

“The project concerns the expansion of a cultural heritage site — a tourist complex on the Tyrrhenian coast built in 1972 by the architect Pierfilippo Cidonio and the landscape architect Pietro Porcinai.
«Gioia del Tirreno», a village created with the aim of environmental restoration, is based on the concept of the creation of a vast garden created from nothing in a desert area. The context is represented in a coastal strip of touristic villages protected from the sea wind by the pine forest. The complex is now closed and largely degraded. Being a cultural heritage site and having an expansion area that was never built, the intent of the project is to create the expansion with a new, more sustainable, and more experimental interpretation based on existing typologies, with the aim of also preserving the original village and involving the community through a public park in the pine forest area integrated with the village. The concept develops on the tendency of nature to invade, as seen in the current state of the village, in which the invasion comes from not only the village itself but also from external forces (the pine forest) that breaks through the architectural barrier.