A dammuso on Pantelleria, Italy
The scent of lush nature, intense colours, the sea, the earth and volcanic rocks mingling... Located between Sicily and Tunisia, Pantelleria has incredibly beautiful landscapes. “But it is not a welcoming island with scorching sun and wind. Everything is difficult to accomplish. And yet if you can hold out, you’ll experience unique sensations. And then you’ll fall in love.” This is what happened to Elena and her husband, Lucio, who, originally from Palermo, are now based in Milan. “This island has become home,” she says, “and this is where our heart is. We got married here and every summer we come and stay here with our daughters and friends.”
The building is a late-18th-century dammuso, a traditional Sicilian house. “Finding it was a slow process. We spent years looking for it. I made many trips from Palermo to Pantelleria in search of a house I liked. Every time something was amiss... Yet one winter’s day, I was taken to see a property on the southern coast. It was a cluster of abandoned houses amidst rocks and low dry-stone walls.” You can hardly notice it from a distance. Behind it, the blue sky melts into the sea and the Tunisian high plains are ablaze in the sunset. “I knew I wanted it at first sight. It was big enough for the whole family. After months of patient negotiations, we were able to buy it.” To reach the house, you have to zigzag through thick vegetation: palms, prickly pears and typical Mediterranean shrubs. “You turn off the main road onto a dirt road that we had partially paved. We also had the ditches dug for the electric cables.” Basic facilities were installed, but the rest was left bare, spartan, Pantelleriastyle. It took a year to make the house livable.
“Then, little by little, we completed it. I had imagined bare rooms, with little or no furniture, sort of monastic. I did not want to alter what was already there too much. It was ruined, but it had a profound, old, rural character.” Five-foot-thick stone walls, dome roofing, a rough-hewn façade embroidered with lichens and eroded by time. “I patched it up with Pastella (finishing mixture containing marble dust).” Rigorous and skilful architecture, composed of modules divided into three: the cammera, i.e the main room and sort of living room, the cammerino, i.e. storage space, and the alcova or sleeping quarters. “Obviously we had to make a few changes. The living area, for example, has been enlarged by taking up some of the alcova space. The bathroom is where the animal trough once was. The old wooden container was still there surrounded by hay... Among the few pieces
of furniture in the living area, there are table and chairs by Magistretti and a basic sofa more like the tatamis in the sleeping areas. The rest is stored in the existing wall niches. “To add our personal touch we chose to play with textiles: kilims and woollen cushions designed by our friend Mariella Ienna. High-quality Indian artisanal pieces.” During the day, when the doors are open, nature wafts through the rooms unbridled. “Mulberries, vines, fruit trees, citruses and pistachios; I wanted to add to the original figs and centenary olive trees. It is part of my very personal and very Sicilian country-medley view of a garden.
And on the terracing there also are cacti, plants my husband likes. For a foreign touch, there’s a Berber tent, straight out of the Sahara, a souvenir from a Moroccan trip. It’s used as an alternative shelter from sun and wind and is an element of exotic surprise for our numerous friends who visit. They come to the island to enjoy a slow pace of life, happily eating together, going to the beach and taking naps. Long conversations at sunset and sweetly scented silent nights studded with twinkling stars.” Primeval charm.