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Cretto di Burri

Updated: May 25, 2021

IMAGES: Miloš Štáfek

Riding through the maze of the dead in Gibellina, Sicily.

Whether it's fate or good luck that brings you to Sicily, take my advice and head straight to Gibellina. You'll be rewarded with one of the greatest examples of land art in the World. Gibellina is a city that was destroyed after the 1968 Belice earthquake - this dedicated masterpiece was imprinted onto its remaining slopes by the Italian artist, painter, sculptor, and physician Alberto Burri.

Someone said that the place is haunted, yet no amount of local superstition could have prevented us from making the trip from Port Marsala. We drove an old and extremely narrow road leading through the mountains with absolutely no room to pass - luckily there wasn't any opposing traffic. On arrival and at first glance, the entire area seemed to be completely deserted.

The darkness seemed overwhelming as we set up camp for the night - we only could see as far as the van headlights shone. Nearby, we noticed several cars parked in the dark with foggy windows, secretly hiding Sicilian romance stories inside.

Our photographer Miloš disappeared after a while, equipped just with a headlamp and a photo bag, intent on capturing the night sky. Miloš never gets back before midnight, so I hit the hay. Good night buddy and good luck with those stars...

Eager to see the place in the daylight, we were at it pretty early and were rewarded with a stunning view of the landscape and the artwork. Alberto Burri created the monumental monument on the grounds of the former town Gibellina - the earthquake's epicenter was located in nearby Belice. More than two hundred villagers died that night.

Burri, who fought in North Africa and was a POW in the United States during World War II, started working on the monument in 1984. Experimenting mostly with burlap, wood, plastic, or iron slabs in his career, the artist raised hundreds of white blocks made of pure concrete on an area of ​​85 thousand square meters in Gibellina.

A million square feet of concrete labyrinth built in tribute.

At the same time, Burri meticulously preserved the outlines of a once destroyed city with all its former streets and buildings. Today, you can walk through the streets like the original inhabitants had when the town existed previously.

Burri had to abandon the work in 1989 as funds for the project dwindled - he passed away six years later. In 2015, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday celebration, the masterpiece was completed and named the Cretto di Burri (Burri's Rift) in honor of its author.

Although it does not seem so when you observe the terrain from the far, the upper parts of the area are steep enough to make my front wheel lift from the ground after pushing the pedals just a little bit. The maze made of concrete blocks swallowed me whole, releasing me only to find that I was completely lost.

This is when I stopped, leaned the bike against the wall, and stood still for a while. I felt the wind blowing through the vanished streets which made me sense the power of the space completely. Apart from the peacefulness, I felt the urge to climb on top of one of the blocks, lie down, and just be grounded.

As is his habit, Miloš went off to scope the surroundings for angles, climbing to the top floor of one of the preserved buildings for a shot of the entire area. He returned in short order, shaken after a strange rattle distracted him from the photoshoot. An empty tin can shuffling around in the wind was the culprit - I guess local folklore affects some more than others!

We spent the entire day riding, shooting and absorbing the atmosphere in Gibellina. It was an unparalleled experience - add it to your bucket list!

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