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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Artists fight for Italian village
Bussana Vecchia
Bussana Vecchia was built on a hilltop 1,000 years ago
A row between a group of British artists and the Italian Government over an ancient ruined village will be taken to the supreme court in Rome, as the BBC's Andrew Burroughs reports

The group of Bohemian artists moved into the village of Bussana Vecchia near the Italian Riviera in the hippy era of the 1960s and restored it.

The local authorities told the artists they could become owners of their new homes, but never fulfilled that promise.

Bussana Vecchia street
The village's street are too narrow for cars
Now, after decades of legal wrangling, the Italian government says the village looks so good it must be made state property as part of Italy's heritage.

Bussana Vecchia is 1,000 years old and none of its streets are wide enough for a car.

Towns like Bussana were built on hilltops in the ninth century as a defence against Saracen raiders, but in 1887 it was destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned.

In the 1960s, hippy artists from Britain were invited to revive the ghost town. They restored its houses and rebuilt the water and sewage system.

But a promise that they could make their homes was never put in writing.

Riviera appeal

Film composer Francis Shaw was among the community's founders - his legal fight to stay has so far cost him 8,000.

"We came into this 30 years ago in good faith as young artists wanting to live a life that was slightly different, that was freer.

Italian Riviera
Property prices around the Italian Riviera have risen considerably
"It's pretty sick now, 30 years on, that still nothing is established having poured a lot of money into rebuilding the place and not getting any clear answers from the state about what the situation is."

Since the Sixties, property prices on the nearby Italian Riviera have rocketed.

Artist Colin Wilmot believes that is why the authorities are reluctant to recognise their right to ownership, even though he personally put all the money from his London home into Bussana.

"Land values now are sky-high. We're near the sea, we're between two ports and the motorway.

"It's gold mine potential and they're behaving like shady property dealers who're trying to get us out."

Previous indifference

In the latest twist, inspectors from Italy's culture ministry has declared Bussana state property because it is a historic monument.

Giuseppe Bellezza from the ministry has denied the declaration was a conspiracy to oust the artists.

"We just want to make sure Italy's heritage is properly protected," he told me.

For the Italian authorities to claim Bussana Vecchia as a historic monument is ironic.

Bussana Vecchia architecture
Bussana Vecchia is now a valuable village
They have neglected it for years - originally they ordered its demolition to keep people out.

They have not supported restoration work and they do not recognise the local community.

The suspicion here is that the authorities simply do not want to hand over this now valuable village to outsiders their lawyers have dismissed as squatters.

Despite their lawyer's efforts eight families face eviction, and pending an appeal to the Supreme court the fate of 12 more families hangs in the balance.

The trouble is Italian law always allows another appeal - it is a game the state can play forever while Bussana's artists will soon run out of money.

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